When we can no longer walk in the same path, we need to seperate.
just got a double day off and headed to Long Kei for a great wildfire camping. It’s just a remedy to damn tiring work as it let me and others to get lost a least for a night. We didn’t mind a bit alcohol intoxicated to make ourselves a bit mood-elevated and spinning, so as to get some excuses to sing madly, laugh loudly and sleep unconsciously (though some has been unconscious before asleep).
Beating the Drum – Gutersloh
Miele celebrated its 100th year anniversary last year. The rason for the company’s longevity is not only its quality household appliances but successive generations who have taken over – and upheld – the family firm’s values
Most families would struggle to trace their history further than two or three generations. Perhaps a few might be able to embellish theirs with occasional accounts of heroism and adventure – an illustrious uncle’s emigration to a far-flung territory; a great grandparent’s pursuit of happiness aboard a billowing steamer, or a distant relative whose skeletons still rattle around the family closest.
Between the Mieles and the Zinkanns, however, there are fours generations of first born sons who have shouldered the hefty responsibility of heading a successful family enterprise. Few start-ups can plan on being run by future generations but the success of a single product or s4rvie can afford an enterprise the longevity to outlive its creators.
When 30-years-olds Carl Miele and Rheinhard Zinkann set up a workshop to manufacture butter churns for northern German farms in 1899, they would have fallen off their milking stools to learn 111 years later their great-grandsons would still control the family business and that their modest venture would turnover euro 2.83bn. With 16,600 employees, 10 manufacturing plants, subsidiaries in 45 countries, a domestic product range that warrants over 400 catalogue pages and a professional product division, Miele is a white goods Goliath that have never cut corners on quality or compromised on price by off-shoring outside Europe.
All product manufacturing, including washing machines, fridges, vacuum cleaners and ovens, is still carried out in Germany- the headquarters are found in Gutersloh, just a few kilometers from the original workshop in Herzebrock-Clarholz – with some assembly and electronics work being doen at two new factories in Austria and the Czech Republic.
‘At the time our ancestor didn’t know there were at least 40 other butter-churn manufacturers in the surrounding area. These days you would never start a business in such a competitive market-place,’ asys Dr Markus Miele, the current managing director and co-proprietor of Miele and Cie. Despite this, the founders persisted and just two years after they launched the company the men invented the product that would be the making of the company – the Meteor washing machine.
Carl was the original product developer and Rheinhard was the marketing meister, although technical and sales roles subsequently filled by interchanging Mieles and Zinkanns over the years. Today the status quo is restored with Markus Miele minding the design and Reinhard Zinkann running sales.
The Miele Meteor wooden washing machine was based on the same principle as the hand-driven mechanical agitation of the butter churn, thus takng the back breaking strain out the laundry day. By 1905 the two had patented an electric power-driven machine with the company’s new motto, ‘’Immer Besser’’ (For even better) emblazoned on the top. This sense of progress and experimentation would fuel the growth of Miele over the next four decades as sthe friends and partners built the domestic appliances market, adding model after model and even diversifying briefly into bicycles and cars. When both men died within a year of each other the reins were completely handed over to their sons in 1939.
More recently, Markus Miele and Reinhard Zinkann were never expected to join the firm. ‘’My father saw that when a number of his clients forced their kids into business then it was bad for the company and for the kids so everybody was losing out,’’ says Dr Miele. When both Miele and Zinkann were ready they were made aware of the hand over process that was set in motion by the founder’s sons – their grandfathers.
‘’We have written rules in the family that state you first have to attend an outside business for at least two years to prove leadership, knowledge and skills. May be our grandfathers also had it in mind that it would be better that other companies pay for our first mistakes’’ says Dr Zinkann with a chuckle. After obtaining their doctorates in business and engineering, Zinkann went to work at BMW in Munich while Dr Miele chose to work for a local family-run car company called Hella.
Walking into the Miele factory, where the washing machines and driers are manufactured in Gutersloh, is an impressive experience. Gutersloh is a small town in the Westphalia region of northern Germany and the high-speed DB ICE train from Busseldorf whisks visitors through the very pastures that inspired Miele in the first place. Far from the agricultural cosiness of the surrounding area, Miele’s plant is a shining, spotless space that turns out over 5,000 appliance a day, each one assembled by hand for different markets.
Miele has its own train line that connects to the German network for bringing in raw materials such as iron ore and sending out finished products to local distributors and on to Hamburg in order to be shipped farther afield. Miele’s fastest-growing markets at present are Austria, Canada, China and Singapore.
In Germany, Miele products have always been held in the highest regard and when asked if there was anything he wished people outside Germany knew above the company Dr Miele is direct, ‘’Germans know it is a high quality appliance. When you look at the new markets such as India people don’t’ know abobe Miele and I wish they would experience the quality.’’
Miele products have always been expansive but customers pay for the Germany precision – on first entering the complex you could be forgiven for thinking you were at the Audi works in Ingolstadt. Everything is considered, from the smart, branded uniforms to the reassuringly stringent testing processes. Miele even has its own fire brigade that is dispatched into the local community when needed.
“Miele makes the machines that make the machines,’’ beams Jochen Menke, our proud factory guide. ‘’If a particular piece of equipment to do a particular job doesn’t exist then the Miele technicians will build it.’’
Family values are placed at a premium in all aspects of running the business. ‘’We are educated to think in terms of generations, not only in our products but also in terms of our employees, ourselves and everything we do – it helps being independent,’’ says Zinkann. ‘’We don’t have to ask for any banking or for any kind of foreign capital. If we start a product it can wait two or three years until it becomes a success story. We won’t stop engineering the product in between because it takes time.’’
Yet the company is cautious in its product development, adhering closely to the ‘’Immer Besser’’ mantra whereby appliances must naturally evolve from existing lines. ‘’The founders wanted everything to be better than theirs last product. If you look at it from a long term perspective as a family business you don’t want to risk (i.e. if you started adding surprising new lines) too much because maybe you will want to hand it over to the next generations,’’ says Miele.
When asked to describe a family business devoted to craft, provenance and customer service, on automatically envisages a small workshop in a quaint village where one or two craftsmen turn out high quality handmade products for a loyal customer base. It is refreshing in this day and age to learn of a multinational, multi-billion euro company like Miele holding fast to the ideals of the very craftsmen who founded the business in that same small village.
Dr Miele and Dr Zinkann both have young first born sons to carry on the family tradition but the partners are adamant that like their partents they will not force them to join the family firm. ‘’ My father always said to me you have to do what you like, what you re best at and he was right. We will just have to wait and see,’’ reflects Miele.
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