Martin Schäfer’s interest in bees began after casual conversations about beekeeping with his Magna colleague Günter Rühle, a chief engineer.

Schäfer received his first bee colony from Rühle in 2013, and his interest in bees blossomed.

“At the beginning, you have bees; but very soon, they have you,” said Schäfer, who works for Magna Powertrain in Untergruppenbach, Germany as a senior account manager of sales for transmission systems.

In his spare time, he tends to about 30 beehives at three locations near his home in Oberstenfeld, and runs a small business that sells honey, beeswax candles and mead made from honey at local marts and online.

His love of bees is apparent in his blog, where he writes: “Our focus is on the careful and respectful handling of bees.”

Schäfer also is a member of the leadership team of a local beekeeper association, and volunteers at a nearby school, where he has helped to set up six beehives in order to spread the importance and knowledge of beekeeping to the next generation.

“Bees are interesting creatures,” Schäfer said. “You should think of a bee colony as one organism or community. It has its own attitude and character. One colony is different in how it behaves and reacts. They are so fascinating that I will never stop beekeeping until I am no longer able to do it. It’s not a hobby for a few years, it is that important. The benefit the bees bring to our environment is pollination.”

Or, as one entry in his blog puts it: “No Bees, No Honey, No Work, No Money.”

Schäfer describes himself as an environmentalist who is bringing “his little contribution to save the environment.”

He added: “What we do at Magna with dual-clutch transmission technology also has an environmental aspect. These transmission systems are a good way to reduce CO2 emissions.”

Beekeeping has other benefits, too.

“Beekeeping is a great balance to the daily business work in sales,” Schäfer said. “Beekeeping is my way to relax.”

Bees are interesting creatures, You should think of a bee colony as one organism or community. It has its own attitude and character. One colony is different in how it behaves and reacts. They are so fascinating that I will never stop beekeeping until I am no longer able to do it. It’s not a hobby for a few years, it is that important.

A Special Bond with Bees

Rhiannon LaForest pulls on a knit cap, jacket and flowered Wellington boots, and strides down the hill in her Troy, Michigan backyard to check on her family’s two beehives.

The 40,000+ honeybees are nestled in insulated hives in preparation for winter; LaForest occasionally will supplement their diet with sugar patties throughout the colder seasons. A third hive for native bees is hung on a nearby tree, along with a sign that reads: Caution, Honey Bees Hard at Work. Do Not Disturb.”

As the senior director of marketing and communications for Magna Powertrain, LaForest’s workday includes promoting the company’s green offerings, such as 48-volt technologies and hybrid transmissions.

But she is also committed to the environment outside of work, dedicating her time to nurturing and protecting bees, an important part of the ecosystem.

Her husband Brian, a police officer, and her five-year-old daughter Sarah, are just as enthusiastic about the new hobby. They all have their own beekeeping outfits, including a miniature one for Sarah with a protective veil.

“We started doing it because we thought it would be a little bit of fun, and we were very excited about the honey,” LaForest said. “But the more we learned, the more we realized that we could have an impact on the environment. By just keeping a couple of beehives we can contribute to our local environment and ecosystem by pollinating all the flowers nearby – and even further. The bees will fly up to three miles to collect nectar and pollen.

“We started small with two hives and will extend that to three next year, and more in the future. But right now, we’re still learning and developing our skills.”

LaForest and her husband attended a course on bees last March, walking out with equipment that included the hives, two queens and approximately 120,000 bees. Then they spent time in England last May with LaForest’s uncle, Jonathan Baynes, a British bee expert who inspects hives for diseases and advises beekeepers in other countries, too.

“My uncle has more than 20 hives and a real relationship with his bees,” said LaForest, who grew up on a fruit farm in Kent, England. “He taught us to look for the signs. Are the bees healthy? Are they agitated? Is the queen laying eggs?”

Folklore encourages the special bond between humans and bees; some beekeepers in Europe give their bees written contracts, promising to provide shelter and care in return for wax and honey.

The LaForests haven’t gone that far, but Brian plays music near the hives when he is doing an inspection, and the whole family commonly refers to the bees as their “girls.”

The honeybees appear to be thriving. The family harvested 120 pounds of honey last summer. As LaForest presses a jar of LaForest Family Honey into a visitor’s hand she says: “It’s really good. You can taste the flowers.”

Rhiannon LaForest, Senior director of marketing and communications for Magna Powertrain

The Magna Beekeeping Project: Linking Bees and Industry

In spring 2020, employees in 10 Magna divisions in Austria and Germany began participation in an ambitious project to protect and increase the bee population in Europe.

They are part of Project 2028, which was launched by Hektar Nektar, a Viennese start-up that brings together companies and beekeepers in an effort to increase the bee population by 10 percent in Germany and Austria by 2028.

Participating Magna divisions get a colony of bees, the dwelling, accessories and technical literature. As Hektar Nektar explains: “Without bees, we humans are not viable.”

Magna’s support for Hektar Nektar began in 2019, with all corporate Magna employees receiving honey as holiday gifts.

“Gerald Harzl, Magna’s vice president for human resources in Europe, suggested the beekeeping project,” explained Silvia Jöbstl, Magna senior manager for environmental health and safety in Europe. “We are working in the technical automotive industry, but we’re part of nature and the circle of life.”

She added: “Beekeeping is a great starting point. If we want to eat an apple from a tree in the areas where we work in the future, it is essential to have bees doing their job.”

While she’s not a beekeeper, Jöbstl is a nature lover who spends her holidays backpacking in Peru, Bolivia and other places.

“Patagonia was one of the most wonderful places I’ve been,” she said, referring to the sparsely populated region at the southern end of South America that some call the greatest hiking destination in the world. “You have the mountains and the glaciers. It’s really impressive. And it also connects to my professional work and the importance of being in nature.”

The Magna beekeeping project will be closely monitored.

“It may expand,” Jöbstl said. “In the long term, we may do this globally.”

Silvia Jöbstl, Magna senior manager for environmental health and safety in Europe, during her visit to Patagonia