Oak Brook, Ill. — There's a changing of the guard at W. Müller USA Inc., the Agawam, Mass.-based unit of the German maker of blow molding extrusion heads for blow molding, where longtime industry veteran Wolfgang Meyer will retire at the end of the year.
Jens Schlueter will be the new general manager of the U.S. operation. But this is not the type of transition where the outgoing person says to the new guy, "Here's the keys, good luck!"
Meyer and Schlueter, who is new to the blow molding industry, have spent more than a year in the transition.
Schlueter is a quick study, and he's a German with industrial management experience in the United States, but he values the time spent with Meyer.
"That's the greatest thing which would happen to me," he said at the Society of Plastics Engineers' Annual Blow Molding Conference, where Müller exhibited. "First of all, blow molding is very special. I'm not from the industry. I hope, of course, to add value with my former experience. But having someone like Wolfgang, I would say, not only a boss but also as a mentor, to bring me into this was a great thing."
Meyer, who had retired from the machinery world and ran his own consulting business, stepped into the position at W. Müller USA after the death of Elmar Spohr, the former president. Spohr was only 40 when he passed away from an aortic aneurism on the first day of the 2010 K show. Meyer came to the booth and volunteered for the post.
Christian Müller, managing director of W. Müller GmbH, said the company was lucky to have an experienced executive step in on an emergency basis. Meyer had been president of blow molding machinery supplier Kautex Machines Inc., and he retired from that post before the Müller opening. He knew blow molding. Before Kautex, Meyer was the longtime president of Battenfeld America Inc., the injection molding press company.
Meyer's career started at Bayer AG, right after college, working in polycarbonate and the then-booming area of structural foam molding of computer housings.
After Spohr's untimely death, Meyer signed on for a year, but that was extended several times. Finally, Meyer told them he wanted to phase out at age 70. (He turned 71 on Oct. 27.)
Christian Müller said it took much longer than expected to find someone good.
"After we tried ourselves to find our somebody from the industry, we hired a recruiting company," he said. The company found some candidates with blow molding or tooling experience, but none were the right fit.
Extrusion die heads for blow molding is "not an out-of-the-catalog product," Müller said. "When with the customer, you need to identify the problem, and then you need to know what is the right product and the right solution. That's the difficult thing about it. So we had a hard time to identify the right candidate. But at the end, we decided for Jens because he was not out of this industry. Just to get fresh ideas. What we looked for was the technical skills. Would he be able to catch up? And from the first interview we were confident that he will learn quick. But then bring also his own ideas."
Schlueter officially started in September 2016. His first public event was the 2016 blow molders conference, where he was recovering from a broken foot in a motorcycle accident.
Schlueter started out as a tool and die maker in Germany, after doing an apprenticeship. While working, he went back to college to get a degree in mechanical engineering, attending classes on Fridays and Saturdays for eight years, he said.
He took the position of president at Plymovent GmbH, a maker of industrial air filtration equipment, and after four years in Germany, he moved in 2011 to the company's U.S. operation in New Jersey as president and director of sales, and later global vice president.
"It was a three-year assignment, and then after two years, my wife and I decided that we wanted to stay longer. We applied for green cards," he recalled.
In 2014, Schlueter became president of Norres NA, doing a greenfield startup in South Bend, Ind., for the German maker of industrial hose systems, the kind used, for example, in the plastics industry for hopper loaders and conveying systems. Then he came to W. Müller.
Schlueter took on the top U.S. job of general manager from Meyer in July. He appreciates the long break-in period and has enjoyed learning the ropes from Meyer. "He's a great door-opener. We traveled a lot," he said.
Meyer said the two men "have traveled quite a bit and visited customers from Canada to Argentina together. And introduced Jens to our customer base, so he is familiar with issues that customers have, the requirements they have."