TROISDORF, GERMANY (July 18, 1:15 p.m. ET) — Reifenhäuser GmbH & Co. KG, the Troisdorf-based maker of machinery for blown and cast film, is celebrating its 100th anniversary — and it's been family-owned the entire time.
The company was born in 1911, when Anton Reifenhäuser started a forge in Troisdorf. Today, his grandsons run the business. They are brothers Ulrich and Klaus Reifenhäuser, who are managing directors, and Bernd Reifenhäuser, the CEO.
Family ownership is rare in the plastics machinery manufacturing, which has caught the attention of private equity investors.
“I think it gives us a tremendous advantage,” Ulrich said in a telephone interview. “First of all, the quality of managers are always decisive for any business. Then second, if a family is managing a company, you can really be sure that these guys only have one thought: the health and growth of the company. It's not the money we earn. It's not the position and the glory of what we might have. It's just the company.”
Ulrich Reifenhäuser said a closely held company also can make decisive moves. An example was Reifenhäuser's purchase of Kiefel Extrusion GmbH in 2009 — right in the middle of the severe recession. “It was dramatic, but it was the best time ever” to pull the trigger, he said.
And the company continued to take a long-term approach and invest during the downturn. “We are coming out of the worst crisis of worldwide industry. Business dropped to one-third. We did cut costs. But we didn't lay off a single, qualified engineer,” Ulrich Reifenhäuser said. “We organized our self to gain productivity and we used the capabilities of our engineers for strong and ambitious R&D targets. Additionally, we had a new focus on quality.”
After Anton started his forge, his own sons, Hans and Fritz Reifenhäuser, moved the business into plastics machinery in the late 1940s. The first Reifenhäuser extruder was built in 1948, to a customer for coating cable.
In 1954, the company developed downstream vacuum calibration equipment for extrusion of hollow profiles and pipe. The firm ended up getting out of that type of equipment in the 1990s, after licensing the technology to other machinery makers.
Reifenhäuser made major innovations in blown film machinery, including a twin-die system in 1965 and, in 1969, two-layer coextruded film. Sheet extrusion and cast film were added later.
The company has a more than 1,000 patents.
Ulrich Reifenhäuser has become a spokesman for the German machinery industry. He is president of VDMA, the German Plastics and Rubber Machinery Association. He will chair the Exhibitors' Council at K 2013 — his fourth K show in that position.
To celebrate its first century, he said the company will hold a party in September for employees and their families.