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?Frank Degenkolb: 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.
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.
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.