I am not entirely sure when the "good old times" actually were. Neither am I entirely convinced times was better, whenever it was. However, I do believe that the human brain can fool yourself to think that past times were better. Maybe it's a survival mechanism? Perhaps not, but I am sure most of your recall the saying?
However, this article will take you back to 1897 when the trading company EAC - short for East Asiatic Company - was founded by shipbuilder Hans Niels Andersen, born in 1852. Together with his business partner Isak Glückstadt they founded the company that became not only one of the most successful companies in Denmark but one of the companies that have influenced the global printing industry more than most.
A few years before, another company was founded in Germany, named Hemmer, Hamm und Compagnie. The company produced church bells and printing presses. Heidelberger Druckmaschinen was born.
Both EAC and Heidelberg rapidly developed into leading global suppliers within different fields. Most people understand that the time between the wars was particularly hard on Germany, and the Heidelberger Druckmaschinen owner Richard Kahn had to give up his entire business.
Heidelberger Druckmaschinen was taken over by the creditors and the banks and soon sold to the energy company RWE who took control over Heidelberg - and also harvested the fruit of the latest developments. RWE has been a significant investor in Heidelberg until 2003, where RWE decided to focus entirely on their core business and sold of Heidelberg shares.
When RWE sold, the share price was staggering 30€ per share, and revenue was in the range of 5 billion euros.
However, an essential thing happened in 1954. The Danish EAC CEO, Tage Wøldike Schmidt, was on a tiger hunt in India, where he met the CEO of Heidelberger Druckmaschinen. The story is that this meeting gave EAC the distribution right of Heidelberger Druckmaschinen in Asia and North America.
Getting closer to 2020, it explains how so many EAC people are still involved with Heidelberger Druckmaschinen and other companies in the printing industry.
Heidelberg has a long story. Heidelberg has a tremendously important story, and the company has an immense impact on the global printing industry. Technologies, innovations, and business models have led Heidelberg into a role almost second to any other in our industry. This is also one of the reasons why so many of us are concerned with the state of Heidelberg today.
When companies fall, the reasons can be many. Most companies simply rest on their laurels and miss the opportunities change offers. The fathers of Heidelberg were genius people with a drive first and foremost for innovative technology; today's businesses are unfortunately most managed through an excel spreadsheet.
The printing companies of today have to be smart. They have to adapt to the changes in demand. They have to adapt to technology, and they always have to adapt to all the changes they experience. As Darwin said, it's survival of the fittest. Maybe printing companies can survive if they adapt, but maybe the more important thing is not just to adapt but to lead.
Today Heidelberg is a significant player in our industry, but the company's relevance is for sure changing. Being a market leader doesn't come from saying so, but from doing. With massive layoffs, massive losses, and strange and mixed messages about their product mix Heidelberg soon have to deliver a consistent strategy. If I may have a wish, I hope Heidelberg will learn from their founders. Men who dared to aim for the best. Men who understood the market needs. Imagine in the 1920's Heidelberg could produce 100 Heidelberg Tiegel machines a month. Of course, Tiegel was less complicated than today's Speedmasters, but unfortunately, it looks like the light is burning out.
In Part 2 of this series, we will look into some of Heidelberg's troubles and why they are so desperate for cash. Part 3 is about Benpac. Benpac Holding AG is the Swiss-based company that acquired Gallus last week. It's a company with so much secrecy that it smells. The owner Marco Corvi has been able to raise money to pay a premium price for Gallus, but why? And who is backing him?
So stay tuned for a few more great stories on its way.