The German industrial spring and stamping and bending part manufacturer CEFEG has not one leader, but two. There is Dr Denise Klinger, who took on the role of CEO last year after spending her career working in research and development in the field of chemical engineering and carbon conversion technologies, and then there is her father.
Hans-Georg Reichel, 71, has led the company with a firm hand and entrepreneurial spirit as CEO for 15 years and is staying on as Senior Consultant while overseeing the transition to the next generation.
“My father – let’s say he is a patriarchal authority,” Denise says. “He’s the man in front but always with his mind on his employees. A strong hand but also interested in people and what they are doing. I’m a bit different on that front.”
CEFEG is family owned and has around 120 employees. It produces a dizzying range of stamping and bending parts and wire-form springs that form integral parts of assemblies and products in various industries. The company’s flat-form springs, for example, go in cars, furniture and medical devices, and are also used in mechanical and electrical engineering and industrial hardware.
Vision for change
Unlike her father, Denise has a vision for the company that is less about leading from the top with feedback from employees, and more about giving tools to people to help them become leaders themselves.
“Leaders should be more like coaches: not only responsible for technical issues but also for developing people. To have a really good culture and a mindset that is directed forward, it’s necessary to foster creativity and insight,” she says. Thankfully, her predecessor and co-leader has laid the foundation for this new, empowering leadership approach. “All of the people that my father developed have a very high know-how.”
That expertise has enabled CEFEG to create tools and tool concepts, and also fostered the innovation necessary to come up with more efficient processes to bring these tool concepts to life. With a young team hungry to move forward and do better, Denise expects plenty of opportunities to bring about her vision for a change in leadership styles.
“Many of our people are in the range of 25 to 40 years old, and they are very innovative and brilliant,” she says. “They’re always looking for the best concept when customers come to us and say, ‘How can we make that more efficient to get more parts out of it to save time and, in the end, money?’”
Another change Denise plans to oversee is a large digitalisation project, which will involve overhauling the company’s enterprise resource planning system and the machine execution system this year. “We are in the final selection phase, and what we are going to do is really make all of our processes faster, more transparent and more efficient,” she shares.
Early next year, CEFEG will start building a new plant in Chemnitz, covering an area of about 50,000 square metres with a production site of 12,000 square metres. It will have an office building and a childcare centre for employees’ children.
Employees benefit from a welcoming, diverse and supportive culture. The people here show each other gratitude for the work they do and ensure their colleagues understand they are needed.
“All of the employees are a puzzle piece in a big picture. Everyone is necessary, and you need to tell the people that they are necessary. I think that makes CEFEG a great place to be. We have a good team spirit,” Denise says.
“We began a lot of change projects the year I started,” she adds. “And the people were always interested. They want to move forward. They want changes and embrace new things, and I think that’s something that is maybe a bit unique for us.”
Leaders should be more like coaches: not only responsible for technical issues but also for developing people.
With employees from Russia, Macedonia, Syria, Iceland and elsewhere, CEFEG is a multicultural work environment, meaning there is a rich diversity of perspectives and ideas to feed creativity and innovation. “Everyone who wants to join the team can, as long as they accept our values and fit to our needs,” Denise says.
CEFEG is adept at serving customers with complex requirements and high-quality demands. “I think our USP is our entire culture – we are very flexible, we are determined to make our customers happy and we like challenges,” Denise says.
“We focus on producing complicated parts with efficient tool concepts. We never hesitate to take on a challenge, and we also like to integrate new technologies into our various processes.”
To ensure CEFEG is able to keep up with challenging customer demands, the company is always on the lookout for new and innovative machinery and technologies to invest in. Last year, for example, it invested around €1.5 million in a brand new hydraulic press equipped with a laser welding machine and an online optical measurement.
With the business environment set to remain challenging for some time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Denise’s approach to handling adversity is to remain optimistic.
“Every crisis has some opportunities that come out of it,” she says. “When one door closes another will open, but you need to go through it.
“Communicate with your people. Tell them what’s happening. Tell them what the problems might be, but also say that there is a way out. But to get there, let them know it’s important to take care of each other. For our company, that has really worked.”
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