"We will face new challenges"

Friedhelm Loh, owner and CEO of Rittal, on HANNOVER MESSE as the launch pad of global success and future challenges

Digitisation belongs just as much as development in a targeted programme of research funding – Friedhelm Loh

Dr. Loh, how many Hanover Fairs have you been to so far, including this year’s? Did you count them all?

Adding everything up and including CeBITs and so on, well, it was certainly around to 60 to 70 trade shows. I came with my father the first time, back in 1962. Later, from 1974 onwards, I was regularly here as Managing Director. Rittal’s half-century as an exhibitor at the Hanover Fair was quite some time ago…

Which role does the Hanover Fair have today in addressing a global industrial audience?

There are many reasons for Rittal’s success. The Hannover Messe is certainly one of them. Rittal has always been a very customer-oriented (and thus trade fair-oriented) company. Many of our international subsidiaries were founded following contacts made at trade fairs. Meeting people, making contacts, and then eventually starting up a separate company: This is how we have managed to establish over 60 foreign subsidiaries since the 1970s. So, our global success is very much related with the international nature of the fair. The fact that the show is based in Germany and that it builds bridges to the international markets with its foreign events is also very important for us.

How do you assess the mood in the international marketplaces in this year of discussions on the future of exports?

I think we have been experiencing a time that will go down in the history books as a positive one. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, we Germans made the most of our tremendous chance in international competition. Now, though, we have to reckon with political changes, not only from the USA but also due to a changed Europe. Moreover, we will face these changes as an industry and use these challenges as an opportunity, just like with internationalisation in the 1970s.German industry as a whole and we as a company will position ourselves more securely in the individual countries.

We can take the blueprints of our manufacturing and roll out quickly anywhere in the world

What are the prospects for further internationalisation?

We have developed strongly in the markets themselves and are producing in China, India, Italy, England, the USA, Brazil and South Korea. These are important springboards for us in conquering entire regions and individual markets. We can take the blueprint of, for example, our manufacturing systems and roll out quickly anywhere in the world. This is not only true for production but also for IT, which we have standardised internationally. For example, we have more than 640 employees in the USA, 500 in the UK, over 1,000 in China, and we have established capacities that let us adapt to market changes relatively quickly.

A highly qualified staff in Germany is a strong backbone

Our production plants are like a network of interconnecting tunnels; for instance, we can supply the Far East via production centres in China, India and Korea. At the same time, this means that we can respond to international trade agreements in the interest of our customers. Having a strong, central backbone in Germany with highly qualified staff and knowledge of the international markets also helps. It represents a good basis for coping with the new challenges.

How important is digitisation in all this?

We Germans want and need to be competitive in the future. In the case of digitisation, high speed is forcing us to change to new organisational structures. In medium-sized companies particularly, this means tremendous physical effort, both in terms of investment in machinery and equipment, but above all in the manpower needed. If products, machines and processes are based on optimisation through software, we will soon have a shortage of software developers – something which will put the shortage of engineers in the shade.

That is why digitisation belongs just as much as development in a targeted programme of research funding. Only in this way will we have the chance to implement digitisation successfully in medium-sized companies in the industrial location of Germany.

Friedhelm Loh is owner and CEO of Rittal GmbH, system provider for control cabinets, power distribution, air conditioning, IT infrastructure and software & service located in Hessen. The interview with him was published in the Global Business Magazine of Hannover Messe 2017