Erich Petry and Achim Rivinius
- You have both been with the company for many decades and have grown with MEISER. What have been the main milestones along the way?
- Erich Petry: I started at MEISER in 1970 and after completing my vocational training, I joined the Sales Department. The first memorable moment was the opening of a new production building in 1984. Another highlight was the reunification of Germany in 1990/91 and the steady expansion of Oelsnitz as a MEISER site over the following years. The special thing was always to grow with the company. Each time our capacity increased, we became too small again soon after. That is why there was always a lot to do during every phase at MEISER. To have played an active role in that and still be here is very fulfilling.
- Achim Rivinius: I have very early ties to MEISER. As children we played on the welded wire mesh panels which MEISER produced. At that time, the site was small and it was like being on an adventure playground for us. So it was almost a logical next step that I should work for MEISER. At the time, there were 20 of us. My first memories are from my time in Purchasing where I learnt that the profit from processing was heavily dependent on the purchase price. The introduction of our first IT system in 1981 was a special experience and opened up new opportunities to better organise our growth. From 1985 to the start of the 90s, I worked in steel sales. Expansion and new products continued to offer me new, interesting opportunities. The great trust placed in me by the shareholders team gave me the confidence to use these opportunities and develop my career.
- Grating became more and more important during the 1970s and 1980s. Why was that?
- Erich Petry: The use of grating in many areas of industry was increasing steadily at the time. We also took a look at our competitors in Germany and dared takeovers although we were still a relatively small company. Our approach has always been bold and enterprising. At the end of the 1970s, sales were mainly through trading companies such as Teichmann in Nuremberg and Jäger in Olpe.
- Achim Rivinius: Initially, we were a regional company. Our customers were mainly metalworkers and steel fabricators. Then we started to explore markets outside the Saarland – and our first major customer was Bayer in Leverkusen. In 1986 we had our first catalogue printed. That was also when the famous MEISER logo, the diamond-shaped grating was designed. I had flat bars polished and cut into pieces for it and then played around with the various elements until our logo appeared. In addition to grating production, the trade and processing of steel is a second pillar of MEISER’s business. For a time, we also treated scrap metal sheets.
- The value-added chain was expanded ever more. What were its main features?
- Erich Petry: From a very early stage, we had the objective to complete all the production processes in-house. In the 70s and 80s, we bought slitting plants and cold rolling mills to establish our independence. That meant that everything – starting with the raw steel material right through to the galvanised grating – was located under a single roof, namely our roof! It also meant that we remained flexible and were able to cater for the wishes of our customers. That often meant large investments and a great deal of confidence in the future. And we really did have that. Our investments in the value-added chain also opened up new markets for us and in some cases also created completely new product ideas.
- Achim Rivinius: Gratings were always our main product and the rapidly growing market really helped us. Steel processing always took place parallel to this, but crucially gave us the opportunity to diversify. Trade in steel developed alongside the grating business and grew ever larger. We bought the material worldwide and then sold on the products to Switzerland and trade partners in Germany. In principle, we grew a little bit with every order we received.
We have always been interested in new technology and better production facilities. When a new machine was needed to complete an order more efficiently, we seldom refrained from making that investment.
- You have played a major role at MEISER for many years. How does MEISER differ as a family-run company from others?
- Erich Petry: There has always been great financial stability. That has been one of the pillars of our activity. The others were the far-reaching vision of Edmund Meiser and his willingness to take decisions. The relationships between us are all based on deep-seated trust and loyalty. Things are
always exciting at MEISER. And I’m particularly proud of the constant high quality of the company’s products. This is especially due to the personal commitment of every single employee.
- Achim Rivinius: Whenever we needed a decision, it was made quickly. Edmund Meiser always had a clear idea of the effects of a decision. The rural location of the site in Limbach also played a major role. MEISER feels its responsibility towards its employees. This creates close ties with the entire workforce, most of whom come from the immediate surrounding area. Having local roots has always ensured that we keep our feet on the ground and retain a sense of proportion.
- How do you view the change of generation at MEISER?
- Erich Petry: You would barely notice it, to be honest. This doesn’t mean that things aren’t being discussed internally, but those discussions are objective and target-oriented. The great advantage of MEISER is the corporate culture that Edmund Meiser has established and which he is passing on to his sons.
- Achim Rivinius: Everybody in a position of authority respects and
appreciates each other. The members of the family and the management team get on very well. In addition to technical competence, dealing with people correctly and respectfully is very important. Today, the company is so large that we need a competent team to take care of everything. Edmund Meiser and his sons have always shown good intuition when looking for management personnel.
Dietmar Prätorius and Frank Degenkolb
- How did everything start at the time and how did contact with MEISER first come about in 1990?
- Frank Degenkolb: We both worked for MLK Plauen, a company with a total workforce of 6000. The “Treuhandanstalt” (GDR Trust Agency) sold the four parts of the company with the smallest, with a workforce of 54, going to Meiser. The first contact with Meiser came through the Chamber of Industry and Commerce.
- When did you first meet Edmund Meiser?
- FrankDegenkolb: That was in November 1990. It was a very exciting experience. The Technical Director of my then company, Dr. Degenkolb, advised me to go to Meiser. I had to make my mind up within five minutes. It was the best decision I have ever made. But I didn’t know that in 1990.
- Dietmar Prätorius: We came from a socialist system and now, all of a sudden, Edmund Meiser had placed his complete trust in us. We were real pioneers at the time in circumstances which today are almost unimaginable. There was just one telephone number, which was always busy of course, and this infuriated Edmund Meiser. Then came the first mobile phone, a massive brick with which we had to drive up into the hills between Chrieschwitz and Plauen to get any sort of a network signal. We had to do a lot of driving then and for a long time afterwards because we simply didn’t have any infrastructure here. Often we got on the road to Limbach at 3 in the morning and arrived back after midnight
- MEISER Gitterroste GmbH & Co KG was soon able to supply its first gratings. And things went so well that the plant was soon much too small. So what happened then?
- Dietmar Prätorius: First of all, we established the grating production in the empty buildings in Plauen using the old organisation. The first set of machines came from Limbach. The company was founded on 1 February 1991 and on 2 May 1991 we delivered our first products. We immediately realised that the site was too small and started looking for a new site in a rural location, copying the example set by MEISER. The Johannisberg industrial estate in Oelsnitz was in its infancy and the then Mayor Eva-Maria Möbius did a great deal for MEISER. We have a lot to thank her for, unfortunately she died three years ago from cancer.
- Frank Degenkolb: At that time, we were producing 220 to 250 tonnes per month. We then erected a building in Oelsnitz which was designed for 600 tonnes per month. We started production in the new building in the early summer of 1994. Naturally we continued production during the construction phase. Dietmar Prätorius: After that, we developed in leaps and bounds. All the machines were built here in the actual plant because that was the expertise of the core team of the 54 people who were there at the start with MEISER. In 1997, Ulrich and Wolfgang Meiser founded uwM Stahlbearbeitung with its own slitting systems and later with profiling lines for the production of vineyard posts. It was joined in 1999 by uwM Stanztechnik which manufactured press welded gratings. At the same time, we also built a new central administration building.
- How is the site doing today?
- Dietmar Prätorius: I regard it as an equal with the Saarland site, with a similar number of employees and different divisions. Our staircase business is based in Oelsnitz and along with sheet metal profile gratings, the product alternatives which help diversification, such as our vineyard posts, are produced there
- Which markets do you serve from here?
- Dietmar Prätorius: Actually, the separation of the sales territories is based on the former border to East Germany although Bavaria is served by Oelsnitz. In general, we are responsible for Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. We share the global markets through the diversification. It’s great to see that we supply vineyard posts to vineyards whose wines we drink at home.
- What makes MEISER special in your opinion? What makes MEISER different?
- Dietmar Prätorius: The best way of answering that question is to start from the beginning. The connection to the Meiser family was a major component from the beginning, above all to Edmund Meiser and his wife Ursula Meiser. We have both been integrated into the family and have found the complete trust that was placed in us and the values the family represents to be something extremely enriching for our lives. We have also always been given the opportunity to make decisions and to deal with our own people.
- Frank Degenkolb: Mutual appreciation and respect have been there right from the start. Edmund Meiser believed in us. His objectives and his entrepreneurship were a constant stimulus for us. It provided incredible motivation which is how we have managed to deal with the enormous workload placed on us. Edmund Meiser didn’t just think about receiving subsidies, but rather he always had the people in mind. There are enough negative examples from that time of course. Ultimately, of the 6000 employees at MLK Plauen, the 54 who went to Meiser still have the same jobs. Today, we have a workforce of around 800. We have never been regarded, or even exploited, by MEISER as a low-cost manufacturer. He established an honest business in Oelsnitz – with the aim of building something permanent. Edmund Meiser has always considered the people.
- You can now together look back on 25 years of MEISER success in Vogtland. What remains and what do you expect in the future?
- Dietmar Prätorius: Although I have now left, I still think about the company a lot. The company has a solid base and will remain intact. This is helped by the healthy competition between Saarland and Vogtland, which always helped to push things along. The current size is ideal and decisions can still be made very quickly.
- Frank Degenkolb: Robert Vièl has now taken over the management role. The second tier of management at the site is in place with almost everybody having been trained here including those who completed sandwich courses. They are all still young and hungry. Diversification is also important for the site. Gratings now only account for 60 percent of turnover, new products will be added in the future and this share will continue to shrink.
- Mr Degenkolb, you are taking on new responsibilities. What will they be?
- Frank Degenkolb: I will be looking after projects in Germany and abroad for MEISER. In Turkey, in Dubai and South America, for example, we have built new plants which require development. The machines come from our Oelsnitz site and I have always been responsible for technical equipment so this was a logical next step.
László Berényi and Son
- MEISER has been active in Hungary since the 1970s when Edmund Meiser and István Horváth, the General Manager of the Dunaferr steelworks, started their business relationship. How should we describe the beginning?
- It all started at the beginning of the 1970s with a complaint. Dunaferr supplied hollow steel sections but Edmund Meiser was not satisfied with the quality. István Horváth travelled to Limbach to sort out the situation. After the German reunification, Edmund Meiser wrote to the Hungarian Chamber of Trade to tell them that he needed steel, buildings, workers and a galvanising plant in the area. The letter ended up on my desk because I spoke German. At the time, Dunaferr was supplying steel for cranes to DEMAG in Zweibrücken. So all the letters went through me. Edmund Meiser then invited István Horváth and me to Limbach to see what ideas MEISER had for Hungary. When István Horváth and Edmund Meiser saw each other again, it quickly became clear that Dunaferr was the logical partner for MEISER. They did not remember the complaint, they only remembered what they shared.
- The joint venture with Ferroste Kft. based in Dunaújváros then followed in 1992. So what were the facts in favour of founding the company?
- The place had everything: steel, buildings, people – the only thing it didn’t have was a market. MEISER provided us with extensive support at the beginning. As a result of the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, it was not possible to carry out any market research. But without a market, how could MEISER justify an investment of 6 million German marks? So MEISER wanted to start with a sales office and on 27 January 1992, asked me to manage it. On 1 February, I started in my new job as Managing Director of Ferroste.
- How did the business evolve after that and what did you contribute to this development?
- In 1994, we started the business in a small building cutting gratings and manufacturing spiral staircases. The business grew by 30 to 50% every year. In 1995, we then built the first production plant for gratings.
- If there was no market initially, where did the customers come from?
- I searched for them day and night. You could say I slept in the car. I engaged a salesman and a secretary. We were on the road all the time like vacuum cleaner salesman with a case of samples full of gratings. We looked for design and project offices in the Yellow Pages and visited them one after another. Gratings as a whole and above all in industrial quality were a rarity in Hungary. The fact that MEISER had a technical lead over the others was our advantage. At first, we only received small orders – sometimes 10, sometimes up to 100 square metres of area. In 1996, we took on more employees and gradually expanded our production of gratings
- The next step in 2003: Ferroste becomes one hundred percent MEISER. Why was that important for future development?
- You could say that Dunaferr and Ferroste had grown apart and no longer fitted each other. Dunaferr sold the shares and it quickly became clear that we would take over the MEISER name. With the new capacity, we were able to make contacts and expand in Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, other Balkan states and also Austria.
- What is the situation today and what do you expect for the future?
- Currently, we are erecting our own building in Romania where we have a turnover of 1.5 million euros. We are gaining new contacts in Slovakia. Between 2006 and 2011 we expanded our production capacities in Hungary with new press lines. Our product range became ever larger and we had to constantly adjust our capacities. The new plants also enabled us to store all our gratings under cover. It would have been better to erect one large building, but instead we always grew bit by bit. And always by our own efforts, using our own resources. I am very proud of that. In 2013, we began production of aluminium scaffolds after MEISER bought scaffold manufacturer ALFIX. In our first financial year, we managed a turnover of two million euros.
- You have played a major role at MEISER in Hungary for many years. What do you think makes MEISER such a special company?
- The MEISER parent company was always a role model for us. I often travelled to Limbach where my mentor was Mr Geib, who taught me a great deal. We did not have any role models or comparisons in Hungary, of course. Edmund Meiser helped us with commercial matters and it was always the aim to be independent and to find our own customers. Ferroste was never intended to be a low-cost production site for Germany. Our market today is such that we sell 35% of production in Hungary and the rest to neighbouring countries and the EU. My son is now on the management staff together with me. Our workforce has increased to 125. And in 2015, we passed the 10 million euros turnover mark for the first time. I have actually retired, but Edmund Meiser wanted me to expand our aluminium production. It seems that he will need me for a few years yet. We have achieved so much together, I’m sure we will manage to do that as well.
Dr. Ihsan Onur Yilmaz
- Do you have a special relationship with Mr Edmund Meiser?
- Definitely. He is our mentor and our role model. Our contacts to the entire Meiser family are very close and there is a strong bond of trust between us. The relocation from Ankara to Kocaeli was prepared in a whole host of meetings with Edmund, Ulrich and Wolfgang Meiser. A new plant is not just another site, it also has to reflect the MEISER culture and philosophy. I had lots of conversations with Ulrich Meiser on this subject but at the same time I was also able to act very independently. This is the recipe for success that allows you to gain a foothold in a country in the long term. Edmund Meiser and his sons specify the direction and our objectives but on a local level, they give us a free rein.
- What was the start for MEISER in Turkey?
- Everything started in 2006 with a Turkish partner. Kartal agreed with Mr Meiser to establish a cutting business for gratings, initially not as an independent company but within the Kartal Group of Companies. After around two years of working together, it was decided to continue with an independent grating company. By the end of 2007, the whole concept was ready. At that time, I was studying in Germany where I met the Meiser family. That is how I came to be here, joining the company when it was founded in 2007.
- You have developed a market extremely quickly. How did you manage it?
- At the time, Turkey did not realise there was demand for gratings, the product was not very well known and a grating meant something else. During our initial visits therefore, we had to introduce the product and draw attention to its benefits and possible uses. That was very time-consuming and complicated. But little by little, we were able to persuade more and more customers to use gratings. And everybody who used our product once stayed with it. That meant that the development was very successful.
- What is special about the Turkish market?
- We are a country with a great deal of development potential. We have a blossoming building industry, we are building chemical and power plants – so there is massive demand for steel structures and gratings, particularly press welded gratings since they are still relatively unknown. Turkish steel fabricators are very much in demand in other countries, with major orders coming from all over the world and we are often involved as their partner.
- Which markets can you serve for MEISER from Turkey?
- We are mainly responsible for Turkey and the countries which surround it and other countries in our part of the world such as Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. There is a great deal of investment in infrastructure going on in these regions and the oil and chemical industries are also major buyers of gratings.
- MEISER has owned all the shares since 2013. How important is this for the future?
- This was an important step for the future development of the company.MEISER could then implement its ideas faster and more easily as an independent company. We soon needed new infrastructure and a new plant because we had grown so quickly. That is why the relocation to Istanbul had become so important for the future. Thus the MEISER strategy for Turkey and our sphere of responsibility can be implemented more quickly.
- What is the situation today and what do you expect for the future?
- The market in Turkey is healthy and the economy is growing stably. There’s certainly a certain amount of uncertainty being caused by recent terror attacks. There is also a great deal of unrest around Turkey at the moment. That is why we are always looking for new areas when others close down. We know exactly what we can do and what we should not do. On the basis of the current situation, we are looking at new markets and assessing them. Given the way in which the company is developing, there is a good chance that we can continue to be successful. This is also due to the fact that there have been regular investments in the MEISER brand in Turkey. We want to build long-term customer relationships. We are a reliable local partner and always the first choice. This means that we are commissioned with lots of interesting projects.
- Would joining the EU help?
- Turkey has always looked towards Europe. And we have very well educated young people, renowned universities and lively international exchanges. We have a very high level of training. Our young people are very keen to find out about other cultures. This means they can have successful careers all over the world. So the EU would definitely benefit from our young people.
- You have known MEISER a long time. What do you think makes MEISER such a special company?
- MEISER is a family-run company with a comprehensive corporate culture. I appreciate that a great deal. It is always possible to contact the management team, there are no complications in making decisions and we treat each other very openly and honestly. People trust me, listen to my concerns and give me the freedom to do things. It would be very difficult to find that elsewhere. We also have to grow with the company and MEISER gives us the opportunity to do that at its sites. This type of corporation is very successful.
“For me, selling is not a job, but a passion.”
In 1995 e-mobility was still a dream of the future. Back then MEISER made its first contacts with Scandinavia through its cooperation with the company NTJ Sweden. After it acquired its partner, 2008 saw the founding of MEISER Sweden AB. “I have been on board since day one and have accompanied the change here”, says Jerry Hägglund, who leads the Swedish team. Initially the focus was on stairs, but in 2017 there was a complete change of strategy: “Together with the Meiser family, it was decided to use all the expertise and competences here in Sweden – which includes a lot more than just stairs.”
Thus MEISER Sweden AB developed into a sales office focussing on gratings, sheet metal profile planking and GRP, which are also used in the e-mobility industry: “For me this is a very special project, which I follow with real passion. We have the ideal prerequisites here for the production of lithium-ion cells for electric cars, for example plenty of renewable energy via hydropower. It makes me proud when MEISER can be a part of it.“ For many of his projects Jerry Hägglund uses his large network – which plays a particular role in Sweden: “Everything only works via good contacts. People know each other, and business relationships often turn into friendships. Or vice versa. Just as I always take time for my family and friends, I am here for my customers to reach me day and night.” Jerry Hägglund’s job is his passion – which also becomes clear through the cooperation with the Oelsnitz site. They have a close connection, and contact is very direct. That was not always the case in the Swedish team itself: “In the past everyone used to work mainly for themselves. It’s entirely different today, because we have managed to find the right people.”
Jerry Hägglund has brought them together at MEISER Sweden AB – and would like to keep them together. His next objective is to extend this cooperation beyond national borders, strengthen the connection between the Scandinavian countries, and successfully follow the path together – electrically, of course.
“I am passionate about communication with people who want to look further than the end of their own nose and achieve something.”
Forests instead of skyscrapers, a beer garden instead of a roof terrace, and short trips instead of crossing the world: anyone coming from Frankfurt to the introspective Saarland first needs to find their way round. That is how it was for Claudia Wagner too. The directions she was given for getting to her job interview as Marketing Manager at MEISER did not exactly make things easier: “They told me to turn off at the filling station, drive through the forest and if I thought I had got lost, I would be in the right place.”
Claudia Wagner found MEISER – and along with it an open ear for good ideas: “I was used to working very self-sufficiently and independently. The management made it clear to me right from the start that I could achieve a lot and work creatively here and that has certainly been confirmed.” Today she passes on this experience and the prospect of going your own way to apprentices, students, talents and future managers at MEISER: “In marketing I actually had nothing to do with training. But I got very involved with the brand MEISER and its values, which also include sustainability, and thus the question: What can we as a company do for the environment and people? I saw potential in the human capital area. When I presented my concept, they gave me free reign, and that’s precisely how things work here: If you want to achieve things at MEISER, you can. If you want to, you will be listened to.” Claudia Wagner has developed various programmes together with her team, from apprentice workshops, to supporting of young talents and their better integration into the company. One thing is clear: MEISER trains people to retain them – there is no such things as hire and fire here. The lengthy service of many of the employees is probably the best proof of this. Of course, additional benefits such as health management, language courses or external training are a good incentive for employees, but what is really important is the working environment built on respect and trust, in which prospects repeatedly present themselves. “Important hints for the further development of machines or products often come directly from Production – precisely from the people who have to deal with them day in, day out, and therefore see potential improvements more directly. Then new things are often developed in collaboration across all hierarchical levels.
So in principle, all MEISER is doing is implementing the guiding principle of Saarland ‘Something big always comes from something small,’” explains Claudia Wagner. Precisely because the company is growing so fast, it is vital to maintain connections and keep the information flow going between people, so that they can continue to learn from each other: Everybody is networked with one another via internal information systems. “And of course digitalisation helps us keep in contact. But the really important thing is that people know each other. For instance, I know almost every managing director of the international sites personally.” And people meet up at MEISER. There is even a place that has been created especially to enable communication: The new company restaurant is a place for encounters, further training, think tanks, and a location for networking.
Every employee can find just what they need here – whether it is a sandwich or a good conversation. “Initially it was planned only as an eating place. But then we started asking the employees what they would actually like. This meant we could make well-founded decisions, and didn’t have to rely on the office grapevine. What emerged was the new restaurant as a meeting place for all the employees.” And of course they practise environmental sustainability here too: many of the ingredients come straight from the local region – which is good for the climate and the employees.
Steffen Lang and Christian Kirsch
“What excites me is that we are trusted to initiate further development in these dimensions, and I can be a part of it.” (Steffen Lang)
When Steffen Lang started at MEISER Vogtland as a fitter in 1997, he had a clear goal in sight: to take on a management role in the company. He got involved, gathered experience, familiarised himself with every product and every process – from vineyard posts to special profiles. Until in 2016 he finally took over the technical management in Oelsnitz. “One of my first tasks was to plan the further development of the site for the next few years together with the management and the owners. And it soon became clear that if we wanted to develop not only ourselves, but in particular the press welded grating area, we needed a new plant concept. And then in turn more space for this new plant.” The relocation, the associated improvement in the material flow, the new plant – the project took on huge dimensions. But it was clear to MEISER that innovation needs investment. Finally the new hardware was delivered in 27 truckloads, but Steffen Lang and his team were not yet satisfied with the software: “The control was simply insufficient for our needs. So we developed our own algorithm for controlling the plant.“
Because having the ideas to turn something standard into something individual is also part of what makes MEISER tick.
“At MEISER we can move mountains together and develop further innovations from head office.”(Christian Kirsch)
It is this mix of craftsmanship and automation which especially characterises Christian Kirsch too. Like Steffen Lang, he worked his way through all the production positions before becoming Technical Manager in Limbach: “I started as a fitter in maintenance, then became a foreman, shift leader and finally Production Manager. When you have gone through all these stages, you know the production inside out. This is the basis for making it better.” The further development of the technology in particular has changed a lot at MEISER – and contributed not only to better quality, but also to better working conditions: Where previously an employee had to move 15 to 20 tons of steel in every shift, today a high level of technology makes this physically difficult work easier. “Robot technology and muscle power go hand in hand here”, explains Christian Kirsch. The ideas for innovations and improvements often come directly from the employees: “Naturally we are dependent on the input and feedback from the rank and file, in other words from the people who work directly with it. Whether it comes from an apprentice or the foreman is not an issue here. We always listen to good ideas and take them seriously.”
In this way the close connections
between all levels of the company have a direct influence on the quality at MEISER – including across locations.
Jürgen Langenfeld and Bernd Paulus
“Honesty is really important for me, whether advising customers or among ourselves as a team. That is what makes us stand out.” (Jürgen Langenfeld)
It takes a bit of courage, maybe also a grain of luck, but above all a large portion of expertise: in 2003, Jürgen Langenfeld promised to deliver 30,000 m2 of sheet metal profile planking to a major German automotive manufacturer within a very short time. He knew that MEISER would be able to keep this delivery promise in such a short timescale – because there were no other orders: “Up until then MEISER had only produced gratings, but sheet metal profile planks were actually a comparable product. After taking over one of our competitors, we had to start from scratch and give some thought to the possible uses.” His commitment to building up sales of sheet metal profile planks paid off: with this major order, Jürgen Langenfeld laid the foundation stone for many other projects. Since then a lot has changed, but Jürgen Langenfeld has always closely followed the further development of sheet metal profile planking and gratings. He has been at MEISER for more than 30 years, since starting in sales in 1990 after his apprenticeship with a Saarland steel manufacturer. Today he runs Vertrieb 2 in Limbach, and has also been an authorised representative of the company since 2016.
“Gratings used to be simply a robust industrial product, but little by little this has changed. When an architect approached me at some point, I was surprised at first by his request, or to be honest, I was actually sceptical, but once he had shown me his plans, we developed a solution together. I liked the fact that gratings were becoming more flexible. And just a short time later it was becoming a real trend, and among other things we were able to clad the facades of a large number of multistorey car parks belonging to the automotive manufacturer Audi”, says Jürgen Langenfeld, looking back.
“We don’t suddenly completely invent our product. But we try to make it a little bit better every day.”(Bernd Paulus)
Bernd Paulus also rates the flexibility of the basic product. He not only knows the material and its possibilities particularly well, but has also done so for a very long time, as he began his career at MEISER back in 1985 as an apprentice in the sales department. Today, as an authorised representative, team manager for shelf grating and stock technology, he is focussed on communication, not only with customers, but also amongst ourselves. Just recently a new fixing clip which can be used universally was developed in this way. “We are actually still a factory, a fairly large one, it’s true, but nonetheless we develop many products hand in hand with the customer. There are so many options now, so it definitely never gets boring.” Jürgen Langenfeld also sees things the same way when he thinks back to the beginnings of the fall protection mats: “A customer approached us and said they needed them, so we tinkered and thought about things until we created the first fall protection mats using tube production and wire mesh plant. Today we design and develop gratings for major projects in the USA and Mexico.”
Keeping an eye out for new things is extremely important at MEISER, which is why every salesperson here also knows what a construction site looks like: “When I am on-site with a customer, I can confidently say ʻYesʼ, we can do that, because we have this or that equipment”, explains Bernd Paulus. The ability to repeatedly try things out and thus developing the products bit by bit, is an inherent part of the corporate culture at MEISER: we are the embodiment of flexibility, whether it is the mesh size or the decision-making channels.
“A lot of colleagues have now turned into friends – all over the world.”
Over the years Edmund Meiser has travelled again and again to tap into new markets. Including at the end of the 1990s, when he was approached by the trading company NTJ AS from Norway: “At that time, the company was looking for a production site in Europe, and I invited Edmund Meiser to visit us in Norway. He agreed – and drove across Germany and Denmark. When I found out that he had not flown here, naturally I was all the more interested in getting to know the man, and finding out why he had taken on this onerous route”, says Per Kilvaer, who was a member of the management of NTJ AS at the time, and today runs MEISER Norway AS. When he finally got to know Edmund Meiser, he was impressed by the person, but not yet by the business idea. Yet Edmund Meiser succeeded in convincing him. “Our meeting ended with a handshake: I promised to work with him – and he promised me success.” They both kept their promises: NTJ AS has been exclusively and successfully marketing the MEISER products in Norway for more than 10 years.
The cooperation developed into a market presence, and finally in February 2015 the one hundred percent subsidiary MEISER Norway AS was founded to open up the Norwegian market better for MEISER. “We can cut the press welded gratings and galvanize them directly here on the spot, which of course makes us very flexible. If a customer needs a special solution, we can respond rapidly. If the products came from Vogtland, we would have to wait maybe six or seven weeks”, explains Per Kilvaer. Despite this great independence, the connection to MEISER in Germany is close. “In principle our cooperation was simple right from the start, because the mentalities in Norway and Germany are not that different. They are both open to the other culture. It was only the language issue that was not quite so simple initially.” Naturally the language problem has long since been overcome, and the relationship with the Meiser family is close: in Per Kilvaer’s office there is still a photograph showing him and Ulrich Meiser concluding the first contract. “I feel part of the family and I’m very proud of that.”
Per Kilvaer and his team are almost equally proud of the Holmenkollen project – which is hardly surprising, as the only steel ski jump in the world finally even has its own public holiday: At least in jest the Holmenkollen Ski Festival, which is held annually in March, is known as Norway’s “second” national holiday.
“It is always the people who make a difference to a company.”
The story of RST MEISER Nederland B.V. started on a tablecloth, on which Edmund Meiser sketched out the company he wanted to found in the Netherlands. Shortly before this, Franz Louwers had put his old friend in contact with a possible distribution partner: in January 1994 Ruud Enzlin travelled to Limbach to take a look at the production and get to know the company. “When Edmund Meiser asked me whether I was interested, my answer was a definite yes. I found it exciting, and could well imagine myself representing MEISER in the Netherlands. However, there was a problem: my boss at the time had no interest at all in selling gratings.” Edmund Meiser received this with a brief frown and suggested going for a meal first. They did this, and while the three gentlemen were sitting at the table together Edmund Meiser pulled out a pen: “He probably had the impression that I was a reasonable chap and because I thought the same about MEISER’s products, he started drawing the structure for the new company in the Netherlands on the paper tablecloth.” With that, founding the new company was a done deal. Shortly afterwards, Ruud Enzlin started – from scratch. But the learning curve rose steeply, and MEISER was soon able to book its first major order in the Netherlands. It was also thanks to the particular way of working and philosophy to which Ruud Enzlin attached great value: “A personal connection is simply very important. Which doesn’t mean you have to be constantly going out for a beer together.
I can also develop a good connection to my customers and business partners on the phone.” And it pays off: In 2004, RST MEISER Nederland B. V. received an order which doesn’t come along every day. It involved 50,000 m2 of material for Terminal 5 at London’s Heathrow Airport. But shortly after the contract was concluded, steel prices rose radically and Ruud Enzlin had to utilise his good relationship with the customer: “We were quickly and simply able to agree an increase to the contract. Then one year later, it was the customer who needed help and a concession when he was threatened with a contractual penalty from his client. We had to react quickly, and completed 7 weeks’ work in just 3 weeks, because the whole team was enormously committed, and people even came back from holiday to help. Naturally this kind of give and take requires huge trust.” Trust which Ruud Enzlin had in MEISER right from the very first day: he still has the tablecloth from the meeting with Edmund Meiser today: “I retrieved it for the 10th anniversary of RST MEISER Nederland B. V. being founded, and we drank coffee together on it once again.”
Certainly, the personal connection will continue to play a role in the future for Ruud Enzlin, his wife Jana Theilen-Enzlin and their five dedicated employees.
„A good partnership consists 80 % of trust.”
Chance, a mishap and communication without words – this is how you could probably sum up the way Hady MEISER Egypt started: while looking for an opportunity of operating in Africa, MEISER came across the Multi M Group based in Cairo. The traditional family-run company with around 1,000 employees had already been manufacturing and selling gratings in North Africa since the start of the 1990s. At the first meeting MEISER did not leave a lasting impression – but at least they left a business card, which disappeared into the wallet of Eslam El Sayed, the son of the El Sayed family which owned the company. Two weeks later he travelled to a trade fair in Essen to find out about modern manufacturing techniques. “I came back to my hotel room in the evening. I was tired and wanted to get changed. When doing so I dropped my wallet – and the entire contents lay spread out all over the floor.
While I was picking everything up again, the card fell into my hands. It was sheer chance.” Eslam El Sayed contacted MEISER, and just a short time later he had his first meeting with Edmund Meiser in Limbach: “I was impressed by the production, the quality and the organisation. So I told Edmund Meiser that I wanted his machines, to which he retorted that he didn’t sell machines and technology. But he could become my partner.” Trust quickly developed between the two owner families, El Sayed and Meiser: although neither of them spoke the other’s language, the both felt they were doing the right thing. “Our joint venture company didn’t grow out of any figures or agreements, but from a feel for one another and the partnership.” Nothing about this has changed right up to today: Wolfgang Meiser and Eslam El Sayed have now taken over for their fathers, and continued to maintain their good relationship. “We can rely on one another despite the huge distance.
We are always joking that we are almost like brothers.” This strong connection is also important because the cultures are so very different. “You can’t simply transport the German way of working and mentality to Egypt”, explains Eslam El Sayed. So here too, MEISER remains true to an important recipe for success, and allows Hady MEISER Egypt total freedom to act successfully locally: “Of course MEISER is there and helps us, but we have every opportunity of acting independently on the spot. Our motto is quite clear: If there is a problem, we will solve it.” And Hady MEISER Egypt does this successfully – despite the increase in competitive pressure. “For 11 years we were a monopolist, but that has changed now.
Yet MEISER has always invested to increase the capacity and quality. This means that today we can still exist successfully among the competition – and develop new ideas at the same time.”
“Our trump card is our flexibility and responsiveness. We want to retain these so that we can continue to grow.”
Facts and figures are important. But they are usually only the result of MEISER’s success, and not the basis: It is trust that really matters here – ensuring that managers are capable of decision making. Like François Bernardeau, Managing Director of MEISER Sarl: “I don’t have to constantly wait for approval, I’m able to act autonomously. This makes working very efficient, and of course it also makes everyday life very pleasant”.
But trust does not appear overnight, it has to grow – just like any connection: When François Bernardeau joined the company 15 years ago, MEISER had just taken over the grating and sheet metal profile planking manufacturer LE CAILLEBOTIS TOLARTOIS, and had merged all the French operating sites to form MEISER Sarl, headquartered in Béthune. “At that time the market situation was difficult and MEISER monitored the development of the site very closely from Germany. With every step in the right direction, the freedom this gave me in making my decisions grew too.” This means that MEISER Sarl can respond rapidly and flexibly – to the market, customers’ wishes, but also to trends and new opportunities. While the grating production was moved completely to Limbach in 2013, and at the same time the business was relocated from Béthune to the neighbouring Lestrem, the sheet metal profile gratings area was able to consolidate its strong market position in France. In addition, François Bernardeau had developed a completely new business area: barrier-free products and ramps were showing strong growth.
“The Meiser family is always open to new ideas. That was also the case when our largest trading partner drew our attention to the need for barrier-free products. We thereupon developed a corresponding product line, which we offered via the specialised online trade in France. This enabled us to appeal to customers in a completely new market, which is very large in France on the basis of a law on protecting people with disabilities.” The products from MEISER Sarl are fundamentally different from the competition, where materials such as rubber or plastic are mainly used: the barrier-free products made of aluminium, stainless steel and with a galvanised finish have benefits not only due to their materials, but also visually: “Today accessibility is an element of architecture too, particularly for public buildings.”
So products from MEISER have found their way into France’s national library and the National Assembly in Paris, where they impart security to people – and with it the trust from which they were developed.
“Good relationships are what matter most, with customers and the industry, but also among ourselves at MEISER.”
When Timo Koivistoinen met with Ulrich Meiser and Robert Vièl for the first time in Helsinki in July 2011, he could already look back on plenty of experience: he had already worked in the sector for 20 years, knew the business and the people in Finland. For MEISER, however, the Finnish market was still uncharted territory: “MEISER was on the lookout for expertise.
We soon came to terms, because there was a certain type of trust there right from the beginning. It was a conversation between equals, and we got on together in a very honest and friendly way.” Shortly afterwards MEISER took over the gratings division of Finnritilä OY, a company founded in 1979, which had developed over the years into the market leader in the gratings segment and one of the strongest grating suppliers in Scandinavia, and was sold to Helmet Capital in 2007. From then on, as Managing Director Timo Koivistoinen used his experience in the market: Finnritilä OY has developed into a strong market partner for northern Europe, and realises major projects such as power plants which require up to 40,000 m2 of material.
For Timo Koivistoinen, reliability is important for every project, however large or small: “In Finland, when you say you will go out for a coffee together, it’s not just rhetoric or small talk. It means that sooner or later you will ring to actually agree a date and time – and the other person expects this too.” This straightforward interaction characterises the relationships which the 5-person team around Timo Koivistoinen cultivate – and not just in their own country, but also with Sweden and of course with Germany. “We work very closely with the team in Oelsnitz. Many of our colleagues have also been there for a long time, have experience and get involved, which made things very easy for us right from the start.”
The work within the team remains constant, the market in Finland is dynamic – and the passion for selling continues to be a major factor for the success of Finnritilä OY
Ricardo Marangoni Brandao Bueno
“I can give my best, but trust always has to come from the other person – as it does with MEISER.”
They were not strangers, but friends: Back in 2010 MEISER decided to enter the market in Brazil, and founded a cutting plant in Mogi Mirim, 80 km from São Paulo – directly opposite Marangoni, a Brazilian family-run company. The business relationship between supplier and customer quickly grew into more: “It was difficult for MEISER in Brazil at that time, the cultural differences are simply very great. They had the product, and we had the service. So one day Wolfgang Meiser came over to me and said that in principle there were only two options: either MEISER would leave Brazil, or I would become his partner”, says Ricardo Marangoni Brandao Bueno, who has been Managing Director of Marangoni MEISER pisos metálicos Ltda. since 2012. He liked the suggestion, but at the same time he had misgivings because he had already had experience of partnerships – and they were not the best: “We have a saying in Brazil: if you have a partner, you have a boss.
But this time there was a major difference: MEISER is a family business – just like Marangoni. With the same values and ideas.” So they understood one another, and their mutual understanding developed into a deep bond, with a shared strategy for the future: the joint venture between the two companies was conceived as a long-term partnership built on mutual trust: “Our industry and our business here are something you have to look after like a baby, with plenty of love and energy”, explains Ricardo Marangoni. In addition, it needs one thing in particular: communication, to understand the culture, lifestyle and attitude: “Germany and Brazil are just different, and you have to accept that. Fighting against it would be a losing battle.” Above all, to be successful you have to immerse yourself more deeply in the culture, and look behind the scenes of the warm weather and beautiful beaches: “The motto of Brazilian businesses is often: We will find a way. Of course that is very non-committal. But in the meantime we have actually found a way: namely a good middle way, not too German and not too Brazilian.”
Marangoni MEISER is continuing along this path – towards success.
“Reliability is in our blood – and we will continue in just the same way in the future too.”
In early 2004, when the opportunity arose for Alexander Imhof to merge with MEISER Gitterroste (Schweiz) AG, it immediately aroused his curiosity. The framework conditions were right: over the years his own company, PMI Gitterroste AG, had developed into a leading commercial company in the gratings sector in Switzerland. However, MEISER had just completed a change of strategy with its takeover of Wema or Eberspächer Gitterroste AG, at that time the best-known grating manufacturer in Switzerland, in order to better tap into the Swiss market. “Erich Petry and I met for the first time in Basle, in the middle so to speak. My head was convinced very fast, but my gut feel took a bit longer”, says Alexander Imhof, who runs the business and holds 50 % of the company’s share capital alongside MEISER. But that too followed just a few months later – and turned out to be right: today PMI MEISER Gitterroste AG based in Weiningen near Zürich successfully looks after the Swiss market.
The two former competitors work closely together, and because of their relative proximity, regular personal contact is also possible: “In principle it’s like in a marriage. There are highs and lows, but we are going down the path together whatever happens”, explains Alexander Imhof. Reliability is also important for the 6-person team on the spot. Ultimately safety plays a major role for sales in Switzerland and the principality of Lichtenstein: “When we Swiss are waiting to cross the street, we look right and left twice, then we hear precisely whether there might still be a car coming and then we go when it’s all clear. It’s no different when it comes to business. We can create trust in our customers by working precisely.” So precision is paramount, even if the project is small: “Switzerland is small, so of course we have a lot of small projects, but we often grow very fond of them.”
It is precisely these familial structures which make MEISER stand out – and make for a special connection.