Emil Possehl was born in Lübeck in 1850 as the first son of Lübeck merchant Ludwig Possehl. His parental home at the Beckergrube was also the business headquarters for L. Possehl & Co., a trader of iron, sheet metal, and coal. The ancestral family home continues to be used as the head office for the Possehl Group of Companies. In 1873 Emil Possehl joined his father’s business, becoming the largest ore trader in Europe a few years later. By taking over companies from the production and processing sectors in Russia, Sweden, and Norway, the Lübeck merchant became an industrialist with European and intercontinental connections. In 1901 he was elected to the Lübeck Senate, the painting shows him in the Senate robes of the time.
As his marriage remained childless, in his will he bequeathed all his business assets to the Possehl Foundation. The German Empire and Wilhelmine society shaped Emil Possehl. As an entrepreneur, he was modern and far-sighted, even believing in progress, but his view of history was nostalgic and based on a nationalist attitude, and his entrepreneurial success was to serve his fatherland and his home town. However, his political commitment was by no means of an enthusiastic nature, but was carried by the pragmatism of the merchant and always served his own business ventures. Against this background, the structure chosen by him for the Possehl Foundation being seen as the sole owner, which promotes "all that is good and beautiful" in Lübeck, in its role as owner, however, also creates the prerequisite for long-term corporate management. In the last century, the group of companies has survived two world wars, the economic crisis and inflation associated with it. It is now a successful international group with nearly 200 operating companies and approximately 13,000 employees worldwide. It is an essential asset of the Foundation, from whose income it is able to finance its activities for Lübeck.