The big anniversary interview
With heart, hand and mind: 40 years glatthaar-fertigkeller
1 // with the Great Place to Work®-Award glatthaar-fertigkeller is among the best employers in Germany
In 1980 Joachim Glatthaar founded the prefabricated basement construction company glatthaar-fertigkeller. Since then, the company with headquarters in Schramberg Germany has specialised in the manufacture and construction of prefabricated basements and ground floor slabs. Today it is the European market leader with a group turnover of almost 200 million euros annually and over 500 employees. In an interview, founder Joachim Glatthaar and managing directors Michael Gruben, Reiner Heinzelmann and Dirk Wetzel shed light on developments and look to the future.
What does the 40th company anniversary mean for you personally?
Joachim Glatthaar: I feel deep gratitude, joy about what has been achieved and infinite pride in my team
Do you still remember how it all began?
Joachim Glatthaar: If I look closely, I had the idea in1968, without knowing it. Back then, when I was 15, I decided after school to do a bricklayer apprenticeship as I couldn't imagine working in an office or an assembly line. After the apprenticeship, I got to know construction in all its facets, earned my first credits, came into contact with customers. When I was 23 while working in highway construction, I led a team of 22. But the desire for independence and a return to building houses for self-builders took up more and more of my thoughts. In order to realise my dream, I attended the school for master masons. With this in my pocket, I finally put everything on one card and started taking on all the obligations and risks of an entrepreneur, at a time when the construction industry was in a recession. But I was so energetic that I took that as a challenge.
2 // Production in the first own precast plant in Schramberg-Waldmössingen
In your opinion, what were the decisive steps and stages?
Joachim Glatthaar: One of the most important decisions was the one for the “niche” of basement construction, after observing the growing prefabricated timber frame housing Market. Incidentally, we were also the first prefabricated basement builder who built ground floor slabs. But it wasn't just the manufacturing method that gave us a good start. We offered all associated earthwork, drainage and connection work, including the necessary soil survey reports. Today's customers want everything from a single source. Process reliability, speed in processing and construction are now more than ever a basic requirement for retaining customers. This convinced the timber frame house builders of our credibility. In doing so, we paved the way for cooperation. In 1984 we built the first factory for the industrial production of our basements. This enabled us to further expand our knowledge and production capability. We now also produce in winter, while conventional brick-on-brick suppliers had to take breaks in bad weather. This not only attracted attention, but also sparked discussion. We, “the young wild ones”, were watched with suspicion, as we revolutionised basement construction, breaking new ground in production and assembly. The development and production of our prefabricated modules is as important today as with was back in 1984. By 1986 we entered the international basement construction business, attracting clients from outside of Germany.
We have lived a healthy error culture from the beginning until today. Instead of covering up or presenting half-baked goods, we always found a solution in the interests of the customer and dealt with mistakes openly, honestly and with understanding.
Dirk Wetzel: Either the granting of patents for our in-house developments such as the Eco-Hit ground floor slab, our AquaSafe® basement or the ThermoSafe® wall, as well as the TÜV certification all mark important milestones for our company. The construction of our 313-ton floating innovation centre in 2003 and the market launch of the modular TechnoSafe® basement in 2018 are also part of this journey. The ambition to perfect product lines and our ability to find exactly the right employees who live the glatthaar philosophy has always helped us.
Which balance do you draw?
Reiner Heinzelmann: 40 years is a long time. A time that was marked by boom phases, recessions, ups and downs. From today's point of view, we can say that Joachim Glatthaar's vision - `whoever stopped getting better, stopped being good ', has made glatthaar-Fertigkeller what it is today: a modern and market-leading prefabricated basement construction company. We are of course proud of our employees, together with whom we have achieved market leadership.
What distinguishes glatthaar-fertigkeller?
Michael Gruben: We don't stand still, regardless of whether it's about optimised work processes, new products or technologies. Unique in the industry, we guarantee a permanent contact person for every construction project and every builder, from signing the contract to acceptance. But we don't just look at economic development, we share our success on a small and large scale with others. As an example, I would like to cite the Association for Children with Cancer in Mainz, with whom we have had a close relationship for eight years. We also live up to our ecological responsibility by permanently optimising our production according to sustainable standards. Here responsibility for the company and the environment go hand in hand.
3 // swimming GLATTHAAR KELLER innovation centre in Dunningen-Seedorf
How has it been possible to come up with new innovations again and again?
Dirk Wetzel: The synergies and cooperation with industry are important. Together with the manufacturers, we continued to develop the products. Whether in drainage technology, such as our plastic pump shafts, in sealing or insulation, such as concreting the insulation directly in the factory, or in basement components, for example the light well plate. Without our ongoing development and pioneering work, there wouldn’t be so many products today. Incidentally, this also applies to questions relating to occupational safety for our assembly teams. Our fall protection systems are now widespread in the industry. With the market leadership in prefabricated basement construction and many awards for our products, it is through our own hard work and innovation that we have defined the market for our products
4 // Fully automated production process in the GLATTHAAR KELLER precast factories
What challenges had to be mastered?
Joachim Glatthaar: The first big challenge was the question of the employees: very few people were drawn to construction in the 1980s. I solved this through my circle of friends at the time. The topic of finding good employees continues today. The good working atmosphere helped and helps. How we work together is important factor in our firm’s directions and is key for our structuring and alignment to growth. We separated our tasks in to function groups. This forms the basis for the success that continues to this day. Whether internationalisation, the construction of new plants in Germany, the permanent adaptation to customer requirements over four decades or currently the shortage and price explosion on the property market - each of our decisions was and is based on serving customers as best as possible and maintaining and creating jobs. In 40 years, we have realised over 64,000 projects. The achievement of our employees is second to none and speaks for itself.
Dirk Wetzel: To clarify the dimensions once again. Today we complete around 5,000 objects per year. In addition to bundled technical know-how, we develop uniform standards and procedures that are required in all phases of planning and processing. Whether in the factory or on the construction site. We live this line in constant dynamism and adaptation of the processes. For example, this enables new employees to be trained quickly, as well as creating flexibility in the team without any loss of quality.
What role does digitisation play in the company?
Michael Gruben: With the advancing possibilities of digitisation, we made another leap and were able to further automate tasks in production. Today, a comprehensive ERP system forms the core of the control of our business processes. Our glatthaar app provides assembly crews and employees, with all the project data. Conversely, they feed the app with data, images, etc. Without this interface, things would no longer work today. In addition, the digital processes enable us to optimise our production. We succeed through reduced machine downtime and intelligent maintenance cycles. Last but not least, we optimise supply chains, operational processes and development cycles for products.
6 // left to right: Michael Gruben (Verkauf); Reiner Heinzelmann (Finance); Joachim Glatthaar (Gründer);
Dirk Wetzel (NL Simmern + Technical Department).
glatthaar has recently won the Great Place to Work®“ award. What’s your secret?
Reiner Heinzelmann: First and foremost, we offer our employees a job that is characterised by flexibility, control and freedom for initiative and self-motivation. The growth of the group means that we can offer employees very good opportunities for career development. With targeted development programmes, we support the path to becoming either a manager or a specialist. In addition, our range of health development, such as check-ups, bike leasing and additional company health insurance, has been very well received. For families, work life balance is important, by making working hours more flexible or the option of working from home, is not just something we do on paper, we live it. We have developed into an interesting employer thanks to a clear employee strategy. The “Great Place to Work®” certificate awarded in February 2020, for our HR work and corporate culture were awarded for the first time by external experts.
How do you generate further growth?
Reiner Heinzelmann: An important factor for growth is the cooperation with our partners in the prefabricated house building sector and their further expansion. In addition, we are constantly working on new collaborations. We are also working on adding new, innovative products and services to our current range of ground bearing slab and prefabricated basements. Through the development, production and sales of the glatthaar-Starwalls and the property development division, we have opened up the areas beyond basements.
Joachim Glatthaar: The federal government, states and municipalities have already recognised the enormous cost and time savings in our Starwalls retaining walls for road construction and urban spaces.
What does the future hold for glatthaar-fertigkeller, what challenges, tasks or projects are you facing?
Michael Gruben: Even if the construction industry has been booming for many years, we see a trend towards a decline, especially in detached houses, which is also due to the tense property situation. Due to the rising property prices, the customer saves on house costs. Too many are still doing without a basement, although that is exactly the wrong way to go when looking at the property's value. Our job is to communicate that including a basement saves money. With regard to the limited living space and smaller plots, we will focus in the coming years on developing the modular basement.
Dirk Wetzel: From my point of view, the future requires companies to work even more closely together. Process chains must be coordinated in the best possible way, and everyone must be able to rely on each other. The topic of digital networking and the ability to clearly define processes plays an essential role. There is also the issue of sustainability, here too we will be measured by the customer. That's why we're not running out of targets, the next thing is to reduce CO2 in the production of cement.
6 // The TechnoSafe® modular basement as a future model for ever smaller properties
If everyone had one wish for your company, which one it would be?
Joachim Glatthaar: That we will remain a privately run medium-sized company even after I have withdrawn from the operative business.
Reiner Heinzelmann: That we do not rest on what we have achieved, but that we remain hungry for success and that we are ready to go on unconventional, uncomfortable new paths if these lead to success.
Dirk Wetzel: That we can continue to inspire so many very good employees and managers for glatthaar in the future.
Michael Gruben: That we will continue to inspire our customers in the future and that we never stop getting a little better every day.