For five generations, Cord Prinzhorn’s ancestors ran their Austrian paper empire like it was a Formula One racing team. They prized speed and efficiency, and every product and every operational process was a feat of meticulous engineering.
This was what the business demanded back when Prinzhorn Group had just a few hundred major clients who wanted their paper quickly and in massive quantities. But over the past 10 years the game has changed, and it has fallen to Cord, the company’s CEO, to lead the business’s transformation into something less glamorous but no less ambitious.
“We’ve undergone a major shift from being a paper producer to becoming a packaging producer, and this has required us to adjust the fundamentals of our company,” Cord says.
“Producing packaging is a lot more like selling Tupperware door-to-door. Instead of a few hundred customers, now we have more than 50,000. It’s more end-customer focused. It’s a sales job.”
A wide variety of businesses across Europe come to Prinzhorn Group for their corrugated packaging, including producers of fruits and vegetables, toys and hardwood flooring.
“85% of our customers are small, local growers who produce things like asparagus or fruit juices. They can’t just put their peas into a plastic bag and send it via mail. They need to have branded packaging,” Cord says.
“Flooring producers that used to deliver in plain brown packaging, where you’d expect to see ‘Made in China’ on it, now seek packaging from Europe because the quality is just so much better.
From us they can get white, printed packaging where you see a family sitting in front of a fireplace and a nice wooden floor under them. This is what end consumers want,” he says.
Holding the customer’s hand
Even following the transition to packaging, Prinzhorn Group still retains the operational expertise that allowed it to thrive during its ‘Formula One’ days. “We’re still highly efficient and operations-driven,” Cord says.
“That’s in our DNA.” With tens of thousands of customers and operations in 16 countries, Cord and his team find themselves “solving millions of small problems every day, from delivery and logistics to payment and service”.
1. Dunapack Packaging – delivers innovative corrugated packaging solutions made primarily from recycled paper.
2. Hamburger Containerboard – produces high quality containerboard and plasterboard from recovered paper for recycling.
3. Hamburger Recycling Group – collects and trades secondary raw materials for the international paper and recycling industry
“Imagine you are selling a startup product from your garage, and you need a few thousand cartons – who is going to help you put your design on that carton? Who is going to help you figure out the best way to package it and put it on a pallet? Because if you put it on a pallet the wrong way, you may fit 30% less than the maximum,” Cord says.
“We are the ones who guide the customer who has a product but doesn’t know how to package it or sell it. We take the customer by the hand and help them see the solutions that we have discovered by working in this business for decades.”
Business with a purpose
The most common misconception Cord hears about his industry is the belief that his company’s paper products are made from trees. “I always have to explain again and again that we are not based on wood. We are based on recycled fibres, meaning that 100% of our paper packaging is made from wastepaper that we collect from municipalities and other industries,” he says.
Running a company that plays such a pivotal role in the loop of European recycling is what Cord finds most rewarding about his work. “Recycling is absolutely not just environmentally friendly and smart, it’s also a big source of raw material that is important to many industries, including ours,” he says.
Recycling is absolutely not just environmentally friendly and smart, it’s also a big source of raw material that is important to many industries, including ours.
Prinzhorn Group’s exclusive use of recycled paper has made its products increasingly attractive to customers who demand innovative, sustainable solutions. After using the company’s packaging, these customers have also found that there are additional benefits to recycled paper that the alternatives lack.
“Offering an alternative to plastic is not only more sustainable, it is often the more durable option,” Cord says. “Because of differences in airflow, apples packaged in plastic do not last as long as those packaged in corrugated paper.”
Cord is committed to developing new products that promote sustainability while offering the safest packaging solutions to customers. This is why Prinzhorn Group invests US$9 out of every US$10 of profit back into the business.
“We are not luxurious,” Cord says. “We drive lowconsumption cars and work in an open-plan office. This is a business with a purpose, and we will always place our purpose over money.”
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