By Anke Henrich
"The perfect day at MULTIVAC?" says Marco Jäger, thinking for a moment. "That would be a day on which I have prepared everything for my trip to China, for example, at home the evening before and have butterflies in my stomach the next morning on the way to the airport. Have I got everything I need for the system installation over there? Is everything really ready at the customer’s premises?" Marco Jäger smiles. "There is always something, but I can always come up with a solution."
The man speaking is not a top manager, about to stride through Frankfurt airport on his way to the business class lounge. He is Marco Jäger, 27 years old, built like a tree trunk, trained fitter. He is deeply rooted in the small market town of Ottobeuren, famous for its Benedictine abbey. In clear weather, you can see the mountains from there. Memmingen, the closest larger town, is 14 kilometers away. His nearest airport is Munich, but his gateway to the world is the packaging machine specialist MULTIVAC from Wolfertschwenden - a small town in the hilly landscape of the Unterallgäu.
An enormous 3D jigsaw
Marco Jäger has a strong Bavarian dialect, but is equally at home in English. After all, for MULTIVAC he installs packaging lines - often many meters long and weighing several tons - for customers all over the world and at trade fairs. These lines no longer consist of only the packaging machine itself, but also incorporate upstream and downstream systems such as cutting, handling, labeling, and quality control. Everything from cheese and cold cuts to sterile medical supplies and consumer goods are packaged on these systems. There can hardly be a household in Germany that does not contain packaging produced on a MULTIVAC machine. MULTIVAC sells more than 1,000 of these high-tech systems worldwide every year. With hundreds of options, every packaging system is configured individually as the customer requires. For fitters like Marco Jäger, that makes every single machine an enormous 3D jigsaw.
MULTIVAC Sepp Haggenmüller SE & Co.KG - the company’s full name - is a hidden champion. Those are companies that withstand every economic crisis over decades; who were doing agile business before the word was hip and before anyone had heard of digitalization.
Some world market leaders are so well hidden that visitors have to zoom in very close indeed on Google Maps to find their site. The MULTIVAC headquarters in Wolfertschwenden, Allgäu, are such an example. A community of just under two thousand people, its most famous son is a pioneer of dairy science. Despite this, worldwide monetary policy, trade agreements, Brexit, and even natural disasters play a big role here. After all, MULTIVAC is a global player. More than half of its 5,900 staff work abroad and the company makes the majority of its sales outside Germany.
That is why the company, founded in 1961, is so successful - even as the market trend is in the other direction, says Hans-Joachim Boekstegers, Executive Director and CEO. MULTIVAC's sales only just missed the 1 billion euro mark in 2017 and are expected to exceed it by some distance in 2018.
A lot of responsibility
That means a lot of work for Marco Jäger. "I have just moved to the Corporate Marketing department, more specifically the trade fair team, which organizes the corporation’s international appearances," he reports. Now he travels the world to put MULTIVAC machines into operation at trade fairs - on time, in full, and without a hitch. After all, when so many potential customers are watching at a trade fair, the system cannot be allowed to fail. That is a lot of responsibility for a twenty-seven-year-old. "That’s how I like it," laughs Jäger.
With more than 85 sales and service companies, the multinational company supplies its customers in over 140 countries. More than 1,000 advisors and service technicians provide their expertise and experience, ensuring maximum availability of all MULTIVAC machines installed. In summer 2018, MULTIVAC celebrated the opening of its first production site in Eastern Europe, near Sofia in Bulgaria.
But worldwide sales are not a certainty, not even for a technology leader like MULTIVAC. "There are so many risks and challenges in economic policy," warns Hans-Joachim Boekstegers. "They include the USA’s isolationist policies, the effects of Brexit, increasing nationalism including in Europe, protective tariffs, and very volatile raw material prices." As CEO, Boekstegers has to take a lot of parameters into account. The political and economic constraints change faster than ever today. Sometimes all it takes is the 240 characters of a tweet by the US President.
Apprentice Manuel Heckelsmiller does not have to think too much about all that yet. The seventeen-year-old is in the second year of his training as an industrial management assistant. Instead of reading the Wallstreet Journal, like the MULTIVAC management, he prefers books on purchasing, marketing, and sales - all subjects he needs to master if he is to serve customers worldwide in future. "That is why doing well in my apprenticeship is so important to me," says the calm young man. "It gives me long-term prospects." The location in Wolfertschwenden is practical, too. "I drive to work with my father every morning. He works here, too," says Heckelsmiller, who is very committed to his hometown. "Sepp Haggenmüller actually founded MULTIVAC in our village of Böhen in 1961," he adds, proudly. "That was where he worked on the first vacuum chamber machine." He started out it in a garage - just like Apple founder Steve Jobs did ten years later in his garage in Los Altos, California.
While apprentice Manuel Heckelsmiller tells us of his plans for the future, the wintery landscape of the Allgäu glows through the window behind him. Soon Heckelsmiller will go skiing again. The mountains are not far from Böhen. When he thinks how people in Munich rush for the motorway at the crack of dawn to avoid the traffic, he can only smile. This is his home and this is where he wants to stay.
Securing jobs in Wolfertschwenden
It is not unlikely. Globally active, his employer can compensate risks in some regions with opportunities in others. This strategy has allowed MULTIVAC to grow continuously over the last few years, as well as securing jobs in Wolfertschwenden. If they complete their training successfully, apprentices like Manuel Heckelsmiller are offered a permanent position. The mechanical engineering company also supports the good of the region, benefiting not only cultural institutions and sports clubs. With its "KiTec - Kinder entdecken Technik" [children discover technology] project, for example, MULTIVAC works to get little researchers in kindergartens and elementary schools curious about technology.
Fitter Marco Jäger takes a different approach. Soon he plans to take his young daughter Leonie with him to the plant in Wolfertschwenden for the first time. The big man wants to show the little girl where her papa sets off from into the big wide world to get very complicated machinery working. And he's gonne be pretty proud of that.