Leo Looser: engineer with entrepreneurial blood

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When Leo Looser studied building technology at the Department of Engineering & Architecture, the university was still called Technikum - commonly known as "Tech" - and the course was called "Heating - Ventilation - Air Conditioning". That was around 60 years ago. In the meantime, Leo Looser has taken two companies public. Today, thanks to a generous donation, he is enabling the HSLU to build the "perfect house" for training and research in building technology.

Leo Looser was 26 years old, had already completed an apprenticeship as a mechanic in the family business Elco and had several years of professional experience in French-speaking Switzerland under his belt when he came to Tech in 1961. He decided to study heating, ventilation and air conditioning in Lucerne because he was looking for an education with practical relevance. To this day, he is a staunch advocate of practical training. The student body was largely male, there were of course no computers on the desks; books, notes and blackboards were very popular.

Studies as the beginning of lifelong friendships

Leo Looser has fond memories of his student days in Lucerne. Not only because of what he learned, but also because of his activities in the student association. "Valuable contacts were made there that we still maintain today," says Looser.

After "Tech", Looser traveled to America for two years with two fellow students. There, he gained professional experience as an engineer in the development department of an oil burner company while also attending courses in business administration at New York University. Back in Switzerland, he took on various tasks in the family business Elco, together with five siblings. His parents Elsa and Emil Looser had founded the company in 1928 and expanded it internationally in the post-war years.

Initially they manufactured agricultural machinery, later they also developed oil burners. Leo Looser took over as Head of Research & Development and expanded the product range with solar systems, heat pumps and new burner systems. He later became Chairman of the Executive Board and Board of Directors of Elco Looser Holding AG and accompanied its IPO.

Retirement can wait

As the siblings approached retirement age, they decided to sell Elco Looser Holding in 1995. The "paints and varnishes" division did not find the right place there and was not performing satisfactorily. Leo Looser remembers: "I was easily able to convince my siblings that we should buy this part back." So FLH, Farben und Lacke Holding was back in the family’s possession in 1996. They also expanded it again through clever acquisitions to become an industrial company with around 2500 employees.

In 2004, the group of companies was brought together under the umbrella of the newly founded Looser Holding AG, which was also floated on the stock exchange. It was only when Leo Looser’s siblings and he were well past retirement age that they finally decided to incorporate the company into Arbonia, which was active as a building supplier, and to retire. "Now I’m actually retired," says Leo Looser - and laughs: Now he can enjoy his retirement with a clear conscience.

Committed at home and in Africa

But Leo Looser can’t let it go completely. Even in old age, he cannot deny his entrepreneurial blooda. Together with his wife Marcella Looser-Paardekooper, he saved the Pizolbahnen when they were threatened with closure in 2007. Incidentally, he is also active abroad: In Tanzania, for example, he works with the Waterkiosk Foundation to provide clean water in rural areas.

But even that is not enough: he is returning to his roots and supporting his alma mater with the further development of sustainable building technology. He donated four million to "The Perfect House", the research infrastructure that is being built with it. It is intended to contribute to the further development of building technology, particularly in the field of energy optimization.

"It means a lot to me that young people at Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts learn how to carry out projects. They can work on their bachelor’s theses in the -perfect house- and later transfer their knowledge to industry."

Thanks to Leo Looser’s generous donation, a new, square building has stood on the roof of a campus wing in Horw since 2023. The 88 meter tall, inconspicuous building conceals two research rooms and a technical room packed with building technology. Its purpose is to research the perfect house of the future.

For heating, cooling and ventilation, it makes a difference whether a room is constructed from heavy concrete walls or light wooden walls. The rooms react differently to solar radiation, the outside temperature or the number of people in the room. Previous research modules either only cover one construction method or require expensive and time-consuming reworking for tests with different construction methods.

In Horw, things are different thanks to the "perfect house". At the touch of a button, it is possible to investigate how a heating or ventilation system changes in a timber or concrete building, for example. Sixty sensors continuously measure the heat balance and feed data into a computer model that calculates the surface temperatures. Accordingly, it orders water at the right temperature in the technical room, which flows through aluminum elements on the room surfaces. In this way, different construction methods can be tested flexibly and research can be developed.

Author: Senta van de Weetering
Pictures: Christian Felber
Published: December 12, 2023