Werner Otto, 102, the founder of the mail-order company that bears his name and a prominent figure in West Germany's post-World War II economic resurgence, died Dec. 21 in Berlin.

Mr. Otto opened a shoe factory in Hamburg in 1945, but it didn't last long in the face of tough competition from southern Germany.

So in 1949, with four employees, he turned to selling shoes by mail order - the start of what became Otto Group, which now employs 50,000 people and has annual revenue of $14.9 billion.

Its first, hand-produced, catalog appeared in 1950, offering 28 styles of shoes. The business grew rapidly during the 1950s, expanding its range and establishing itself with the help of shoppers from outside major cities who didn't have ready access to stores; in 1963, Mr. Otto introduced telephone orders and went online in 1995.

Mr. Otto handed over the company's operational management in 1965 and founded another enterprise, ECE, which builds and manages shopping malls in Europe.

He also set up Paramount Group Inc., to invest in U.S. real estate.

Mr. Otto dedicated himself to a range of social causes, including his Werner Otto Foundation, founded in 1969, which supports medical research.

Among other projects, his company said, he donated a new museum building to Harvard University to showcase expressionist art from the German-speaking world.

- AP