"Crises of this size can only be overcome if we work together.”
There is no one – not a single person, family, small firm or large business, in Germany or the wider world, that has not been affected by it: The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, its challenges and its consequences have all of us enthralled in a variety of ways.
THINK RED!: Mr. Vogelsang, Corona has got the whole world holding its breath. There is an atmosphere of crisis everywhere. How can you respond to this unusual situation?
Harald Vogelsang: We’re glad that the last few years have been good for business. It looks like our reserves will be sufficient to see us through this crisis, as they did with the last financial crisis in 2009/2010. We have a well-functioning crisis management system and team, that is currently meeting twice a week. This enables us to spot and respond to bottlenecks and risks quickly throughout the company. It is very important for us to keep in touch with our customers and suppliers. Crises of this size can only be overcome if we work together.
You’ve spoken about social distancing and working from home. Have these measures been implemented smoothly? What have your customers and employees had to say on the matter?
Thanks to our international presence, we have had a very good structure for video conferencing and virtual communication in place for several years now. So fortunately, we already had the technical expertise required to shift a large number of admin and design workers to their home offices at short notice.
We are particularly proud of our staff. They have been incredibly flexible and always ready to give their best, even under these difficult conditions. It feels great to be able to rely on the loyalty of our staff in this way. If we didn’t have such a great team, we’d be worried. Our customers can sense that, and have been pleasantly surprised to find that we’re still here for them at all times, and that working from home has hardly hampered us at all.
What exactly does the phrase WE TOGETHER mean to you?
It is important right now that we all stick together. It is true that big crises can only be conquered if everyone on the market, customers, suppliers and staff, all pull together. The flexibility of our staff is essential – we wouldn’t be able to do this otherwise. But the company is also enabling special models for working hours right now so that our employees have time to look after their children. Our suppliers are also important. For example, one of our suppliers jumped in to design and produce a component in just three weeks to replace one for which our deliveries hadn’t arrived. At the other end, we have loosened our own payment deadlines and are paying invoices we owe before they are due.
Which measures can you help and support in the scope of your business area?
On the customer side, the COVID-19 crisis and our working from home have had a significant impact on local sewage treatment plants and wastewater systems. Hoarding of toilet paper has led to more people using paper towels and wet wipes, which are very slow to disintegrate. This has caused huge problems for municipal sewage treatment firms, which is why we have decided to rent out our powerful XRipper twin-shaft grinder – free of charge in Germany for the first four weeks. We want to offer quick and unbureaucratic help.
Have there been any other initiatives – perhaps from the workforce?
Yes: Just recently, for example, the Vogelsang Foundation donated two 3D printers to the secondary school here in Essen (Oldenburg). The school is now using these printers to make clips for face shields.
In addition to this, Dr.-Ing. Peter Hartogh, Assistant to the Technical Managing Director, has been very quick in developing 3D print data for producing respiratory masks using 3D printers. This 3D data has been available to download from our website for free since the beginning of April.
How are your overseas branches coping with this situation, particularly those in Italy, Spain, France and the USA?
Things are difficult for them, of course. Spain, France,Italy and also the U.S. have been hit particularly hard right now. Fortunately, however, our IT infrastructure also enables us to work largely from home in these countries. Our branches are also able to deliver to each other’s customers across international borders, which helps with temporary shortages of parts. Our customers appreciate this. Together with the dedication of our employees, all this has helped us to overcome many of the difficulties we have faced. Of course, all our domestic measures also apply to our international partners and suppliers.
We are in constant contact, offering help from Germany whenever we can and need to. Here too, we are living by the motto “Stronger together.”
Will the experience gained in recent weeks enable you to respond even better to similar crises in the future?
I don’t think anyone can prepare correctly and sufficiently for a global pandemic that results in thousands of deaths. Of course, we hope that there won’t be another catastrophe like this again, but since we can’t be certain of that, we will have to learn to handle these situations successfully. Hygiene and infrastructure need to evolve so that we can cope with any future repeats without the need for shutdowns. That would also help with the next wave of normal flu.
If you had one wish right now, what would it be?
As a family-oriented company, the families of our employees, customers and partners are especially important to us. I wish for them to stay healthy throughout the coming weeks and months, surviving the pandemic and perhaps even emerging from it stronger and with a greater appreciation for family.