corporAID: The corona pandemic will occupy the world for almost two years. How badly is Komptech affected by the crisis? 

Leitner: In view of the first lockdown in spring 2020, there was of course a moment of shock. When you act globally, like us, it is difficult suddenly to stop traveling and look after your customers locally. It was also a huge logistical challenge. In addition, we recorded a slump in orders for a few months, but this quickly returned to normal. And thanks to our local presence and the network of our partners, we were able to quickly return to a more or less normal business. At the end of 2020 we reached the pre-crisis level again, and we are now well above it.  

Due to the pandemic, globalization is viewed more critically than before. Do you expect a paradigm shift? 

LeitnerWe are clearly a global player and we will not change our business model. But the question arises: How do you deal with sourcing? We source the majority of our components from Europe, and that has also proven itself during the crisis. However, OEMs like us are supplied by many different manufacturers. It is therefore very difficult to become completely independent of suppliers that are located outside of Europe. I don't think a quick change to local manufacturing can work. Overall, I am rather skeptical that there will be a profound change. 

I don't think that a quick change from globalization to local manufacturing can work.

Heinz Leitner, CEO of Komptech Tweet
How do you find the general conditions for Komptech in Austria? 

Leitner: Overall good. As a company that is also very sustainable in terms of business orientation, we get highly qualified young talents here. What we also appreciate in Austria is the research infrastructure, especially in Styria. In addition to the universities of Graz and Leoben, there are many universities of applied sciences and competence centers that also train the next generation of talent. We also see the research funding programs as positive. There is a need for action in terms of ancillary wage costs and the promotion of teaching and technical professions. The image is not good enough here, we sometimes lack the next generation. This could become a big problem in the next few years. 

Where do you see Komptech's growth markets? 

Leitner: There are growth markets for us worldwide, both in the traditional markets in Europe and outside of it. At the moment we are growing faster in Asia, the USA and also in Africa than in Europe. The reason for this is that our business areas, the treatment of solid waste and the processing of biomass, have a longer tradition in Europe and are therefore also further developed. In the non-European markets there is therefore great potential in the coming decades to bring countries to a level that we have already achieved in Central Europe. 

Without a legal framework, people around the world would choose the cheapest way to dispose of waste: a big hole.

Heinz Leitner, CEO of Komptech Tweet
What is crucial to venturing into a new market?

Leitner: Local legislation is a very big driver for our waste management business. Without a legal framework, people all over the world would choose the cheapest way of disposing of waste: a big hole, and put it in! For us, on the other hand, waste is raw materials in the wrong place. If the framework conditions are not in place in a country, then it is very difficult to operate plants there. Waste and circular economy have a very long-term perspective. We therefore take a very close look at which markets we are proactively entering. When we have decided on a country, we take part in events and specifically look for points of contact. It is important for us to understand how the sector is organized locally. Cultural access to the topic of waste also plays a major role.

Which markets are of particular interest to you at the moment?

Leitner: One country in which we are currently very successful and which we see as a door opener for the entire continent is Ghana. We have been able to achieve a lot here in recent years, namely not only selling machines, but also offering know-how transfer and training. We only had a large delegation with 25 people from the Ghanaian waste management for further training in Austria in mid-November. Another market that is still in its infancy but has great potential is India.

What challenges does Komptech face when it comes to internationalization?

Leitner: An intercultural understanding in the company is very important. It doesn't help to just have the right technology and good systems - you also have to understand what makes a potential customer tick. At the same time, you have to deal intensively with the local conditions. This cannot be done remotely, you have to be on site. Waste management mostly means a combination of government regulations and private or municipal economy. And here you have to understand the relationships and also the mindset of those involved.

The topic of growth is always controversial. How do you see it 

Leitner: The question is: how do you define growth? As a company, I also see growth relative to other companies. And when we grow, that is confirmation that our business model is successful and that it meets the needs of the market. And if you look at megatrends like population growth, then we need growth to meet all the needs of the many people who will live on the planet in the future. If you associate environmental degradation with growth, then that's because of a linear conception of the economy. I see the future of the manufacturing economy as a cycle with the highest possible recycling rates. 

If we stop recycling fabrics, we will not be able to meet the resource needs of the next generation.

Heinz Leitner, CEO of Komptech Tweet
Which megatrends determine waste management? 

Leitner: The most important one is population growth. Then we can clearly see the trend towards decarbonization and renewable energies. This topic affects us a lot, as we primarily deal with biogenic waste streams. Current topics are also recycling and the circular economy: If we stop recycling materials, we will not be able to meet the resource needs of the next generations. And last, but not least, digitization is a very big trend that helps us to operate systems more efficiently and to better serve customers. 

Is climate change the big topic of the future for Komptech too? 

Leitner: There is currently a certain amount of hype surrounding decarbonization, although this is a long-term and irreversible topic. The current task is, for example, to cast the European Green Deal into legal requirements and implement it accordingly with recycling quotas and energy efficiency programs. We see this positively and as a huge opportunity for Europe and especially for Germany and Austria. As a pioneer in waste management, we have the opportunity to export technologies worldwide and to support countries that have some catching up to do. That helps the environment, society and, at the end of the day, our economy.

What significance do the global goals for sustainable development SDG have for Komptech?

Leitner: Our strategy is essentially based on the SDG. Our goal is to improve and solve social problems with technological approaches. We have the owner's commitment to rely exclusively on sustainable business models in the future. Last but not least, you can see clearly in our sustainability report that the SDGs are of the utmost relevance to us. We have selected three goals to which we are making the greatest contribution with our business model. 

How do you drive innovation in your company? 

Leitner: At Komptech, innovation doesn't just mean classic product development, it also means developing new business models, new processes and new approaches. To do this, you need the right culture and the right employees. That is why we offer our people a wide range of further training courses. When developing ideas, we also make use of methodological aids such as design thinking. But the basic spirit and the basic attitude - that's a question of corporate culture. And you have to exemplify and encourage them top-down. All of these things help to bring innovation and new ideas into the company and really think outside the box. 

How important is the corporate culture at Komptech?

Leitner: Sustainable and successful are only those who motivate the employees, keep them in the company and convey meaning. In the future we won't have anyone who works for us just for the money. We want employees who are enthusiastic about making a contribution to society. Open communication, personal responsibility and openness to other cultures are crucial for this.

You mentioned the digitalization megatrend - what impact does it have on your industry?

Leitner: Digitization already plays an essential role and will become even more important in the future. Five years ago we set ourselves the goal of being the leader in digitization in our industry. On the one hand, we want to be able to provide all the information a customer needs at any time without restrictions. And on the other hand, it is about maintaining the technology: every machine that we have been delivering since 2018 is equipped with a tool that we can use to access it live. This means that we can not only help the customer quickly in the event of a problem, without having to be on site ourselves, but also prepare targeted service assignments and better plan customer tours. We are talking about cost efficiency and massive support for our customers. And it will continue in that direction. 

And what about artificial intelligence?

Leitner: With big data and artificial intelligence, we can increase the efficiency in the use of products and at the same time create a basis for the development of the next generation of machines. The idea is to have a continuous flow of data from collection to recycling of the waste. This means recognizing what is being dumped from the garbage can into the truck and passing this information on to the system so that it knows what material is coming and how it can optimize the recycling rate. 

Can a medium-sized company handle these developments on its own?

Leitner: Komptech was a classic mechanical engineering company. When it comes to Industry 4.0, we're talking about new fields of competence that we have to cover without being able to develop them all ourselves. We even work with competing companies here. If you clearly set expectations and play fairly, you can achieve a lot together. In the Styrian Green Tech Cluster, too, we cooperate with many environmental technology companies, for example to develop a common platform. 

Do you also cooperate with development cooperation?

Leitner: We see some points of contact here, for example in countries like Ghana, when it comes to further developing the business environment with customers and public authorities. It is very important that development agencies understand our needs and those of our customers on site. Then the perspective of such agencies and also NGOs is very relevant for us: Not just looking at the business, but asking yourself how a company can contribute to sustainable development in a focused manner. 

A final question: what is it about you as a manager?

Leitner: Our company founder Josef Heissenberger once said: At some point our grandchildren will ask us what we have done with their future - we are working on intelligent answers.

Many thanks for the interview!

Personal

Heinz Leitner, 51, has been CEO of the Styrian waste specialist since 2014 komptech. Leitner had been the company's Chief Technology Officer for several years when he took over the management position following the sudden death of the company's founder. Previously, the doctor of mining sciences worked at the University of Leoben. 

About Komptech

Green waste technology for the whole world

Komptech from Frohnleiten will celebrate its 2022th anniversary in 30.

The Styrian Komptech Group, based in Frohnleiten, specializes in the mechanical and biological treatment of solid waste and the processing of biomass as a renewable energy source. The origins of the company go back to 1992, when the separate collection of organic waste was introduced in Styria and the environmental technician Josef Heissenberger developed the first compost turning machine. He founded Komptech (the name stands for KOMPostier-TECHnik), from which a global player developed over the years. Under the guiding principle of “Technology for a better environment”, the industrial company now supplies customers in 80 countries (export quota: 95 percent). Around 750 employees work in Austria, Slovenia and Germany. In 2021, the waste specialist belonging to Orasis Industries generated annual sales of around 175 million euros.

Photos: Komptech, Bernhard Weber