The largest subsidiary of the KIRCHHOFF Group, KIRCHHOFF Automotive, was established in Germany in 1785 and is a full-service supplier of complex metal and hybrid structures for vehicles. The business has operations all over the world with approximately 30 production plants in 11 countries, and employs more than 8,000 staff.

Dr Thorsten Gaitzsch holds the role of Chief Technology Officer and has global responsibility for product and process development, research, program management and sales within the KIRCHHOFF Automotive operation. “The main task for me is to develop processes and products which hopefully have unique selling points,” he says.

Thorsten studied mechanical engineering at university and graduated with a PhD before working in the railway and automotive industries for more than 20 years. He says his past experience prepared him well for his current role with KIRCHHOFF Automotive.

“Every position, especially in the automotive industry, brings a lot of experience,” he explains. “This is why I always say that it is important to stay with a business, or in my case within the automotive business, because it is very specific and the kind of learning you are doing is very relevant. In every position in every company, I have had a kind of role model for specific tasks. What I normally do is a kind of cherry picking—a cherry picking of good ideas, a cherry picking of standardised systems and also a cherry picking with regard to the behaviour of staff.”

A significant part of Thorsten’s role is to embrace technology and use it to enhance the company’s operations. To do this, he says there a several key factors, or priorities. “One really high priority is on research and development. Our customer expects from us better products with regard to performance or specifically weight, because, as you know, we are talking mainly about lightweight structures in the automotive industry. That point is for sure being done to improve the cost situation.

“But from my point of view, it’s not only about the research and development. It starts with these departments but you’ve got to have production processes which are very competitive as well. What is also very important for a company is that you have to have stable and reliable processes because the lead time of our programs is sometimes more than 12 months; sometimes it is 15, 18, or even 24 months before start of production. Therefore, you need stable processes and standards also in the administration area.”

KIRCHHOFF Automotive has grown considerably over the last six years. In 2008, it reported a turnover of €430 million and today this figure is at over €1.3 billion. It has further ambitions for growth; however, Thorsten says that it needs to happen at a steady rate and not too quickly in order to be healthy and profitable.