Generation change at Staufen AG
After 25 years at the helm, Martin Haas is moving to the supervisory board and taking over as chairman from Ralf Stokar von Neuforn, who will continue to support the board as an honorary member. An interview with the two founders.
A leap in time back to 1994: The railway is privatized, Helmut Kohl wins the Bundestag elections and Michael Schumacher becomes the Formula 1 world champion. What do you associate with this period 25 years ago – apart from founding Staufen AG of course?
Stokar: In 1992, I founded the consultancy mach3, had 2 employees and was working with the first larger client. We lived near Memmingen with our two little daughters and the economy was growing due to Glasnost and the fall of the Wall. When I was looking for a production consultant for my first investment, my wife warmly recommended Martin to me after speaking with him on the phone. That’s how we met. We were young and dared to do ANYTHING!
Haas: Stepping into self-employment was both exciting and challenging – it was an exhilarating adventure. Thanks to our different competencies, we had everything we needed for an ideal start-up team.
What was your main motivation at that time to found a management consultancy? Why did you choose to focus on lean? What did you want to do differently or better than the top dogs?
Stokar: I always wanted to set up my own business to work with and on people. I lacked the technical background, which Martin provided. We chose to focus on lean later on. In the beginning we worked on many DIN-ISO projects and helped smaller medium-sized companies in terms of organization and process optimization. I wasn’t interested in what the top dogs were doing. We did our own thing.
Haas: When taking the step into consulting, it was essential that we be intrinsically motivated to want to sustainably improve and develop processes and companies. I became familiar with the consulting business at the Fraunhofer Institute and as a freelancer with renowned consulting companies. The excitement of working towards challenging objectives with a wide variety of people and teams was and still is fascinating for me.
At Toyota and other major companies in Japan, I experienced how lean management can achieve great excellence by combining simple methods with logical common sense. The guiding principle “Nothing good happens unless you do it” shaped our work. Implementing the right concepts was therefore always a priority for us. The consequence of this was a completely different personnel policy than that of large consulting firms. We looked for experienced managers with strong implementation skills instead of university graduates with doctorates. Even today, the right mix of experienced experts and highly motivated young talents is one of our success factors.
Staufen has maintained the title of “Germany’s Best Lean Consultancy” for years. So, the plan from back then worked out, right?
Stokar: The plan more than worked out. Martin and the team wanted to grow and become more international, but for me corporate culture and the Staufen family were more important.
Haas: We constantly learned new things and always cultivated an active culture of change. This shaped us and led us to this point.
How has (lean) management and perhaps the managers themselves changed?
Stokar: Lean has now found its way into all corporate functions and processes. Today, managers no longer see themselves only as decision-makers but much more as enablers.
Haas: The topic of leadership – or how I lead to excellence – is much more important today, as the high demand for shop floor manage – ment shows.
However, modern lean management today is also no longer conceivable without digitalization. Especially the combination of efficient lean methods with the possibilities of digitalization o pens up enormous potentials.
More than 340 people work for the entire Staufen Group around the world. What milestones did you achieve from the foundation to the present?
Haas: Important milestones were strategic decisions such as founding the Academy and cooperations with BestPractice partners, the introduction of shop floor management – and of course our first foreign branch in China.
Stokar: Another key factor for success was making sure that top performers were involved as co-partners from the very beginning, thereby binding them to the company.
Can you describe the unique spirit at Staufen AG in three words?
Haas: Honest, highly capable, achieving the best with people.
Stokar: More substance than appearance, people and implementation-oriented.
Founders shape a company: What is characteristic of Martin Haas at Staufen AG? What is characteristic of Ralf Stokar at Staufen AG?
Haas: I was very interested in developing a unique DNA and a consistent orientation towards our mission/vision, for example, the joint pursuit of top performance and excellence with our customers.
Stokar: I have always seen us as a big family that supports each other, that celebrates successes together and always stays grounded.
Staufen has now shifted from traditional lean consulting to holistic transformation consulting. Where do you see Staufen AG in 5 years?
Stokar: Staufen has and will change, also due to our customers’ requirements. We will also continue to grow with new topics.
Haas: In 5 years, we will offer our customers a unique combination of professional consulting on operational excellence, lean and digital topics as well as organizational consulting on leadership culture and adaptability. Our growth will then be mainly driven by international projects.
What advice would you like to give the next Staufen generation for the next phase?
Haas: Do not lose sight of the brand’s core of operational excellence and networks of the best will be even more important in the future.
Stokar: At Staufen, everyone should first and foremost focus on the requirements and needs of the customers.
Finally, let’s return to 1994: What would have become of Martin Haas and Ralf Stokar if they hadn’t founded Staufen?
Stokar: Interesting question. I would have most certainly become an entrepreneur and consultant!
Haas: (laughs) I would have founded a business consultancy and done everything exactly the same as with Staufen, with a few small exceptions perhaps.
I was very interested in developing a unique DNA and a consistent orientation towards our mission/vision.MARTIN HAAS, STAUFEN.AG
I have always wanted to become self-employed in order to work with and on people.RALF STOKAR, STAUFEN.AG