Christopher Köster is following his uncle Paul Köster and explains the goals and challenges of the family company in an interview
Medebach. Paul Köster GmbH has successfully made an important personnel change: Christopher Köster initiated the third generation of the Köster family on September 01, 2022 in the management of the special mechanical engineering company from Medebach. The 38 year old industrial engineer is following in the steps of his uncle Paul Köster, who retired from management at the age of 65 and is enjoying his well-deserved retirement. Together with Friedrich and Ernst Köster, Christopher Köster is now leading the destiny of the global medium-sized company. "We are delighted to have found our desired solution in the first step of the manager succession in my son Christopher. He has already created important impetus in the past with his skills and spirit of innovation, especially in the areas of IT, digitization, automation as well as in intelligent control technology. Also as a managing director, Christopher will courageously advance and develop our company in the course of digital change,” says Friedrich Köster. In the interview, Christopher Köster explains what challenges Paul Köster GmbH is facing, how it will successfully meet these challenges and the areas for which he is currently taking responsibility and will take responsibility in the future.
Mr. Köster, why did the managing director change happen in September? Is this a dream of yours to step into the role of managing director?
My grandfather and company founder Paul Köster set out in the managing director contracts for his three sons that they would stop their professional work once they reached 65. Since my uncle was able to celebrate his 65th birthday in August 2022, this time had come. With my entry into the managing director position, I am fulfilling a dream that is well thought out and that of course presents some challenges to me. I take on this new role with lots of anticipation and motivation. I would like to contribute to continuing to our traditional company’s success story, bringing our employees along, in order to reach our goals together in a highly motivated manner.
With Friedrich and Ernst Köster as well as yourself, Paul Köster GmbH still has three managing directors. How are the tasks split up, and which tasks specifically fall in your area of responsibility?
When planning how to split up the tasks, we also have to take into account the future personnel allocation in management. After all, Friedrich and Ernst Köster will turn 65 in the not-too-distant future and can then retire from management. That is why a final decision on the division into individual areas of responsibility will be made in the coming years. Concretely this means that, in addition to my work as managing director, I will continue to manage the IT and Marketing departments and work in operations in Sales. It is fundamentally important to us to ensure a good transfer between the generations. Important company decisions are therefore currently being made in a large group made up of old and future management.
What challenges do you expect in your new position in the short, medium and long term, but especially in 2023?
The short and medium term is about actively shaping the gradual transition to the 3rd generation of Paul Köster GmbH so that we can still develop successfully in the future, offer attractive jobs and ensure these in the long term. On the other hand, the new trends in mobility are presenting major challenges for us. This affects us directly with our high proportion of sales in the automotive industry. Appropriate efforts were and are being made to create the necessary references in the area of electric mobility in particular. For example, I think of different development projects here as well as the implementation of a major project for the modular electrification kit of a German automotive manufacturer, which we implemented. This sector will continue to be about being innovative. As a manufacturer of special machines, we are certainly more flexible here than a company with a high degree of standardized processes.
It is no secret that it is not the simplest of times in economic terms to manage a company. With the help of our employees, we must overcome the tense economic and global political situation and keep the company in a stable position in the long term. Our employees are and remain the heart of our company. The appreciation and respect for our workforce is extremely important for us as managers. Our team spirit is an important building block for the company's success.
How are the current crises affecting you and how are you meeting these challenges?
The two major conflicts, the coronavirus pandemic and the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, of course affect our company. Right at the start of the war, we decided to cancel two orders that were to be delivered to Russia. Of course we are also impacted by inflation and the rising energy costs. The effects remain in a controllable framework due to the proportionately low consumption of gas and electricity as primary energy sources compared to other producing companies. Nevertheless, all of this is resulting in heavily slumping earnings. The still very tense situation on the supplier market is also having a significant impact on the company, such as for electronic control components and other decisive components for the machines we produce. In this sector, a single control component that cannot be delivered can mean that an otherwise finished product cannot be put into operation and delivered. Delays like this have a very big impact on the company’s entire project and capacity planning and lead to increased production costs. We know about these challenges, but we also know our strengths to successfully meet these challenges. We are using our flexibility to repeatedly find good individual solutions together in intensive dialog with our customers. Our close-knit relationships with our customers that have developed for many years is another important factor. Our customers know from experience that they can rely on us.
The competition on the market is stiff. From your point of view, what makes Paul Köster GmbH stand out?
As I mentioned, we have a very long-standing customer relationship with most of our customers. I see this as an indication that above all our performance is convincing. Many of our customers appreciate the fact that the best possible technical solution is analyzed together with them during projects. This means that a very constructive basis for communication has formed between many employees and customer contacts over the years, which is a valuable foundation for completing projects together. The customer base knows that they will receive the machine they need from Paul Köster GmbH so they can meet the ever-growing requirements on the market for their products.
How was the 2022 fiscal year in economic terms? What is the order situation looking like in the medium term and how do you forecast the market situation in the next 2 to 3 years?
The 2022 financial statements will be created in the coming months. Current forecasts show that we have fallen short of our sales goal due to supply chain issues, but that we were nevertheless able to close out the year with a slightly positive overall result. The current order situation in our company is extremely good. We have already been able to fill our order books for the coming year very nicely and therefore are able to start the new year fully utilizing all of our capacities. In the coming year we expect a stable market situation, since it is foreseeable that some industries will decide due to the results in the recent past to rely more on domestic production or production in the European Economic Area again. Accordingly, we expect a continuous expansion and further optimizations in domestic production lines in our core business, special machine construction with the focuses on leak testing machines as well as assembly technology and automation solutions.
How is the shortage of skilled workers affecting you? Are you currently soliciting employees?
The shortage of skilled workers has been an issue in our rural region for years. Highly qualified engineers, like the ones we need in the field of engineering, are particularly a scarce commodity. We are always on the look for suitable new employees to strengthen our team. We have been increasingly relying on our own training, also in the field of engineering, to have the necessary resources available here in the future as well. For example we offer programs in the field of work-study courses, part-time continuing education and much more. In this way we hope to offer young people in the region the opportunity to develop into qualified specialists on whom we can draw.
What are the particular strengths of a family company, using Paul Köster GmbH as an example?
On the one hand, in my opinion, it is the understanding of family and the needs of the employees. We always listen to our employees and try to find solutions together for individual problems. On the other hand it is the flexibility that we always try to maintain. This is not always easy due to the company's size. It must remain possible for all employees to pull together during tough project phases and pursue the joint goal of satisfying the customer. Flat hierarchies, short decision-making paths, motivated and high-quality employees, solution-oriented actions for our customers – that is what Paul Köster GmbH stands for, that is what the management stands for, and that is what I stand for personally. This is makes up our company and makes it successful.