Founded in 1868, the Greiner Group started as a cork producer in Germany, before moving into plastic and foam production in the twentieth century. Now specialising in different business areas in the plastics industry, Greiner is still a family-owned company more than 140 years later. In 2009, the company appointed its first CEO from outside the Greiner family: Axel Kühner. Axel spoke to The CEO Magazine about the challenges he has faced as CEO, Greiner'’s focus on sustainability, and what the future holds for the company.

The CEO Magazine: What is your professional background and how has it shaped your leadership style?

Axel: I studied business administration and informatics in Germany. My first employer was Mercedes-Benz. Working for such a huge global company like Mercedes-Benz really shaped my management and leadership style. There was a philosophy at Mercedes at that time which was ‘the best or nothing’. This is something that really impressed me and that I really think is worth striving for, to try to always go for the top. This is something that influences the way of thinking today and is something that shaped my leadership style. Working for a company like Mercedes really triggers your passion because to be selling cars like Mercedes you need to have a lot of passion and a lot of professionalism. My style of leadership is based on trust. One of the most important principles for me is to interact with people based on trust, and to provide enough clearance for them to make their own decisions.

Throughout your time as CEO, what challenges have you faced?

I would say first of all, globalisation. We were very quick in recognising the opportunities in Eastern Europe. We are very strong in Europe as of today but we need to utilise opportunities outside of Europe as well. So globalisation for Greiner is one of the biggest challenges that we are facing. Finding people who are willing to go abroad, leave Austria, and head somewhere far away from home is something that is not so easy. The second challenge is that you have to take a company that is growing rapidly and update the structure. But updating the structure while keeping the culture and the spirit of the company is not so easy, because when you grow you have new people to whom you have to explain the culture and the ideas, how we work together, how we cooperate, and so this can be difficult in a growing environment.