First Decade Good for Gustav Wolf Suzhou
New general manager lays out his roadmap to success in Chinese market.
The white-walled building with green logo at 618 Fanfeng Road in Xukou, China, looks familiar to your author, who was here 10 years ago to witness the 2007 opening ceremony for Gustav Wolf Wire Rope Co. Ltd., a venture in China by German elevator wire-rope manufacturer Gustav Wolf (ELEVATOR WORLD, March 2008). Today, the global Gustav Wolf Group operates wire-rope manufacturing centers in six countries: Germany, France, Hungary, the U.A.E., Poland and China. The purpose of this visit was to meet with Thomas Scholz, the recently appointed general manager of Gustav Wolf Suzhou.
The chief goal for Gustav Wolf is to provide top-quality wire ropes for its customers. To do this, it created what it calls its “Five S” method — sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain — which it follows throughout the manufacturing and quality-control processes. The Five S method has not only been an effective tool in helping the company reach its goal, it has also proven to be a practical way to improve the manufacturing process. Scholz said that when training workers, “We not only tell them how to do work right, but also let them know why it is right to do so.” Five S has been implemented in all Gustav Wolf factories, he said, and continued efforts have been made to consolidate the practice — that is, to make employees understand how important the method is to the company’s success and sustainable development.
Angela Chen greeted your author (PJ) at the gate, leading the way to a meeting room on the third floor. Scholz (TS) joined me for an interview shortly thereafter.
PJ: 2017 marks the 130-year anniversary of the founding of Gustav Wolf, and 10-year anniversary of Gustav Wolf Suzhou. What are some achievements or milestones of the Suzhou branch, as well as by the global group as a whole?
TS: Since the foundation of Gustav Wolf in 1887, our 130 years of history and expertise have been supporting us to be an outstanding brand worldwide. Gustav Wolf is also well known for the production of steel wires for a wide range of businesses, such as automotive, consumables, mining and crane industries. In 1936, Gustav Wolf invented a rope post-forming device called PAWO (Patent Wolf). Today, PAWO is a proven efficiency tool for wire-rope production that reduces residual stress in ropes and is used across the world. Gustav Wolf Suzhou was founded in 2007, and we started production in the same year.
In 2009, we became certified with ISO 9001/14001 by TÜV SÜD. In subsequent years, we were awarded approvals by major elevator manufacturers around the world, as well as in China. We started producing PAWO F10 products in 2011 and became the first manufacturer to produce nine-strand steel-core ropes for elevators in China. Throughout the decade that followed, we have brought high-quality wire ropes to the elevator industry. Strong partnership with our customers over the years makes us far more competitive in the industry today.
PJ: As you know, the Chinese market is open and promising. However, the competition can be cutthroat, as there are so many wire-rope manufacturers in China. What are the major challenges you confront, and what are your competitive edges?
TS: The biggest challenge is that our competitors are becoming stronger, especially the Chinese manufacturers that have been developing rapidly. However, I’m not worried about that, because Gustav Wolf always goes the extra mile. With our experience, our name is globally associated with quality and safety. We have quality products and service, which make us competitive. Our R&D center in Germany, together with the local R&D department we are building here in Suzhou, will ensure that we can respond quickly to customers and new technologies with intelligent solutions.
PJ: It’s often heard that Gustav Wolf provides high-quality wire ropes. What are the technical features of high-quality wire ropes? Is it true that high-quality wire ropes are designed and made for high-speed elevators?
TS: The wording “high-quality ropes” stands for products of Gustav Wolf that are designed to meet the technical requirements and international standards in the field of high-rise buildings and high-speed elevators. Materials and production processes are designed throughout the whole value chain to guarantee stable and excellent products.
PJ: It’s said that good teamwork is key to success. How do you manage the whole team consisting of so many local people, most of them young and with little knowledge about German culture, especially since both cultures have little in common?
TS: I have lived and worked in Suzhou for more than 16 years, and because of my long relationship with the country, I know Chinese people and culture well. The young people today are more dream-driven than ever before. They are eager to learn, and they want to achieve things. In that way, you can say that we have much in common. In my opinion, Chinese culture and German culture have a lot of similarities, in spite of differences like language. But, the key to success is to combine the good aspects from both cultures into our own. It boils down to just three words: family, sunshine and learning. These motivate our employees and give them a good feeling. This company culture builds a work environment based on trust and learning opportunities for all, and the positive attitude of employees brings us an excellent team in return.
PJ: What’s your impression of China and the Chinese elevator industry?
TS: China is a great country with interesting culture. I have seen amazing developments and great changes here myself. The country has the largest number of tall buildings in the world. What’s more amazing is how China has successfully married its traditional architecture with the modern. It’s a country full of potential. All this high-rise architecture in big cities, such as Shanghai and others, is developing rapidly and providing opportunities for us. China has become the world’s largest elevator market, in terms of both production and consumption.
Major global brands have established sole proprietorships or joint ventures in China to act as the world’s elevator factory and manufacturing center. Real-estate development in China has reached a peak, however, and the property market is not growing as fast as before. But, the maintenance market has become a new profit growth engine for the elevator industry. In the future, the Belt and Road (Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road initiative) and government projects will create tremendous opportunities. All in all, the Chinese elevator industry has a promising future. And that is one of the advantages to having a manufacturing facility here in Suzhou, right in the center of the market.
PJ: Would you let EW readers know about your goals as general manager for Gustav Wolf Suzhou in the years to come?
TS: Our objective is to achieve operational excellence and a great reputation in the market to become one of the market leaders in wire rope for the elevator industry in China, the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions, and the U.S. Another important goal for the coming years is to satisfy our customers, shareholders and employees.