The company is always at the table.
Hidden champion. How does it actually work to form a world market leader out of nothing? How does an entrepreneur organize growth from twelve to 750 employees? And how can this social structure then be handed over in a good way and completely into the hands of its successor? Helmut F. Schreiner has found his answers.
Flooded with sunlight and completely in white, the large attic studio of the single-family house is in Munich's bourgeois residential area. It serves as a conference room for the Family Office of Helmut F. Schreiner. This is where he manages his 50 private properties, thinks through new investments, analyses the potential of start-ups - and this is where the 78-year-old poets. "This has always given me pleasure, but I never had much time for it."
Helmut Schreiner is managing owner of Schreiner Innovation, mediator, management consultant and investor. Works scientifically, teaches at the International University of Business and Law in Kherson, Ukraine, on the subject of Holistic Business Management in the Social Market Economy. "Today I am a pupil, teacher, entrepreneur and also an industrial philosopher," he says with a smile.
Which he's not anymore? "Well, the label maker," he says, as if it goes without saying.
That this sentence comes so naturally was hard work. "When my son took over the family business. I was no longer the determining, but the serving. It was a difficult process, but also very liberating."
For 38 years, he had headed Schreiner Group, a company now with 1100 employees and sales of around 170 million Euro. "The company was my life. The company has always been at my parents' table at home. Later it was the same in my family."
Schreiner Group is now active worldwide in the development and production of functional parts, marking solutions and self-adhesive specialty labels. If you drive a car and meet certain emission standards, you stick your vignettes to the windscreen of the car. Anyone lying in a hospital will see the infusion bottles with suspension brackets - a product from Schreiner. And in supermarkets, Schreiner Group stickers are used for contactless payment.
A typical hidden champion. Everyone knows the products. But hardly any of them are the businessman behind it. "The fact that the company was built up successfully is a great gift to me, even though it cost a lot of work.
1974 Helmut Schreiner takes over the company Etiketten Schreiner Spezialfabrik for embossed seal marks and labels from his parents. Theodor and Margarete Schreiner had founded the company in 1951 and developed it "out of nothing" into a smoothly running business with twelve employees.
Unlike their competitors, the Schreiners offered their customers various designs for their seal brands - "our customer could choose, that was expensive for us, but new and a great benefit for him. At that time everything was still drawn with ink and pen and on large boards in original script - that was very creative."
At the age of 14, Helmut Schreiner starts his apprenticeship with his parents, every hand is needed. That's when he learned the most important lesson: love your customer. "Each and every mission secured the economic survival of our family. My parents gave me a deep appreciation for our customers, I have maintained this throughout my entrepreneurial life and it has proven to be a source of growth. Customers value esteem."
This includes two things in particular. First, to always come up with something special. "My worst nightmare has always been to stand at the market and sell cherries. And everyone else around me has them, too." And secondly, not to compromise on quality: "The embossing had to be perfect, the colour imprint glazed. The packages in the box were always clean and tidy, the box nicely wrapped. You know what I'm saying? There was never even the slightest carelessness. I've always wanted to do everything right from the start."
But that is only the basic prerequisite for success. "It was crucial that we always watched very closely: What are our customers' problems? How can they be solved?"
Architects and engineers, for example, produce a new drawing head for each of their plans. It's expensive and expensive. Helmut Schreiner develops transparent, self-adhesive drawing heads that can be inscribed with ink. "The architects were thrilled - we already had an offer that quickly paid off for the offices and which then turned into an entire product family." Later, Schreiner will use this ability of his company to create a slogan: "If nobody can do it, Schreiner will do it."
When he took over at the age of 35, he already had 17 years of experience in his parents' business and a failed transfer attempt behind him: "My father had already made me an offer earlier that I could not accept - it would have been a lease agreement. Helmut Schreiner therefore left the company in 1970, working as a clerk, then as a production manager, one after the other in two large graphic arts companies. "This has broadened my horizons enormously. Basically, the failed succession was a blessing to me."
After four years, the time was ripe for the handover. The parents wanted to leave the company and retire, which made it possible for Helmut and Ulrike Schreiner to take over the company in exchange for a life annuity and sole leadership.
38 years later, his own son defines the rules in a similarly uncompromising way. When Roland Schreiner took over the management of the Group in 2012, it was also clear to him that the senior would be retiring. It is not an easy step for Helmut Schreiner: "I would have liked to have taken on tasks for him for even longer. Under the title 'Freiraum für neues Leben' ('Freedom for new life'), after training as a mediator, I founded a new company, Schreiner Innovation."
Between the acquisition of Etiketten Schreiner and the handover of Schreiner Group lies an enormous entrepreneurial success. From the very beginning, Helmut Schreiner doubled his turnover every five years. From 600000 marks in his first year as an entrepreneur will eventually become 125 million euros. From twelve employees until the handover to the son 750 employees.
The big challenge here is to change the structure of the company in every size class so that it remains competitive and profitable. "Every step must be accompanied by quantitative and qualitative growth. Only then can you take the next growth step. The company as a social entity has always fascinated me - and of course the role of the entrepreneur as a motor in the development."
By 1980, Helmut Schreiner had initially increased the number of employees to 50. While in the beginning nothing works without him - purchasing, development, technology, production, printing, everything runs from his desk - he now has to redistribute tasks. "It wasn't a real structure yet. But an expanded business framework with more people, more administration and more organization."
Growth is urgently needed to meet all obligations, including those arising from the transfer agreement with his parents. "I had the picture of the snowball in front of me, which gets bigger and bigger the more often it is turned. That's how I saw my investments. Same percentage return on a larger sales total."
At that time, Avery from the USA presented its invention of self-adhesive labels in Europe. "But hardly anyone cared. I have seen that with this material many problems could be solved for which there was no solution at that time. We became early customers in Germany."
Listen. Questioning. Where exactly do you want to stick the label? How long does it last? Is it exposed to heat? Or cold? Is it frozen? There are almost 1000 materials that can be coated. And many, many different printing processes.
Der Konkurrenz Helmut Schreiner always seems to be one step ahead when it comes to material selection, adhesive, size, presentation and automatic processing. "I'm just very interested in everything I do." This curiosity is another prerequisite for the company's success. "There is information in every trade fair or exhibition, in every supplier offer and product on the market. It has to be registered by an entrepreneur."
Our own developments are driving the growth process forward: "For example, we have built the first device with which adhesive strength can be measured. It changes with different adhesives depending on the substrate, temperature or wetness. Only if you know that can you bring the right materials together."
In 1990 Schreiner already had 130 employees. Margarethe Schreiner had become M. Schreiner while my parents were still alive, later Etiketten Schreiner, after which it became Schreiner Etiketten und Selbstklebetechnik, and finally we became Schreiner Group. We have always tried to adapt the whole company to the increasing turnover size. Such a change of name is also a signal to the inside and outside."
But the growth process does not take place without friction. To grow faster than to be able to deliver is typical in such a phase and "very annoying", as Helmut Schreiner finds. "I've always been personally tormented by that. As a sole supplier, I have a great responsibility. My word is my bond. If I couldn't hold it, I suffered."
Helmut Schreiner makes a decision - he creates overcapacities. The burden of short-term profit, in favour of customer satisfaction. "That was the basis for long-term corporate development."
At that time, the entrepreneur remembers, there would have been much more to it. "We have always invested all our earnings after taxes and waived the borrowings of banks. When I had bought a new machine at a trade fair in the early years by handshake, my bank performed a safety dance that made me stunned. I've been a good customer for years."
Since then, Schreiner has financed the company exclusively from its own funds. The money was only enough for cheap machines, not always for the best ones. A decision he would no longer make today: "This made me a bit of a limiting factor for my company. In the future, only the most efficient supplier will survive, and that can only be who has the best machine."
The next jump to 500 employees is the one that challenges him the most. "Now I had to move into a new level of management." As a result, the entrepreneur only has direct contact with managers, who in turn lead managers. "I lacked contact with the employees at the machines. I always needed to know how people were doing." Schreiner takes the liberty of continuing to communicate with all employees. At the same time, he trains his upper management level in team building: "I wanted the new management level not to focus on itself, but on the company and the family sense of belonging in it.
For this to succeed, corporate values and corporate culture must be clearly defined. At Schreiner, everything revolves around four themes: Innovation as the freedom of thought. Quality in every detail. Customer orientation. And joy as the basis of life. "If there's only one area right, it won't do the system any good. A single bottleneck limits the system. That's why proximity to the company was always very important to me. I wanted to see bottlenecks early."
But then it's also important to act consistently: "Sometimes I've held on too long to employees who couldn't cope with the new structure. One employee, for example, insisted on his paperwork, while we networked the entire company. I knew that, but did not react - only when I realized that the man was obstructing the whole system did I act."
Schreiner exemplifies the corporate values and measures his managers by them: "I could forgive almost every mistake my managers made, but not if they violated our culture. Whoever roars senselessly and lives out his ego must leave the company."
Nevertheless, Schreiner has not brought a single case before the Labour Court. "I was an honorary judge and knew early on that it was not a matter of justice but of reconciliation of interests in court. And I was also able to bring about this balance myself. Parallel I held so the negative energy from the exempt private company, which a process brings with itself, because the whole discussion material around such a negotiation was void.
It is really critical for the company for the first time im Jahr 2009, when the Lehman crisis unfolds its full effect. All customers from the automotive industry and suppliers terminate their contracts. They only retrieve labels as needed and live from their stock.
Schreiner experiences months with significant losses. His advisors are asking him to share responsibility now.
"That was absurd, of course. As if the responsible entrepreneur could or was allowed to submerge in the crisis." Schreiner cuts his own salary, not that of his employees. "My wife and I have also decided to sell private property and not to lay off an employee. I was proud that the family business was a family that stood together during the crisis."
In the transition period, advertising is done, machines are maintained, cleaned and new products are tried out. "But you don't believe how fast the money's gone when revenues drop dramatically and fixed costs stay." It's worth holding out - when demand picks up again, Schreiner is immediately ready to deliver. His employees thank him - with loyalty and pride in their company. "Only satisfied employees can create satisfied customers. We have proven ourselves in the crisis and are still doing a lot for our employees today - training, wage development, working hours."
If necessary, Helmut Schreiner buys an apartment and rents it out to an employee if he cannot find accommodation on the free housing market. "The man came from Africa and got only refusals in his apartment search. Then I helped," he says and adds: "Being able to help is a chance."
At present, everything is in the hands of the entrepreneur - rather his successor: Global economy, orders, interest rates - "but the mountain stages will come back sometime", Helmut Schreiner is convinced. His son Roland will have to master this alone.
It will probably not be any easier than in the past. First of all, competition today takes place with countries that were previously not even noticed - South Korea, India, China, Mexico. "Perhaps fewer labels will be needed overall if customers print directly on the product. We will only survive if we continue to develop." The structures for this must be constantly adapted. "We have the task of transforming the company into a future not yet known."
It is also a great challenge to react to special customer requirements with new technologies. Schreiner Group has developed a label for zum Beispiel that makes water exposure verifiable and is intended to protect mobile phone manufacturers from unauthorized claims by their customers.
"Time used to be less hectic. We worked a lot, we didn't know the word stress", reflects Helmut Schreiner: "I always had the time to think and develop. My son doesn't have that time. Er leads in its own way, participation of its employees is important to it."
Today Schreiner Group is active worldwide. Damit obviously there are also new priorities. "My goal was growth", erklärt Helmut Schreiner: "For my son, the robustness of the company is the decisive factor. The next generation is going their way, and that's a good thing."
Author: Yvonne Döbler