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floor in Meckenbeuren, Winterhalter recalls accompanying his grandfather on one of his own customary factory tours. “I was six or seven years old, and he knew every employee in his company,” he says. “Of course, this is no longer possible with 1,100 people or 38 country subsidiaries. For this reason we try to ensure our flexibility by giving responsibility to our MDs in the different countries. This is in contrast to what many other companies do.” This absence of top-down hierarchy is,

says Winterhalter a fundamental reason behind its continued success. “We give a great deal of responsibility to Stephen

“We want people to come up with ideas, no matter how crazy. They’re the seeds of our innovation”

Kinkead (UK managing director) and David Smithson (UK CEO) and they run Winterhalter in a UK way. Our managing director in Germany has the same freedom, and he runs Winterhalter in the German way. It’s the same in Switzerland and France and so on. We put our MDs in the position of the entrepreneur within the corporation. Why? Because the various markets are so different.” According to Winterhalter this approach also creates a flourishing environment for innovation. “We want people to come up with ideas, no matter how crazy. They’re the seeds of our innovation. People feel a strong emotional link to the company and they stay with us for a long time.” One company initiative is that every engineer in the firm has to spend at least one evening, or one shift, washing up with a client and using the equipment first hand. And Ralph Winterhalter, heir apparent, was no exception. “When I started in the UK my shift was at IKEA


in Bristol. I spent a whole day washing up on a big MTR machine, and I was covered in soup. But at the end of the day I understood, that when it comes to a rack conveyor, the machine only does a good job if the logistics around it are right. We put ourselves in the position of the customers. That is crucial.” When I ask him if, as young boy, he pictured himself covered in soup, as preparation for one day taking on the family business he laughs. “I always wanted to do this,” he says. “I was proud of what my granddad did, what my dad did. So I wanted to do the same, just to prove that I can move it to the next level. “My granddad and my dad never said, ‘you have to do this’. They said: ‘if you want to, fine, you get all the support you need.’ Of course they were happy that I wanted to take over, but if I had said in the early days I wanted to do something different, they would have been fine. And that’s the way I see it. I’m happy if my daughter or my future children say, ‘I want to do it too’. But I would also respect their wishes if they say, ‘this warewashing world isn’t my world. I want to do something else’. If you force somebody into a position where he’s not comfortable, then the whole thing dies.” The succession of leadership between Jürgen and Ralph Winterhalter has been a long one, and carefully considered. “We do not have a fixed timetable. It’s a very smooth transition. I don’t think that there is a golden rule [to succession planning], but I think in our case it’s the right way. Jürgen might say, ‘OK, I would do it this way, but if you want to do it like that, fine.’ If there was uncertainty and inter- family conflict a clean break might be better, because the whole company could suffer. But luckily we do not have this.” So what does the future look like?

“I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I would say it’s promising and full of opportunities,” he says. “We have so many great ideas in the pipeline. We still have some surprises for the market.”

Winterhalter on: the global marketplace

“The world has changed. Asia is becoming more dynamic. In Germany, the independent, family-owned restaurant in the countryside is dying. In the UK, quick service restaurants are becoming more important. That group of customers is completely different. Our products need to adapt to these changes.

“When it comes to warewashing, Asia is a relatively new market. There, our biggest competition is hand washing as the labour force is still very cheap. People say, ‘for [the price of one of] your dishwashers, I can employ three or four people’. But, of course, it’s another matter when it comes to hygiene, safety and efficiency.”

Winterhalter on: entering the US

market “Sooner or later we will be in the US, one way or another. But it has to be in an intelligent way. Many German companies went over to the US, having seen the huge potential there, but then they crashed, because the whole market is different over there. We haven’t found the right way to crack that market. In the US we would have to start from scratch. You need a crystal clear understanding of how to do it; how to enter which segments of the market. But one day, when the time is right, we will be there, definitely.”

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