Big Results Require Big Ambitions
Two years ago GEA merged its three Stateside plate heat exchanger companies into one and built the world’s most modern heat exchanger factory. Lutz Wolf, President and CEO of GEA PHE Systems North America, talks about his plans to capture the American market.
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Everything is bigger in the US – cars, houses, dairy farms, power consumption – you name it. So it’s no surprise that America is the largest single market for plate heat exchangers (PHE s).
GEA, already a major player in the PHE business in Europe and Asia, has set its sights on capturing a bigger share of the US market. That is why, in 2007, the Process Equipment Division took the bold step of combining its three US PHE operations into one company – GEA PHE Systems North America, based in York, Pennsylvania – and also invested heavily in building a brand new plant on the site. The most advanced of its kind in the world, the new factory is the single source for GEA’s complete range of brazed, gasketed and welded PHE s in America.
As President and CEO, Lutz Wolf is the man charged with getting a return on such a huge investment. “We have to show big results and big results require big ambitions,” he says. “It’s very exciting and also a huge challenge because we are running so many projects in parallel.”
In the beginning these included increasing the number of employees, implementing the SAP business process software system and introducing a whole range of new product lines.
“We have to achieve this at a time when many of our 130 employees are new to the company and the industry,” Wolf explains. “There are 14 nationalities here, which is pretty amazing. It’s great to have people with different backgrounds and experience. On the other hand it’s hard to build a smooth operation when only a few people have extensive experience in this business. So we’re running extensive training to get everyone heading in the same direction and reaching for the same target.”
That target is to establish GEA PHE Systems as a major player in the American market. By being able to offer the complete range of PHE s, the company already has the advantage over most of its competitors. It makes heat exchangers suitable for a range of industries and applications, including HVA C, refrigeration, food processing, power generation, chemical processing and shipping.
With so much going on there’s no such thing as a typical day for Wolf. “It is such a wide ranging role,” he says. “It covers everything from meetings with customers to sorting out the daily concerns of employees.
We’re making a constant effort to improve our business processes and set up new ones. For example, for some of the older, but still vital, lines we had to buy in the plates. Now we are pressing our own plates and have built new tools so that all our product lines can be made in-house.
The factory certainly impressed a member of the Pennsylvania Congress who is leading a task force for green energy. “We supply the thermal and solar industries and he was very pleased to have a facility like ours in Pennsylvania,” Wolf says proudly.
However, the company has not been immune from the global economic downturn, with sales and orders down on the previous year. For Wolf the priority is to juggle resources to compensate for lower volumes, without jeopardizing the way ahead. “But, when you have the right people with the right mindset, you can accomplish anything,” he believes.
Wolf is no stranger to a challenge or working abroad. Born in Bochum, Germany, he studied economics and business administration and began his career with Siemens in Bocholt. During his ten years with the company he worked on a variety of projects and assignments in Munich, Singapore, Shanghai and Beijing before joining GEA two years ago.
As well as the cultural differences, Wolf is getting used to living in a small town. “I miss big city life but, from York, it is fairly easy to get to Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D. C. on weekends,” he explains. “Also, compared to the German, English and Spanish leagues, soccer in the US is rather unpopular. So a typical Saturday morning involves getting a cup of coffee and listening to the reports from the German Bundesliga on Internet radio.”
“When I visit GEA headquarters in Bochum I always try and see a match of the VfL Bochum soccer team, as well as visiting family.”
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