Mr. Sturm, you can look back on 50 years of prosperity. What is the secret of ebm-papst’s success?
Our constant efforts to keep moving forward – both with regard to the company and our products. Ever since I founded ebm together with Heinz Ziehl, our company philosophy has always remained the same: Every new product must be ecologically and conomically superior to its predecessor. And so we would never dream of resting on our laurels. On the contrary, we should be looking ahead to the next 50 years. We will only be able to maintain our current rate of growth if we continue to develop new, highly innovative products.
What does that mean in concrete terms?
The whole area of system solutions has gained tremendously in significance for us. After acquiring the specialist gear company Zeitlauf, our plant in St. Georgen is now in a position to provide complete drive systems including gear units and control electronics. This means we are able to compete with low-cost manufacturers in the Far East. In Landshut we are seeing clear signs of a similar development towards system solutions including gas valve technology and electronics. We must however also consider the possibility of offering system solutions for customers above and beyond our regular product portfolio. Not just from the point of view of the added value, but also to guarantee the use of our products. If we were to provide control technology for other components as well – for example in the refrigeration compressor sector – we could considerably expand our electronics production. We should however also bear in mind large fans for industrial applications like those we are already manufacturing in Hollenbach. Or fans and motors required to satisfy highly specific demands – for instance in explosion-proof devices as used nowadays in the petrochemicals industry. The main thing is to broaden our horizons whilst at the same time maintaining close contact with our customers.
The first ec motor, a fleet of company buses and the Federal order of merit for Gerhard Sturm.
Allow me to use the following image to explain my idea: I see ebm-papst as a large tanker in the midst of a group of smaller, more manoeuvrable ships and boats. All are largely free to travel the seven seas and dock at all the world’s harbours. But: All the ships and boats regularly come back to the ebm-papst mother ship to report on their journeys and plans and present the results of their work. Experts call this divisionalisation. This development has been coming for years. And since every ship needs a captain and a crew, there are plenty of opportunities for motivated employees to climb up the ladder.
On which international markets will ebm-papst be intensifying its activities in the future?
We are still working on getting ourselves established in the USA. The trend towards energy saving has been a help – as it enabled us to diversify into various sectors. One new outlet is the market for precision climate control technology in data centres. Products from St. Georgen have already achieved some initial, albeit modest success in the American automotive industry. The major obstacle to resounding success in the USA over the past 30 years has been the dollar exchange rate. Competition in China is fierce, but we are nevertheless aiming to achieve substantial growth by tailoring our business to the demands of the market. For example our new, ultra-modern development centre in Shanghai will help us react even better to the requirements of local companies in future. We are equally convinced of the potential offered by the Indian market and have invested in a new, high-performance factory in Chennai to enable us to supply Asian countries even more efficiently. A decision which to this day has proven its worth. So I am expecting ebm-papst to carry on growing in India as well.
All-in-all that sounds as if there are plenty more challenges waiting for ebm-papst.
That is true, but I don’t have any worries about ebm-papst! The challenges we are currently facing are nothing other than normal growth problems. We just need to do our homework. Let’s not forget that we are already in an excellent position throughout. In future success will not necessarily depend on having “better” products, it will be a matter of getting on the market first. And to do that, a company needs a highly motivated team prepared to go through thick and thin. We need total commitment to success! Our outstanding workforce is our most valuable asset. ebm-papst remains a family business and that is how we intend to keep it. The positive spirit of the early days still lives on. When all said and done, there is no law which says that anonymity has to increase with the size of a company and that the human aspect has to suffer. I am pleased to see the current management upholding the spirit of the ebm-papst family. After all it makes good sense: What is good for the company is good for its employees.