CEO of Lowes, Hans Mueller, is the story of a true entrepreneur. He came to Australia with no money, almost no contacts, and with only his sheer determination to make a life for himself. Despite the obstacles he faced, Hans managed to buy Lowes in 1981, now one of the most well-known menswear retail chains in the country.
Hans fled Europe as a refugee and ended up in China. “Leaving our home in Vienna, we were lucky to get on the ship to go to Shanghai amongst 20,000 other refugees. In Shanghai, I lived in great poverty for eight years; but it was also there I met my now late wife, Gerty.”
His journey to Australia, though, sounds like a story plucked from a romance novel: he met a girl in Shanghai and followed her to a new country.
“Gerty had an opportunity after the war to go to Sydney because her relatives were living there. And she promised me faithfully that she would do everything in her power to get me to come and join her, which eventually I did.
“I was really a boat person. I came on a boat—I had a permit to come to Australia issued by the Australian government; however, it had a clause in it that said I had to be married within three months of arrival, otherwise I would be deported back to Shanghai. So, I was a male war bride.”
Now 90 years old, he has come a long way since he was forced to flee his native Austria as a young man before World War II. “Because of my religion, I was kicked out of Austria together with my parents, and my father was sent to a concentration camp,” Hans explains.
Once Hans was settled in Sydney and married, he turned his mind to how he was going to provide for his new wife. Through chance, he decided to go into the menswear business, and opened his first menswear store in Sydney in 1948. His next step was to open a second shop for his father and mother to manage.
He continued opening more stores, creating the Manhattan retail chain, which would later be incorporated into Lowes upon its acquisition. Slowly, the Manhattan empire grew to 22 shops.