What does globalization mean for you?
Klauser: Globalization is above all a change. This change is insecurity for many people, and it is a way to rethink current processes and think about how to reorient and better align. Globalization therefore holds the opportunity to grow to meet the demands of globalization itself. This is a challenge, but instead of seeing it positively, the image seems to dominate someone coming and taking away some of the cake.
Broken down at company level, this means questioning one's own mission statements and management approaches - above all with regard to dealing with volatilities. Business plans used to have a horizon of three to five years - today we can not plan with such periods. Globalization also means ensuring that communication does not end at the company gate or borders, and that the culture of the company is actually adopted in all regions. The success of Austria and Austrian managers is also to be open to cultures, not to think in black and white and above all not to be able to act on the basis of the size and strength of the country.
"Globalization holds the opportunity to grow on the demands of globalization itself."
How do you see the conditions in Austria for an international company like Palfinger?
Klauser: Positive. Austria still offers a stable environment. Advantages are also the social partnership and basically the education level, whereby the education system urgently needs to be strengthened - without reinventing it. In particular, we are required to teach. Palfinger is currently planning a new training center for twice as many apprentices as before. I find the topic of taxes and, above all, non-wage labor costs more difficult: In the area of research and development, it is not easy today to get international top executives to Austria.
Are you worried about the current economic situation?
Klauser: The situation is far more volatile than it was a few years ago. This is evident in planning processes: what you planned yesterday is only part-relevant the day after tomorrow. This is also responsible for the political environment - think of US politics or Brexit. Here, Europe is challenged to grow up, which means taking political positions and not weakening the common economic space.
At the corporate level, this volatility also offers the opportunity to open up new business opportunities - especially where competitors struggle with the ups and downs. Here we can learn from the Americans who quickly put on the handbrake in the down and just as fast in the up again full throttle. We have to become more agile! After all, success depends more and more often not only on quality and price, but also on the speed with which one reacts to customer requirements.
Where are the growth markets of Palfinger?
Klauser: In Europe, markets can not simply be summarized: In Austria, unlike in Germany, we have a very good order situation in the infrastructure sector. So it is no longer the case that one can recognize a European business model. Internationally, we see great potential in growing with local partners. That applies to Russia, but increasingly also to the USA. In countries like China, there is potential for growth in premium products that local companies can not produce. The biggest growth rates are in Latin America, above all in Brazil and Argentina. However, in terms of volume and earnings, our most important growth markets are Russia and China.
Does Africa also play a role?
Klauser: Here we are going to re-focus - not only on the business model, but also to better understand the market. We also want to build a local service presence. In addition to South Africa, the first step will be the North African states. Countries with a significant mining sector such as Namibia and Zimbabwe are also increasingly in focus.
Do companies have to grow?
Klauser: My management style emphasizes growth because you can motivate people to move rather than stand still. But moving forward does not always mean walking. We are currently in a consolidation phase and are making rather small steps - but always with a certain growth orientation. Also, the management must always be on the move instead of looking back or playing ping-pong.
Apart from the crane business, Palfinger has grown through the acquisition of companies. This raises the question: How far do I integrate successful companies? How do I use synergies? As long as the company continues to grow through acquisitions, that often has little priority. Only at some point in corporate acquisitions do you have to go into riskier business - and I will not do that. So the challenge is to grow without buying new markets. An essential factor here is an increase in efficiency. And this is not about downsizing, but about using the best resources in the best possible way. In order to manage this, we have created a new agile structure in a broad process with the Palfinger Global Organization in recent months.
"In Africa, we are re-inventing ourselves - not only in terms of the business model, but also to better understand the market."
Which trends will decisively influence your industry?
Klauser: An important topic is new business models. We have a lot of hardware experience: we have the best cylinders, the most stable crane arms, the most beautiful work platforms. Only: The improvement of these products is exhausted at some point. Someone will buy steel cheaper and weld faster. So we are challenged to develop new business models: for example, our bridge inspection cranes could be supplemented by drones in the future. To do that, we have to learn that we can not be experts ourselves everywhere, so we rely on partnerships and joint ventures. A second major trend is digitization, which ranges from communication with the customer to the digitization of the products themselves. For example, in the future, a timber transporter could manually load only the first tree trunk, the crane remembers this movement and then autonomously loads the entire wood stack.
How do you get innovation into the company?
Klauser: With Palfinger 21st, we have created our own division that deals with new technologies and promotes radical ideas that have the potential to change our business. Start-ups also play an important role in this, which is why we have opened an office in the Viennese start-up hub WeXelerate. We also have partnerships with universities and users. Another important aspect is that you need a long breath in research. In Austria, one jumps to topics relatively quickly, but then does not pursue them long enough, which is why it is often unclear what the added value of an innovation is. Practically, some research is done for the sake of research. Unfortunately, politics here too is not free of actionism.
Do you also develop products specifically for emerging markets?
KlauserEmerging Markets products are often products in my industry that I produce based on the technology of the 1990 years in a Chinese joint venture and then offer them in Africa. These products may not be high-tech, but they are extremely reliable. As part of our global organization, I can draw on a comprehensive set of building blocks and do not have to look for the old construction plans in Austria.
"On the one hand we act like a family business, but on the other hand we are challenged by the capital market. That brings a very special drive. "
How do you bring sustainability and growth together?
Klauser: We have the advantage that the main shareholder is still the Palfinger family. On the one hand, this enables us to act like a family business, but on the other hand it is demanded by the capital market. That brings a very special drive. Against this background, I can also set long-term sustainability goals. Issues ranging from employee health through environmental protection to the use of renewable energy can be better addressed if one can plan for the long term. And then the focus is not on the short-term overhead, but on the question of how I structure the relevant processes. This is not about nice-to-have topics, but about increasing productivity and quality assurance. For this, we have a department that has permanently released our sustainability key figures from the radar in the daily business. In addition to regional and sector-specific benchmarks, we have defined goals and benchmarks together with external consultants from global experience that we can demand from all 35 production sites worldwide. The department reports directly to me and I can then request the appropriate activities through the board colleagues or the management team. If I define a renewable energy requirement today with purchasing, I do not have to discuss this with every single subsidiary because of this structure - where every second person in charge hopes that the topic will be forgotten.
What significance do the global goals for sustainable development have for Palfinger?
Klauser: We have just discussed these goals in the context of the Annual Report. For me, on the one hand, it's about making our technologies available to other countries and not just selling the hardware. On the other hand, companies here in Austria need more incentives and also funding for global activities. In recent years, for example, we have introduced the dual apprenticeships for metalworking and welding technicians and mechatronics engineers as part of an economic partnership with the Austrian Development Agency at the Rudong site in eastern China. And we would like to extend such engagements.
What drives you as a manager?
Klauser: It's about being successful and having a degree of joy in what you do. For example, there are many situations in which you can make significant improvements by simply turning a wheel, simply to be efficient. The technician speaks in me.
Vielen Dank für das Gespräch!
Andreas Klauser, 53, has been CEO of the Salzburg crane manufacturer Palfinger AG since 2018. The Upper Austrian can look back on more than 25 years of experience in the field of agricultural machinery and commercial vehicles. Most recently he was responsible for the brands Case IH and Steyr as a member of the board of the Fiat subsidiary CNH Industrial.
TO THE COMPANY
From Locksmith to Global Player
The Salzburg company Palfinger 1932 was founded as a locksmithery workshop and today is a leading international manufacturer of innovative lifting solutions that are used on commercial vehicles and in the maritime sector. In the loading crane segment, the company is the world market leader with more than a hundred models and a market share of 30 percent. The portfolio also includes forestry and recycling cranes, hooklifts, transportable forklifts and truck-mounted aerial work platforms. The Palfinger Group operates in 31 countries, has 35 manufacturing and assembly facilities in Europe, the CIS, North and South America and Asia, and has a worldwide sales and service network with more than 5.000 service outlets in over 130 countries. 59 percent of the listed company is owned by the Palfinger family. The group generated sales of around 2018 billion euros with 10.800 employees for 1,6. The export share is around 95 percent.