Some investments are being reconsidered - An Interview with Mr. Koeppel (Part 01)

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Markus Schmalz, journalist with German HK magazine, and Jürgen Köppel, Eumabois President and Leitz CEO, talked about topics challenging and influencing the woodworking industry. In the first part of the interview, they reviewed the impact of the Corona virus on our industry, whereas in the second part, they analyze trends and innovations that are supported by Eumabois on the European level.

Köppel am Tisch

Juergen Koeppel - Eumabois President

Mr. Koeppel, this conversation takes place at the end of April. It is important to make it clear because the situation has been changing daily due to the Coronavirus pandemic. At the beginning of this year, would you have ever thought that a virus would be able to turn the entire world upside-down in a matter of a few weeks?

Naturally, like many people and governments worldwide, I had given little thought to the fact that a virus would be able to dramatically affect our entire private and economic lives in such a short time. When the news in our country started to provide the first reports from Wuhan about coronavirus, many of us believed that the threat was not yet truly real. Personally, things changed remarkably when our Chinese manager informed me about the situation regarding our manufacturing plant in China.

What did you discuss with your manager?

We jointly developed the emergency response plans to ensure safety of our Chinese sites and workers. We had to quickly switch to a crisis-management mindset, which however turned out to be helpful to my colleagues and myself in other countries too.

As President of Eumabois and CEO of Leitz, how have you been coping with the past few weeks?

I am happy to say that thanks to our plant in China, we could have some time in advance to prepare at least a bit for coronavirus and the subsequent massive restrictions in other countries, that is say to the extremely severe consequences. As CEO of Leitz, together with my colleagues and the management team, we have been confronted with worldwide situations that have been changing daily over the past few weeks. On the one hand, we adopted all the necessary measures to protect our workers as best as we could. On the other hand, we also set up processes to go on supporting our customers safely through our service and tools. Given the circumstances, it has been a huge challenge.

How deeply has the coronavirus-induced lockdown hit the European manufacturers of woodworking machinery so far?

By all means, the pandemic’s consequences are of the most different kinds and they depend, amongst other, on how each individual state had to respond to coronavirus. The situation seems to be particularly critical in Italy. Luckily, Germany has so far been spared such massive and drastic interventions such as a total lockdown. We can only hope to jointly succeed in preventing such drastic measures from becoming necessary through our behavior.

It appears that there are major differences amongst companies as far as their workload is concerned. Whilst some had to bring down their manufacturing capacity, others go on producing on a normal scale. Does this depend on the product portfolio, on the business sectors of their customers? Which are the factors that play a role in this respect?

There are multiple factors that have an influence and they have all been mentioned in your question. Plant manufacturers tend to have a higher workload than manufacturers of machinery whose flow is remarkably shorter. Basically, it can already be stated that many investment decisions are being severely put to the test or have even been postponed due to the pandemic. A big role in this respect is certainly played by the uncertainty which pervades many of our target sectors. At present time nobody can say with certainty how and in which format things will go back to “normal”. If our “old normality” will ever return.

Are Italian manufacturers of woodworking machinery, many of which are based in the highest risk area for coronavirus or in the bordering regions, currently struggling with bigger problems than their German competitors?

Unfortunately, Italy is described as one of the epicenters of coronavirus emergency, which obviously brings about massive repercussions on Italian manufacturers of woodworking machinery. I am regularly in touch with our Italian colleague, Luigi De Vito, from SCM and the situation described by him was already a critical one. Although Italian manufacturers were able to secure their Supply Chains, they found themselves powerless before the complete shutdown of manufacturing sites. However, their primary focus has been constantly placed on the customers by delivering ongoing Service and ensuring a well-organized global procurement of spare parts. Digital solutions, in this respect, do play an important role which is noticeable particularly through equipment diagnostic functions and customer advice services.

The coronavirus epidemic also turned the trade shows’ calendar upside-down. Major industry-relevant events were cancelled or postponed. What does this imply for the innovation cycles of woodworking machinery manufacturers?

I am really sorry that the trade shows’ calendar had to be so massively whirled around. To me, personally, for example, HolzHandwerk has always represented an absolute highlight every year as the intensity of the communication exchange with customers in Nuremberg is huge. Back in February we still hoped there could be a good chance of postponing the trade fair to June, but in today’s perspective the decision to cancel it is the right one. There are indeed some other trade shows that were or are severely affected, but this should have little influence on innovation cycles. As a matter of fact, beyond trade shows, there are also print media or digital offers to communicate innovation. Nevertheless, this other media will never be able to fully replace the specific exhibition experience, neither for manufacturers nor for customers.

With regards to communication with clients and business partners, many companies are currently relying on videocalls or online meetings. Do you believe that these formats may ultimately replace those on-site non-critical meetings even after the end of the pandemic emergency?

During the coronavirus emergency we had to and still have to completely change our communicative conduct and so give up many customary habits that were dear to us. Businesses that are operating on the worldwide arena, like Leitz, or even organizations working at a European level such as Eumabois, already made use of those communicative formats in the past. Nowadays, unfortunately, there is no other option. However, I am already looking forward to the time when speaking to one another in person is possible again. But I am also sure that the future will bring about a more intensive use of possibilities offered by digital technologies.

Interview conducted by Markus Schmalz

HK, the international magazine for entrepreneurs and managers in the wood and furniture industry



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