Prof. Helmar Franz, a 34-year plastics machinery veteran, is one of the industry's true internationalists. Born in East Germany in 1950, he grew up mostly in Egypt and Russia, and now is a senior executive with China's Ningbo Haitian Group Co. Ltd. In 1972, Franz earned an engineering degree, specializing in plastics processing machinery and processes, from the Institute for Chemical Machines in Moscow.
That same year, he joined Plastmaschinenwerk Schwerin, one of the three major injection press makers in the former German Democratic Republic, working first in research and development and then as a senior sales and marketing executive. In 1985 he joined Berlin, Germany-based WMW Export-Import, the sole worldwide distributor for plastics machinery and machine tools manufactured in the former GDR. He served as executive managing director for the firm's sales and service companies in Iraq, Egypt and Russia.
In 1991, he joined Germany's Mannesmann Demag Kunststofftechnik, now Demag Plastics Group, running its Moscow office, one of the first Western joint ventures in the former Soviet Union. Four years later, Demag put Franz in charge of its small-tonnage injection press plant in Wiehe, Germany, and in 1999 promoted him to chairman, a post he held till spring 2005. While there he oversaw plants in Germany, the United States and India, in addition to DPG's then-joint venture in China with Haitian. (DPG subsequently bought out Haitian's share of that venture to become its sole owner.)
During this period, Franz also served for years as a member of the board of the VDMA, the German Plastics & Rubber Machinery Association, and was VDMA's board chairman from July 2003 till April 2005. In 2000, Franz was awarded the title Merited Chemist by the government of the Russian Federation. Later that year he earned an honorable professorship in appreciation of his merits in polymer processing machinery engineering and international cooperation by the State Technical University of St. Petersburg, Russia.
In January 2006 Franz joined Ningbo Haitian Group as executive VP of strategic business development and as a director on the Haitian board. The Ningbo, China-based company claims to be the world's largest manufacturer of injection molding machines and says it shipped more than 14,000 injection presses in 2005 to customers in over 50 countries.
In spring 2006, Franz joined with other top Haitian executives to form a new company in Germany called Zhafir Plastics Machinery GmbH that plans to research making premium-brand machines.