Issue 15 — Partnership

Natural intelligence
as a resource



An interview with a pioneering thinker who has
spent 40 years addressing the question
of what the world of tomorrow should look like.

Photos by Richard Gaston, Mirja Kofler, Kirsty Dawn Words by Tanja Pabelick
A portrait of Franz Joseph and his three children (two men one woman)

Team Dr Joseph works with the smartest high-tech laboratory in the world—nature itself. At its location in the tranquil South Tyrolean town of Bruneck, the natural cosmetics brand combines the ingenuity of plants with scientific findings to create a successful symbiosis of nature and high-tech.

In Bruneck, the largest town in the South Tyrol valley of Pustertal, the mountains are always somewhere in view. The highest have snowy peaks soaring above rich green belts of forest; the foothills of Kronplatz, the local mountain, even extend directly into the town. In Bruneck the natural world, in all its Alpine allure touched with Mediterranean elements, is the leading characteras well as one of the foremost members of cosmetics company TEAM DR JOSEPH. The company has its premises in an award-winning timber building, the brainchild of architect Bruno Rubner. This choice of headquarters alone tells an intriguingly rich story about the brand’s mindset and philosophy. The all-wood house was built in 1999, long before architects re-embraced the material due to its green potential in carbon-­neutral construction, but still in time to receive the first South Tyrol Wooden Architecture Award. A lush herb garden stretches in front of the full-length windows; the Rienz brook babbles along directly behind the building. Joseph Franz grew up at the heart of this idyll. The pioneer of natural cosmetics founded his company, TEAM DR JOSEPH, in 1986. Today, he is nothing less than a veteran avant-gardist who has always carved out his own path, guided by his holistic perspective of the world and his fusion of nature and high-tech.

a man sitting at a table reading


Joseph Franz created his first herbarium at the
tender age of six. His inex­haustible curiosity
drove him to acquire a profound knowledge of
the active mechanisms of plant-based
productsand become a pio­neering thinker in
the natural cosmetics sector.


Joseph Franz, how did you become a pioneer?


Joseph Franz
Pioneering achievements always emerge at a time when many others never even have the idea. In the 1970s, environmental conservation was simply not on the agenda of either politicians or the general public, despite the obviously undesirable developments taking place at the time, like forest dieback. Nobody was developing long-term strategies for making use of the resources available. I instinctively felt rebellion rise within me.



What was your childhood like?


Joseph Franz
My family had a weaving mill; we kept sheep and grew flax to produce linen. That was where I learnt the craft and the trade; there were constant discussions about turnover, about procuring raw materials. By contrast, my mother’s father was a doctor in Brixen, and that world also helped to shape me, with memories of his doctor’s bag packed with medications. And a third influence was most certainly the environment that surrounded me as a child, at the heart of South Tyrol, the heart of nature. Even as a child, I was intensely curious about the world around me, and my fascination with nature was a constant source of new inspiration.



You were inspired to found your company by an idea; what was it?


Joseph Franz
I always played a lot of sport, particularly ice hockey, but then I was badly injured. I was scheduled to receive a new joint after taking my business management degree, despite my young age. That brought me back to nature. I began to search for something, still without any clear idea of what I was looking for. But this search led me to the University of Pharmacology at Urbino, where I studied under a specialist in medicinal herbs. Business management and herbal medicinewhat was I supposed to do with that combination? My first idea, admittedly not enti­rely out of altruism, was to open a health food store to introduce quality natural foods to the town. I gradually began to experiment with cosmetics, exploring materials like gemstones and minerals.




When Joseph Franz recalls the early days of his company, it sounds more like the Silicon Valley of the 1980s than South Tyrol. His first laboratory was housed in a garage. With a coup­le of assistants, he started to develop his first products and methods. At the time, few Europeans were interested in sustainable and natural cosmetic products. However, Joseph Franz intuitively felt he was on the right track, and that he would need to follow that track blindly if he were to acquire new knowledge. As a pioneering thinker, he had no examples to guide him, no compass, no clear-cut goals. And because he was following an unknown path at the time, he was also uncertain whether his efforts would ever pay off. It was a time when the need for trust was para­mount–trust in himself, and trust in his vision.

three Team Dr Joseph Products


Team Dr Joseph minimises the use of plastics,
for example by choosing glass bottles
and printing instead of adhesive labels.


Sustainability, social responsibility and respect for nature have been embedded in your company’s ethical principles from the outset. Can you describe why that is so important to you?


Joseph Franz
A natural approach and sustainable strategies have always been part of our family values. We never used synthetic fibres at our weaving mill, but relied on simple, good things. I continued that way of thinking in my own company. I always viewed my mission as using only products that were natural or close to nature. Consciousness of responsibility is another important aspect. Sustainability involves more than raw materials, packaging, transport and organising workflows. We live in an interconnected world, where every action has its consequences. I believe the question to be asked shouldn’t be whether I’m committing misdeeds and wherebut whether I have the right mentality in general, and whether I stand up for my values in all respects. I always act in accordance with my convictions and my philosophy.



Ecological actions, economic goalsare those contradictory, or are they entrepreneu­r­ial goals that can be linked?


Joseph Franz
For an economic enterprise, the conventional path is directed towards growth and profit. My rewording of that economic goal is: the company must develop towards quality. In nature, quantitative growth likewise evolves ­into qualitative growth. Trees first grow tall before they grow broader; in business-speak, they go for long-term benefit over short-term profit. When that is translated into product terms, it means the product has a positive benefit for the consumer or, even better, for the system as a whole. My goal is to maximise benefit, not profit. That was my guiding principle forty years ago when I founded TEAM DR ­JOSEPH, and it’s still my principle today.




Joseph Franz was a pioneer who forged ahead with a great vision, his eyes fixed firmly on the future. He had no interest in what other companies to his left and right might be doing. The company is now in the hands of the next generationhis three children, Fabian, Viktor and Lena. They are continuing to uphold the interdisci­plinary spirit that has reigned in the company since its inception. In the beginning, it was Joseph Franz’s trinity of biology, chemistry and intelligent nature that established the foundations. Now Fabian and Viktor come from backgrounds in architecture and business, and Lena from theatre studies and philosophy. Seemingly contradictory concepts have always served Joseph Franz as seeds of innovation. The gradual return of his children to the fold despite their different individual plans was partly due to the overall business climate. All three were ultimately seeking a company that demonstrated social and ecological responsibility in its operations and made the ‘right’ decisions in moral termsand they found it at home.

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