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At Neuenhauser Group, it’s a case of the more things change, the more things stay the same.
In 1954, in the German town of Neuenhaus, just a stone’s throw from the Netherlands border in the state of Lower Saxony, mechanical engineer Hans Voshaar set up a small workshop in his backyard.
“He took the name Neuenhauser – which I think is a great one – to follow through on the one thing that continues to be important to us: that our people identify themselves with the company and the values we embody.”
“We are deeply embedded in the region’s social and economic infrastructure and we feel our roots here.”
Over the decades the business Voshaar founded has evolved into a network of independent companies across the mechanical engineering and plant construction sectors, all united under the Neuenhauser Group umbrella. Today, the Group employs more than 2,800 people and has plants established across Europe.
Nevertheless, the identity of the company remains firmly entrenched in Neuenhaus and its community, says Wolf, company CEO. And it’s a sure bet to stay that way.
“We live and breathe our Mittelstand DNA,” says Wolf, referring to the family-owned small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are considered the main driver of the German economy.
The business may look very different to the early days. “But, in the end, we’re still a family company,” Wolf says.
“We are deeply embedded in the region’s social and economic infrastructure and we feel our roots here. Neuenhaus is our birth region and I believe it’s important for our company and our staff to feel every day that we have a home base somewhere.”
Wolf, who has worked for global names such as Siemens and GEA Group, was approached by Voshaar’s son, Bernd Voshaar, seven years ago with the idea to succeed him in the C-suite.
“I joined the executive board first and then took over the CEO position when Mr Voshaar moved onto the supervisory board in 2021,” he explains.
Wolf says the Group allows the individual companies in its portfolio a high level of decision rights and entrepreneurship.
“There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and we’re very much the opposite of a huge corporation that is led by a sole finance holding.”
“Each company drives their own market expertise, their business development and business model,” Wolf explains. “There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and we’re very much the opposite of a huge corporation that is led by a sole finance holding.”
Instead, the group’s role is to liaise on strategy and also provide a network, opportunities for collaboration, expert know-how and growth financing, something these individual companies would never be able to come up with themselves, he says.
“There’s also the ability to put the weight of the whole group forward to attract new employees,” he explains.
While each of the businesses does, to a large extent, control its own operations, there are definite Neuenhauser qualities common among them.
“Innovation and customer satisfaction are the driving forces of our success,” says Wolf who adds that he does steer clear of over-centralization.
“I believe in a company structure like ours, it’s so important that you resist attempts to centralize innovation or to create a global R&D department,” he says. “Instead, you need to keep product development and innovation at a healthy level throughout the organization so that everyone considers themselves to be in a position to share their ideas.”
The group’s companies operate in competitively-driven markets, and many of its customers are globally-operating OEMs with ever-evolving demands, he says.
“The technical and logistical requirements are increasing every day and our teams have the right ambitions, competencies and culture to cope with these changing parameters,” he says.
“We manage to serve these very demanding customers with the right mix of competitiveness or constant quality level, short lead times and logistic concepts tailored to their individual needs.”
The Neuenhauser workforce, Wolf explains, is cross-educated on machinery.
“We can ramp up and down because the large OEMs we supply often increase or decrease their volumes quite rapidly and significantly,” he says. While flexible, the Neuenhauser workforce never compromises the high-precision and high-quality components and assemblies it produces.
“We manage to serve these very demanding customers with the right mix of competitiveness or constant quality level, short lead times and logistic concepts tailored to their individual needs,” Wolf says. “Our commitment to continuous development of our processes, automation, flexibility and capacities is what really sets us apart.”
Despite the challenges of the last few years, Wolf explains that its plants have escaped major disruptions, an outcome that demonstrates just how crucial his commitment to maintaining a strong supplier base in Europe has been.
“I’ve always said that global procurement can only be one part of your procurement strategy,” he says.
“My goal is to strengthen the foundation further and to get Neuenhauser ready for the next chapter of its growth story.”
For many, the COVID-19 pandemic served to confirm the importance of having suppliers close in proximity, as was the case with Würth Industrie Service, an industrial fastener manufacturer, and Hebels Staalservice, a stainless steel supplier.
“I believe the pandemic has had a positive impact on intra-European business relationships,” he explains.
Juggling such a huge variety of business models, each with specific markets and customer bases, could be many executives’ nightmare but Wolf describes it as his “kicker” every morning.
“The wide range of business models falling under one joint umbrella is a challenge but, on the other hand, it’s an opportunity to be embraced,” he says. “My goal is to strengthen the foundation further and to get Neuenhauser ready for the next chapter of its growth story.”
If there’s one division where Wolf thinks Neuenhauser’s traditional mechanical engineering meets the opportunities presented by automation and digital technologies, it’s the textile machine division which offers solutions for full automation of spinning and weaving plants.
“It’s a niche market, and we consider ourselves a market leader in it with our Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and automated transportation, packing and palletizing solutions,” Wolf says.
Wolf is convinced that the integration of next-gen technologies will seep further toward the core of the business.
“What I’m trying to tell my guys who sometimes come from a pure mechanical corner is to not put away the fancy stuff. If it’s not today, it’s going to be part of our essential business model tomorrow,” he says.
To underline this, an IT and digital company called nextN has been established within the group. Currently, Wolf is setting up a new business unit called Neuenhauser Automation to merge traditional and new technologies, enhancing Neuenhauser’s portfolio.