Power woman moves up a gear
Arnold Schwarzenegger drives one, Lindsay Lohan has just smashed hers up in an accident. Michael 'Bully' Herbig also drives a Porsche 911 Cabrio in 'Zettl'. Carsten Germer and his partner Gabriele Lohmann don't actually drive one - but without their company, nobody would: every Porsche 911 Cabrio built since 2004 contains eight components made by Halberstadt firm HBS Technik. And we aren't just talking this particular car, as the range of HBS-Technik products doesn't begin at P for Porsche, but at A.
This company, which specialises in CNC metal working and was established in 2001, makes parts for convertible hoods. Cars made by Audi, Ferrari, Mercedes, Opel, Peugeot and Porsche all drive with technology made in Halberstadt. Carsten Germer and Gabriele Lohmann started with orders from the commercial vehicles sector for which the company continues to mill and drill brake brackets to this day. Since 2011, medical technology has also appeared in the company's order books with parts for dialysis machines coming from Halberstadt.
Gabriele Lohmann is good with money. And she also knows how to negotiate credit from her bank - even in the middle of an economic crisis. "I prefer to talk with the bank than withhold wages from staff" she explains. The 53 year old explains that delays like this have never happened, and "I've never delayed paying suppliers their bills either".
Gabriele Lohmann says "I", not "we" - she has full control of the company's finances. She calls the company "my baby" and the first machine her "darling". Carsten Germer (46) has to laugh when he hears her and nods. The woman by his side knows what she wants; he completes the orders reliably with his 27 man team. He is available to everyone 24 hours a day. "He's the doer, I'm the accountant" says Lohmann, describing the management set-up.
The staff and the management are a closely knit team. Even if there aren't any bonuses apart from the occasional petrol vouchers, the team is loyal to the company managers. Those who work hard here didn't need to worry about their job during the 2009 economic crisis - and every apprentice is offered a permanent job. One of the company's first apprentices is now Operations Manager in the Production Hall, and Gabriele Lohmann refers to the young strivers as "our wild ones". "They aren't always easy but they are loyal and hard working."
Germer and Lohmann come from a Lower Saxony company; she was in personnel, he was an operations manager. As it became clear that the company had to turn down orders rather than invest because it was performing so badly, they decided to take their courage in hand. Why not head east to Halberstadt, with its tradition of metal manufacturing and good support possibilities - and start a new company themselves?
They rented an old factory building. That was 2001 - there was one machine, four employees. Their first order was for brake brackets. By coincidence, in 2004, Carsten Germer got to know a South German supplier for Porsche, who suggested the prospects of good profits - if he were to make a big investment first. The figure was three million Euros, to be boosted with state and federal funds, but which also involved certain commitments, such as five year work contracts. "This is indeed a big risk - and then a loan agreement of this sort!. It was a bit like signing your life away" explains the business woman remembering the decision.
Things appeared to turn out right however and HBS Technik took off. The machine park was consolidated, four employees became 24. Another big order followed in 2006, and Gabriele Lohmann returned to her bank asking for four million Euros. Suddenly, HBS Technik was employing 52 workers. Robotic welding devices were bought, before disaster struck in 2008 when their landlord cancelled the lease and again in 2009 when the orders collapsed. "We wanted to give up. How were we supposed to finance a 300,000 Euro move along with everything else? It would be necessary to halt production for eight weeks. We needed the money for our loans." Had all the sleepless nights and all the courage of getting into debt to fund investments been in vain?
"I went back to my bank" explains Gabriele Lohmann. With two arguments: on the one hand the stoppage to production, meaning limited losses due to the standstill. On the other hand her customer, who was supporting her, so that the company could stay above water despite working on short time. She got the loan and then found a local to Halberstadt who knew where some empty production halls were available. With a little imagination, an old construction materials business on the outskirts of the city became the new plant. "The owner had confidence we would soon be back on our feet and converted this 2000 square meter plot for us." Lohmann isn't boasting, she's simply stating facts.
She explains that she doesn't understand a lot of things about the business, such as technical drawings, or how to ensure the hall was warm enough in the dead of winter despite having one open side. "But I describe the result that I want and the men around me usually respect it." She brushes aside the question of why this is, saying that's just the way it is. And despite the protests of the heating engineer, the problem of keeping the hall warm was solved by putting up a giant tarp. "What can I say: it was warm enough" she explains, laughing at her own courage.
Temperature plays a key role in metal processing, which often comes down to one thousandth of a millimetre. Samples are measured for their accuracy electronically. This precise form of work brought HBS Technik an order which enabled the company to speedily leave the crisis period behind. A supplier of brake brackets withdrew from the market and Halberstadt suddenly became the destination of trucks delivering cast components.
The company is now running at 80 percent capacity, and both directors are satisfied with how things are going. "But we're the kind of people who want to be going like the clappers" explains Gabriele Lohmann. She is planning to hire ten more metal workers and acquisition work to secure new orders is going at full pelt. Together with Carsten Germer the power woman is reliably navigating the company in the direction of success: the big loans are already set to be paid off next year.
And once they are, it will be time for the two convertibles enthusiasts to dust down that sports car brochure one again. They have both dreamed of owning a Porsche convertible. Putting all questions of envy aside the horsepower king would be a clear statement of solid components that are made in Halberstadt.
Author: Kathrin Wöhler
Directors: Carsten Germer, Gabriele Lohmann
ph: +49 3941 621133-0
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