FROM FIAT TO FERRARI

18.11.2013

A medium-sized business needs clear goals to become a "hidden champion". CEO Dr Ralf Köster on the path from Baden-Württemberg to the global market.

Dr Köster, you have been at the helm of BARTEC for almost 10 years. What was your most important goal when you started?

First of all, I wanted to work with the team to take the business global. Back then, I called all the developers together and asked them to look out of the window into the car park. I asked them “How many Ferraris do you see down there?” The answer, of course, was none at all. But back then, BARTEC’s products were like Ferraris! Top technology, the best of the best, but at a premium price and therefore not suited to the international market. That is what I wanted to change. Over many years, we became more internationally focused and created a modular system for the requirements of the various markets, whilst retaining our cutting-edge technology. If someone wants to have a Ferrari, then we are of course still happy to give them that. But we are also capable of delivering a Fiat.
 

What does the reorganisation mean in terms of figures?

Back then, we made revenue of around €120 million, today it’s well over €300 million. We are seeing double-digit growth, have 10 production plants around the world and almost 40 sales subsidiaries. That has also had an effect on the number of staff. When I started it was around 1,000 – today we have 1,600. The future of this company is international. But we are also entering the next phase in the individual countries
and expanding our local structures. For example in China, we now have our own production sites and a sales subsidiary with offices at various regional sites. The number of staff is growing there too. In other words, when we enter a market, we develop in terms of breadth as well.
 

Can your customers expect a wide product range as well as an expanding sales network?

We want to stay in the explosion protection industry. Within this sector, we will however significantly expand our product range
through both our own developments and through acquisitions.
 

So oil and gas will remain the core sector going forward?

This sector accounts for around 60 per cent of our revenue, and for a good reason. We offer products that accompany the entire process, from exploration across the entire process industry to logistics and storage. We are the only ones capable of such a wide remit. But it is very important for us to not just be active in the oil and gas sector. We are involved in sectors like pharmaceuticals, chemicals and nuclear power, as well as some more unusual areas. These include measurement and analysis systems for logistics in the dairy industry. Today we can justifiably claim that we are the number one global market leader in this area.
 

How does that come about? Dairy is not exactly an obvious area for explosion protection.

That’s true, but using our measurement and data collection systems for liquids like heating oil or kerosene as a basis, we have adapted
the technology for the needs of dairy logistics, whilst the technical construction remains the same. That can only be done with a modular system ...
 

 ... and with solutions?

Solutions have made a sustainable contribution to our strong international growth. Before, we used to build switches, controllers and little lamps. But thanks to our engineering prowess, these components quickly became solutions. In fact, we have already gone one step further. For several years, we have been offering so-called engineered solutions. These are very specific solutions which we construct together with the customer’s engineers. Over the years, we have built a lot of trust doing this. It’s not as if you can just walk up to the world’s big oil and gas companies, ring the doorbell and say “I’d like to offer you something.”
 

Does that mean that BARTEC doesn’t need to ring to the doorbell any more?

For many of our customers, we have established ourselves as an expert, long-term partner. You have to realise that on a drilling platform or refinery, there are billions in investments at stake. Among other things, we also produce mission-critical technology, things that are essential for the safety of staff, of the environment and of the equipment.
 

Finally, I’d like to ask about how you view the market. Do you foresee growth or more difficult times?

Our customers work long-term with systems that were a one-off decision for them. For this reason, they think carefully when selecting a provider, therefore the market for safety technology is very demanding. But I see this as an advantage for BARTEC. This is because our knowledge of the sector and our comprehensive expertise in technology and solutions give us a major competitive advantage. Furthermore, if there is a downturn in one sector, our very wide product range also helps us, as if one product is not doing very well, we can always compensate. Automation, control and connection equipment, analyzers and measurement technology, electric trace heating, communication systems, motors, precipitation protection – we are the only ones who can cover such a wide spectrum from a single source. That is what supports our international growth.

Interview: Marius Schaub /// Photos: Heike Rost