Eugen Hehl said his family-owned machinery company, Arburg GmbH & Co. KG, is built on a humble dedication to excellence, but, as he built the injection press maker with his brother Karl Hehl, they followed the old Swabian saying: Schaffe und strebe, aber lebe.
Work hard and do your best, but don't forget to enjoy life.
Hehl, 85, certainly has enjoyed his life and work at Arburg, in the small town of Lossburg in Germany's Black Forest. And now he enters the Plastics Hall of Fame.
Today Arburg has 2,300 employees and business around the world. Eugen and Karl passed the business on to a third generation of the family: Juliane Hehl, Renate Keinath and Michael Hehl. But Eugen Hehl still comes to work every day.
How he gets to work has been a bit of a mystery. Is there really a tunnel that connects the brothers' houses to the factory?
“Here again my answer is: The legend lives on. But it is true: We do have direct access to the company from our homes,” he said. “That's not to say that I secretly creep every morning on my way to Arburg. It just seemed like a good idea because our homes are located in very close proximity to the company premises.”
In Lossburg, everything is pretty close to Arburg's factory. But the building architecture is low-key enough so that it doesn't dominate the town.
Every single Arburg press is built in Lossburg. The Arburg complex is a wonder of technology, a highly automated factory plant where parts are delivered to assembly areas via miles of overhear conveying lines, crisscrossing the plant. The plant organization allows Arburg to combine mass production with a high level of customization.
All in the family
Eugen Hehl said the fourth generation — the grandchildren of himself and Karl — are growing up fast and seem to be interested in the business.
“And that's a good thing! After all, even if we think differently and there have been occasional disagreements to be overcome, as a family-run company we have sufficient strength for continuity and healthy growth,” he said. “This is because the basic values on which our company is based are unchanging.”
What united Eugen and Karl was a common goal, and that belief remains with the younger generation. Arburg should remain a bedrock of the Lossburg area for decades to come.
“That's why I have no worries about the future of Arburg. After all, everyone will always work together to achieve the common goals and to push developments forward. This is something that the Hehl family shares in its genes and that will hold the business together, making it strong in the long term. This is important for us, but also for the region and for our employees,” he said. “The employees who go to Arburg every day to work hard need to be sure that things will remain that way for the foreseeable future. And I'm quite sure that they can rely on that.”
To understand a company's future, you have to look to its past. Arburg has a proud history. Eugen and Karl's father, Arthur Hehl, founded the company in 1923 in Lossburg, making medical instruments. Eugen Hehl said his father was a good person who was true to his word.
“I would describe my father as a simple craftsman and a kind-heated person, a family man who was firmly rooted in his local area and his profession,” Eugen Hehl said. Arthur gave his sons free rein to take risks. “I believe he would be very proud of his boys if he could see what we've achieved.”
Karl Hehl came up with the name Arburg in 1943, while serving in Normandy during World War II. He combined the first syllable of his father's first name, (Ar) with the “burg” in Lossburg. Karl drew the logo the company still uses today.
Karl died in 2010 at age 87.
The brothers grew up in their father's business, helping the company survive the difficult times after the war, and the death of their brother Gerhard. In 1948, Arburg made a large range of consumer goods such as wire baskets for potatoes, trays for irons and hairpins.
Karl Hehl was the “tinkerer.” Eugen was a “born salesman,” according to the company history. When Karl returned from a prisoner-of-war camp in 1947, he took gear sets from decommissioned anti-aircraft guns and converted Arburg's production machinery from belt drives to single drives.
“I then packed our products into my rucksack and got on my bike, which I later replaced with a motorcycle, and tried to sell our wares from house to house around the region,” Eugen Hehl said. “That's how things got back on track at Arburg.”
Eugen Hehl said that, although rural areas like Lossburg were less affected by WWII than urban centers, the backbone of the German economy had been severely damaged. France occupied the Lossburg area.
But Germany was able to rise from the devastation to become an industrial powerhouse.
“Although it seems like a contradiction, the upturn in Western Germany was initiated by the Cold War, which prompted the western powers to rebuild West Germany,” he said.
That laid the groundwork. But Hehl said the German people played a major role, through hard work, inventiveness, quality-mindedness and the will to succeed.