Ningbo Haitian Group Co. Ltd. has hired well-known German plastics machinery executive Helmar Franz to oversee development at the Chinese mega-manufacturer, which builds more than 10,000 injection molding machines a year.
Effective Jan. 1, Franz becomes executive vice president of Haitian, based in Ningbo, China. He also will become a member of the board at Haitian Group. Franz will help develop Haitian's strategy to improve customer orientation and expand into new markets in Asia and other regions of the world.
Franz said China, the largest consumer of injection molding presses in the world, will remain Haitian's most important market. But becoming more international will make Haitian stronger by exposing executives and employees to other cultures, he said from China in a Dec. 9 telephone interview.
``If you don't do business globally, you will never be able to understand customers globally,'' he said. ``In the end, the business is being made between people.''
Franz, 55, is former chairman of the German Plastics and Rubber Machinery Association and a 33-year machinery veteran. He is resurfacing about eight months after he departed German injection press maker Demag Plastics Group of Schwaig after a disagreement over DPG's future direction.
Rumors that Franz would go to Haitian had circulated in machinery circles. DPG had a venture in China with Haitian that assembled about 1,000 injection presses since it was created in 1998. In November, DPG bought out Haitian's 40 percent share to become sole owner of that operation.
Haitian had sales of more than US$400 million in 2004, the company said in the news release. Injection molding machines are Haitian's core activity, but the company also makes machine tools, small compressors and motors. Haitian employs about 2,000 in China.
Haitian claims to hold about a 60 percent market share in China for large-tonnage presses and about 15 percent for small machines. The firm is one of the largest Chinese injection press manufacturers, battling with Hong Kong-based Chen Hsong Group, which builds presses on the mainland.
The Chinese injection press market is getting more crowded, with a large number of smaller domestic manufacturers, Japanese suppliers and a growing number of European and North American players building machines in China. Given that competition, Haitian and Franz face the ``highly demanding task'' of keeping Haitian in the lead, the company said.
Haitian also wants to export more of its machines outside China. Nondomestic sales have risen steadily during the past several years, from $50 million in 2003 to $80 million in 2004, according to the company.
``You will never meet the challenge if you only act in China. So you need to operate globally to be exposed to these cultures,'' Franz said.
Franz has plenty of global experience. At DPG, he oversaw plants in Germany, the United States and India, in addition to the China joint venture with Haitian.
He was born in East Germany in 1950. His father sold textile machinery, and he lived in Egypt as a young boy. At age 13, he moved to Moscow, spending nine years there. He graduated from high school in Russia and studied engineering for plastics equipment in Moscow. In 1972, Franz joined one of the three major injection press makers in the former German Democratic Republic, in Schwerin, East Germany. In 1985, he moved to a company that sold East German-made injection molding machines, extruders and sewing machinery, again working out of Moscow.
In 1991, he joined Mannesmann Demag Kunststofftechnik, now DPG, running its Moscow office. Four years later, Demag put Franz in charge of its small-tonnage injection press plant in Wiehe, Germany. He was promoted to the top post, executive managing director, in 1999.