GW: How challenging was it to take over as CEO of the HEINZ‐GLAS Group in July 2020 at a time of unprecedented market conditions during the Covid‐19 pandemic?
It is a challenge to take over a company at any time. That’s why I have great respect for the tasks I’ve taken on and I am fully aware of my responsibilities. The pandemic and its negative impact on the global economy were tough, and we also had a lot to struggle with. After years of moderate growth in our global sales, there was a significant slump in 2020. This unforeseeable development showed that growth and success cannot be taken for granted and how quickly the situation can change. But still, the excitement was great because I approach my job with a lot of optimism and enthusiasm.
GW: What are the highlights of the company’s performance since that time?
Our global team has achieved extraordinary things and has come together. We have focused on our strengths keeping in mind our customers, innovations and the fundamental actions necessary to remain successful in the future. We built our furnace in Peru, restarted opal glass production in Germany with a new furnace, and also started building another furnace in Poland. In China, we are currently building a new plant with glass production and decoration. Start of production will hopefully be in quarter 1 2022. What helped us a lot during the crisis was a wider portfolio. In addition to perfumery, we offer a wide range of packaging for skincare cosmetics. This market has been much more stable and has helped us in our overall result. Thanks to our Sales department for their great job on this.
GW: What are you finding to be the main challenges and opportunities of managing plants in a multinational and multicultural group?
I enjoy working in a multicultural environment. The different approaches; the different perspectives always add value to our own behaviour and decisions. Adapting to new or different cultures is key to our business. The world is getting closer together and the borders we have are disappearing. The challenge is to be flexible enough to meet the specific needs of the different regions, but also to have enough standardised products and processes to simplify the company’s workflows. You have to find the right mix between global thinking and local needs.
GW: In a traditionally male‐dominated sector, do you believe your role as CEO of a leading player can help encourage more women to join the glass industry?
We at HEINZ‐GLAS stand for equality of gender, nationality, religion and sexual orientation. I am very happy if my role encourages more women to work not only in the glass industry but also in management positions. We filled our Board with the people we thought best suited, without using gender as a criterion. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, we now have an even gender distribution on the Board.
GW: Recently appointed as Chief Operating Officer to take over the operational lead, supervising and optimisation of the glass production and decoration worldwide, what qualities will Christian Fröba bring to the company?
Christian has been the perfect fit for the open COO position. He brings with him an excellent education; [he] learned a lot in his previous professional life at Emhart that plays a central role in our production, and knows the glassmaking business very well. He knows other glass factories from different industries than ours and can thus provide input that we do not yet have internally. In addition, he is born and raised in our area, so he was also no stranger to the mentality of the people here. I am very happy that he has come home and will now continue his journey with us in the Heinz family.
GW: Are any of the markets you serve performing better than others and if so, what is the driving force?
Currently, we are very satisfied with all the markets in which we operate. Our lines are full, and we have reached the pre‐pandemic figures. Skincare dominates, but perfume is also making a comeback. Our customers are launching new developments and entering new markets together with us. If new variants of the coronavirus do not lead to further shutdowns, markets will recover quickly. And China of course is a big driving force.
GW: Installed in March 2021, how successful has the investment in the new ‘special furnace’ with Fives at your Kleintettau facility proven?
At that time, we made a very critical decision. By investing 15 million euros in this furnace, we have secured 120 jobs in our plants and another 120 with suppliers. We kept our promise to our customers and delivered. After the expected start‐up difficulties, we are pleased to say that we have been able to operate opal glass production to satisfaction. From September, we were able to produce flint glass with this furnace as well. The production of opal glass will then take place again at our Polish site.
GW: Do you plan to replicate the technology elsewhere within the group?
Even more than the furnace itself, the feeder technology is special. We are constantly thinking about improving the core technology as well, together with our suppliers, and therefore we would also replicate technologies elsewhere if necessary. Let’s see what else we will achieve, and then we will decide how to proceed.
GW: Following HORN’s recent announcement that it is working on the HEINZ‐GLAS furnace in Piesau, what are the latest updates on that plant?
We will start the construction of our furnace in Piesau next year and finish it in the first half of the year. At the same time, we will have our 400th anniversary celebration. We will be celebrating our founding in 1622, and I think that’s incredible. The planning is going well. We do not expect any difficulties and will also use the construction period to make some important changes in the production environment, such as preparing for a GMP‐compliant area.
GW: With SORG rebuilding and restarting the electric furnace in Dzialdowo and EME undertaking a turnkey project, what are the latest developments at your Polish operations?
I am very excited about this project because the opal production will be moved back to Poland, where it had been until March 2020, until the furnace broke. From today’s perspective, we can start production [at the] end of this year. We are very satisfied with our suppliers and are looking forward to the next months.
GW: Are there any other major investment projects at your plants in the pipeline and if so, where?
This is already a lot and we now must focus on realising all these projects before making the next steps. We are also continuously expanding our capacities in the decoration plants and developing further in existing and new technologies. Compared to a new furnace, these investments are of course relatively moderate.
GW: How would you summarise the company’s investment strategy across the operations?
We are proud to be one of the few, maybe even the only supplier, who can deliver high quality and individual glass as well as standardised products. Our plants in Kleintettau, Piesau, Dzialdowo, Kosamba and Lima can cover all needs and have a wide range of decoration possibilities to offer. Our investment strategy is based on the strengths of the individual sites to set even clearer accents there. Automation and digitalisation will be one of the most important challenges for us and as a pioneer in sustainable production we will do everything necessary to help our planet by reducing our carbon footprint as much as possible.
GW: What is the status of the proposed greenfield investment in China?
Our construction site is going well. At the time of this interview, we are waiting for our technical team to get to China to take the next steps. The current travel restrictions are stringent, so we are waiting for the green light from the local authorities to send them off without keeping them in quarantine for too long. The co‐operation with the local construction company is very good and we are glad we chose them. Once we start production there, which should be in the first half of 2022, we could have some interesting projects underway with our customers.