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.