After 13 years as Managing Director of Köster & Co. GmbH, the time has come for Dr. Schulz to retire. Before he’ll make his farewells on December 31st 2022, he was happy to answer our questions for the following interview.
Dr. Schulz, you took over sole management of KÖCO in 2010. How did that come about?
After the sale of the owner-managed company KÖCO to the INDUS Holding AG in early 2010, I assumed the role as employed Managing Director of the Köster Group from the owner Detlef Köster: Today, Köster Group includes the operating companies Köster & Co. GmbH and its subsidiaries, Köster CZ and Keramos, as well as the operating company Anneliese Köster GmbH & Co. KG.
What have been the biggest challenges for you at KÖCO up until now?
There have been many milestones in KÖCO's history that I would describe as major challenges. Taking over management in 2010 shortly after the economic and financial crisis, for example, was a great challenge, since we were understaffed and had to ramp up KÖCO from the crisis. The realignment of KÖCO in technology and sales in 2011/2012 combined with major investments in Ennepetal was also an important challenge. Back then, we inaugurated the new SACMA 670 cold forming press in the brand-new production hall and furthermore launched a modernized web presence.
I also considered the establishment of an industrial large-scale production for technical ceramics with a new manufacturing technology in Zacler a major challenge. The gradual plant development for Keramos and Köster in Zacler in the Czech Republic since 2013 has been a demanding project for many years.
Furthermore, the relocation of Köster's entire logistics hub from "Spreeler Weg" to the new site "Aufsicht" with enlarged warehouse space in Ennepetal in 2015 was very ambitious. At that time, we had no backup and still managed the move very well.
From 2014 on, we focused on the development and large-scale production start-up for near-net-shape pressed, complex cold-formed parts.
And finally, there have been the global crises since the beginning of 2020. The Corona pandemic has posed a great challenge to our industry. The Ukraine war also affects us directly, since it causes many disruptions in the supply chains and customer markets and comes with extreme cost increases. Situations like these require a solid crisis management.
What has changed most in your industry over the last 13 years?
Local production and local competitors have led to a decline in sales in certain markets, such as Russia and Asia, which has had a big impact on our industry. At the same time, growing markets are emerging in Europe and the United States.
The tightening of competition for standard products has led to new competitors emerging from former distributors and cooperation partners. This is something we have to learn to deal with and which requires a repositioning in the market.
The growth in certain business areas with customer-related solutions with and without automation of stud welding as well as the expansion of the customer service business represent further challenges in our industry.
What have been your greatest achievements at KÖCO during the last thirteen years?
A lot has happened in over twelve years, especially on the product side, such as the new development of near-net-shape cold forming without machining for complex cold formed parts in large series (6 million units per year), the robot-assisted production of very long headed studs for complex applications and the new development of lightweight, mobile inverter welding machines for welding studs with larger stud diameters (2305i/1305i). Another milestone was the market launch of fully automated stud welding with a ceramic ring for larger stud diameters with fully automatic welding heads and gantry robots and with our "BRUNO" stud welding robot for smaller stud diameters. Finally, the large-scale production of technical ceramic rings (25 million units per year) has also been a real success at KÖCO.
These achievements were only possible due to the excellent work of all employees in the Köster Group, and I would like to take this chance to express my sincere gratitude to everyone once more.
What do you expect from your successors?
I would like my successors to pay attention to the brand essence of Köster and to use the experience of our longstanding employees for this purpose. It is important to further develop Köster with their own products and an innovative manufacturing footprint alike.
What prevails shortly before your upcoming retirement: Joy or melancholy?
It's a bit of both. I have always enjoyed shaping change, creating new things and solving problems together with other people, and I wish to continue doing so.
Retiring from my work at Köster does not mean the end of structured and logical thinking - quite the opposite: I am looking forward to a new chapter where I can continue to use the "gray matter" in my head.
What will be the first thing you do, once you retire?
First of all, I will take some time off, then tidy up a few things at home, exercise some more and finally use my head for useful things to come.