“My work is still a lot of fun.”
Hans-Joachim Holzhauer

I’m done at 70

Hans-Joachim Holzhauer built a successful business. The company is his life's work. The most difficult step is still ahead: saying goodbye.

Hans-Joachim Holzhauer is a man of resolute character. This is especially evident in the almost defiant assertiveness with which he built, over more than four decades, a business that is highly reputed in the industry, and became a market leader in selected business areas.

At the end of the 1960s, Hans-Joachim Holzhauer and his brother first tinker with pump units in their parents' laundry room, initially targeting applications in the plumbing and heating industry. He packs them in boxes, carts them to the train station and soon he is shipping them all over Germany. With this, he earns a few thousand Deutschmarks. Klein-Karben (little-Karben) in the Wetterau region, where the company is still headquartered, is at this time still a sleepy town just north of Frankfurt, framed by meadows and fields. Today, these open spaces are home to industrial parks. In one of them, Holzhauer and more than 50 employees produce their products for customers around the world.

To set up something of his own – Holzhauer already holds this plan dear during his vocational training as a wholesale and retail merchant. He attains his first job in the plumbing and heating wholesale trade. Pumps and pumping equipment quickly draw his interest. He realizes that there are no specialized dealers in Germany for these products. This niche becomes his. The seed capital is 3,000 Deutschmarks.

Today, Holzhauer branded pumping units and stations are a premium product and quality promise, with a unit price that can be more than one million euros. The finished pumping stations are shipped across oceans and installed worldwide, for example in the factories of multinational corporations. There they secure the extinguishing water supply in case of fire, even under the most extreme of conditions. The systems operate in extreme heat or cold, they can withstand earthquakes and explosions and sometimes they are even secured like vaults. These kinds of customer orders are particularly fun.

Holzhauer says: I could keep on working for one hundred years. But he also knows that this is impossible. But how to deal with succession in a company which he represents like no one else does? Holzhauer without Hans-Joachim and Hans-Joachim without Holzhauer – is that possible?

Making plans

Hans-Joachim Holzhauer is practical enough to prepare his departure from the company. When I'm 80 I'm not going to walk around here any longer. He is now 68. He will have to come to rest. The company, however, will never have peace and quiet.

“When I'm 80
I'm not going
to walk around
here any longer.”

We have to win our market leadership every day, says Holzhauer. The company's founder is sitting in his office in the glass-enclosed administration building. The telephone repeatedly interrupts the conversation, Holzhauer always picks up, clarifies some technical details in a few words. He appears grounded, speaks directly, never dodges, and sees himself as a casual, roll-up-your-sleeves and address things head on type of person. With these qualities, he has had much success to date. In the future, someone with other qualities will lead the company.

A life's work: this is said so easily. For Holzhauer, it has meant for the past 46 years “to be busy with this company every day. He experienced moments in which the company’s existence was on the brink, such as when a major customer suddenly declared bankruptcy. He collects experiences and tons of contacts, builds a personal connection to many customers. Every machine, every car, every device in his company is chosen by him. He negotiated, decided and of course paid. Holzhauer's name stands for everything that makes up the company: striving for quality, the ambition, its character, the responsibility for employees.

Past and future

Revisiting the past conjures a smile on Holzhauer's face again and again.  The future, however, is a serious issue.  “I never thought about selling the company.  But then at some point, there comes the day when you realize that you have to make a decision.  Hanging a “Closed sign on the door was always out of the question: “My wish is that the company lives on.  Some of his staff have been with the company for more than 40 years, he doesn't want to give up his responsibility for them when he retires.

With the moment of withdrawal from the company in mind, Holzhauer has begun to build a new management level.  For five years he has been successfully preparing employees to take over responsibility in commercial and technical areas.  “This was largely my job combined in a single person, but it’s not a model for the future.

For Holzhauer, settling the ownership status is much more important than making personal choices.  Appointing new managing directors is one thing, but in whose hands can the ownership, the values be entrusted — and who has the necessary capital?

As it becomes known that the company Holzhauer may be for sale there are many interested parties.  Large pump manufacturers, competitors, investors – they all sit down at Hans-Joachim Holzhauer's table, offering more or less large amounts of money.  “But money did not play a decisive role for me, says Holzhauer.  Above all, he is concerned with the survival of his life’s work.  Given this premise, the crowd of potential buyers quickly thins out.  Holzhauer does not want to sell to a large publicly listed company: “In that kind of model, the company loses the necessary flexibility in many areas; high flexibility is an essential foundation of our business.  The sale process soon slows due to lack of suitable buyers.

The contact to Obermark restarts the process.  Holzhauer's desire for the continued existence of his company coincides with Obermark's strategy of permanent continuation of portfolio companies.  Moreover, Obermark offers various options that allow him to continue his managing director activity despite selling his shares.

"My wish is
that the company
lives on."

Hans-Joachim Holzhauer actually wants to keep on working for a few years — but he doesn’t necessarily have to be the owner of his company any more.  In 2012, Hans-Joachim Holzhauer sold his company to Obermark after several months of negotiations.  His work has since been no different from before.  “I still go to my office every day and do my job without restrictions and with unchanged enthusiasm.  He sold 100 percent of the company's shares, and has remained managing director with 100 percent commitment.

For now, Hans-Joachim Holzhauer is reluctant to pinpoint the timing of his definitive withdrawal.  Perhaps because he does not exactly know himself.  70 is this number he muses, “when it becomes time to stop.  Outside, on the factory grounds, a pretty big motorhome is parked.  Holzhauer knows of quite a few regions to which he would like to travel.

July 2015