My interview with Martin Krengel, CEO WEPA Group
by Tim Vormweg | Head of Group Communications
The year is now half over, and this provides us with a good time to take stock. Who better to do that with than with the Chairman of the Board of the WEPA Group, Martin Krengel? I asked him questions about the developments of the past months, and about the future – read his answers below.
Martin, let's start with a look back at the Corona period. Have you ever experienced something like this before, and how do you think we managed to get through it?
I've never before experienced a situation comparable to the Corona period in my life. It's been very drastic, both socially and macroeconomically. We came through the challenging period comparatively well because we adjusted to the Corona conditions very early on – and across the whole of Europe. Speed, the ability to adapt, flexibility and an assumption of responsibility by the employees were needed. It's always been a great strength of the WEPA team to help each other and make the very best out of a situation. The way we responded to Corona is the way we've responded to other crises, such as the unimaginable Ukraine war and its impact – the team stands together at a pan-European level, it helps each other, it casts its sights to the future and overcomes challenges. It is precisely this culture and this will to change that also make me confident we'll continue mastering the issues that confront us, and at the same time tackle our topics for the future.
You've emphasised that the "together" philosophy has been enormously important in the past months and years. In this context, how has the relationship with our customers and partners changed?
Corona presented us with major challenges: discussions couldn't be held in person on location and there were no tours of the premises. That hit us, and we have to and intend to intensify that again in the future. It was a big adjustment to no longer have personal contact, but customers saw how quickly we could switch into crisis mode to get things done for them and make the best out of the situation. We were very transparent and open, we looked for solutions together and also found them. Our customers and partners appreciated that a lot, and they appreciate it once again in the current crisis. The ghastly war in Ukraine is having a major impact on European citizens and therefore also on our business and customers. We undertake a very transparent exchange about the developments – there's a robust relationship of trust, and our customers know that in WEPA they've got a very reliable partner. Having said that though, it's also clear that we can only get through this crisis together.
Stress due to Corona, stress due to the economic situation, stress due to the war – how does that impact a manager with your wealth of experience? Do you also sometimes feel anxious or worried?
I think that if I didn't have any worries or fears I wouldn't be able to approach the issues in a considerate way. Worry and fear is a part of life, but it's always important that these don't paralyse you so much that you can't look ahead. If we look at the challenges of the past months as seen together, it's an incredible achievement of the entire WEPA team to successfully battle against these external crises and keep looking forward. What our employees are managing and achieving, especially in times like these, gives me confidence that we can overcome the challenges together. Whether Corona or the Ukraine war and the social concerns that come with that – it's on everyone's mind. And it's why it's so important to stand together, support each other, share concerns and encourage each other.
If you had to describe the first half of 2022 in three words, what would they be?
Well, I think I need four words: challenging, suffering, gratitude and confidence. Challenging because of the crises to be mastered, suffering in relation to Putin's terrible war of aggression in Ukraine, gratitude for the really great teamwork in overcoming the crisis and confidence for the future.
If you look to the future, where will our industry and our company develop? And what do future consumers want?
Consumers in the future want hygienic and sustainable solutions that offer a high level of comfort and, simultaneously, an appealing design. The aspect of sustainability is particularly important, and that's precisely the orientation of our company: we want to be the most sustainable company in the industry. I'm convinced that companies in the hygiene paper industry have to act sustainably to survive in the long term.
As CEO and entrepreneur of the WEPA family business, you're taking a big risk by investing heavily in technology and sustainability leadership. Why?
The reason is that we can develop further through investments. Allow me to provide an example: the air mill plant at our Leuna site. This enables us to create even better quality for our products, and at the same time we can drive forward the issue of sustainability. Our investment in a new paper machine in Bridgend is another example, which strengthens our approach of producing where we sell. These are investments in the market that are in line with our "Perform & Transform" strategy programme for shaping the future. They’re activities that give me courage, and I'm sure that we're exactly right with our investments – but always under the precondition that we make the company even more stable and resilient with the investments – in challenging times and a highly competitive environment.
An entrepreneurial family is behind the multi-generational business WEPA. Can you give us an insight into work and exchange within the family business?
Just as we have a corporate strategy, we also have an entrepreneurial family strategy. We wrote a family constitution very early on and specified the fundamental values and guiding principles. All shareholders are committed to the progress of the company. Our discussions, for example at the entrepreneurial family days held every six months, focus to a great extent on the future. The family is characterised by strength and unity, and we naturally try to transmit and superimpose that into the company.
We've now heard the term family quite often. For many of us, summer means holiday time with family or friends – for you as well? And if so, where are you going?Und falls ja, wohin geht es?
Yes, I'm looking forward to going on holiday with my wife – we like hiking and cycling. We simply look forward to spending time together and relaxing.
Many thanks indeed Martin for taking the time for this interview.