The World Needs Inventive Swabians


Swabian people are considered to be thrifty and honest. But also innovative. Handtmann Group in Biberach has incorporated these values in its mission statement. What is the secret behind the long-lasting partnership with Daimler?

“My preferred place is the foundry,” answers 88-year-old Arthur Handtmann without hesitation when asked about his favorite spot in the company. At an age when many already celebrate 25 years of retirement, Arthur Handtmann is still working: As Chairman of the Advisory Board of Handtmann Group in the Swabian city of Biberach. His grandfather, a bell maker, had founded the company in 1873 as a brass foundry.

Senior boss Arthur Handtmann presents his company to Klaus Zehender.

Today, Handtmann is a specialist for aluminum and magnesium castings. But the company also manufactures fittings for breweries, plastic rollers for cableway systems and milling machines for aircraft construction. And it deals with sausages: Handtmann has developed an electronic portioning machine that can form up to 3,000 cocktail sausages a minute. The “breakneck-speed sausage catapult” helped the company to reach the globally leading position in the market for industrial sausage machines. Despite employing a workforce of more than 3,500 people today, Handtmann has remained a family-owned business. In the fourth generation. “You can feel it. It is always about the substance,” says Klaus Zehender, Member of the Divisional Board Mercedes-Benz Cars Procurement & Supplier Quality (MP), in praise of the cooperation. Handtmann has been supplying Daimler Group since 1987. While the company initially only supplied engine mounts, more and more orders were placed in Biberach in subsequent years.

We need the Swabian inventors. They deliver innovation. And when Swabians do something, they do it right. That vouches for quality.

Dr. Klaus Zehender, Member of the Divisional Board Mercedes-Benz Cars Procurement & Supplier Quality (MP)

Oil pans, rear axle housings, load compartment wells. Production of the magnesium case of the 9-speed automatic transmission (NAG3) is about to start shortly. “Without Daimler, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Arthur Handtmann assesses the cooperation. “This partnership is distinguished by trust.” Partnership is one of the three levers of success for MP. If it is complemented by innovation and top quality, than that is the basis for long-term cooperation.

Banks are standing in line

“The banks fight over who gets to give us money.” This is how Arthur Handtmann describes the situation for pending investments. Nonetheless, the elder has a rather reserved attitude towards banks. The reason for it can be found in his early days as a company leader: His two older brothers killed in action in the Second World War. He himself released from captivity barely 18 years old. He had to help out everywhere in his father’s company. Casting, turning, organizing material. Two years later, his father, who was suffering from a heart condition, handed him the company helm. He needed credit for his plans to expand beyond the 20 employees the company had at the time. But the banks in this part of Germany were reluctant to do business with the young man. Even though the situation is radically different today and the banks are standing in line, there is no growth at any cost for Handtmann: “Investments always have to remain within the limits of the financial means.”

The MP team in the production facilities of Handtmann.

Swabian virtues for everyone

Birds of a feather flock together. The global company from Stuttgart and the family-owned company from Upper Swabia work together with great success. Is the shared Swabian mentality one reason for it? Klaus Zehender, himself native Swabian, gets to the point: “We need the Swabian inventors. They deliver innovation. And when Swabians do something, they do it right. That vouches for quality.” Why not carry these virtues out into the great wide world? “We want our suppliers to provide their quality in all regions of the world,” says Zehender. “Our partners thus have excellent opportunities to grow together with us.” In the past decades, Handtmann Group has already expanded its footprint far beyond the placid town of Biberach. Among other places, the company has foreign subsidiaries in Brazil, the U.S. and Russia. The new location in China offers potential for expanding the partnership. In late 2014, Handtmann brought a state-of-the-art aluminum foundry online in Tianjin with an annual capacity of two million clutch housings and transmission cases. A cooperation between the two companies is also conceivable in China – after all, engines are also being manufactured locally at the Beijing location in the Daimler joint venture with BBAC (Beijing Benz Automotive Co., Ltd.) since 2013. Arthur Handtmann: “Our foundry is just 150 kilometers from Beijing.”

Jan 20, 2016
Rasmus Muttscheller