Industrial Utility Efficiency    

Built for the Long-Term: Kaeser Kompressoren Celebrates 100 Years

Kaeser HQ

Sometimes being a journalist is a tough job. During this calendar year of 2019, I have been honored by the invitation to witness the 100-year celebrations, in both Germany and in the United States, of the founding of Kaeser Kompressoren.

This story begins in Coburg, Germany in the year 1919. Coburg was first mentioned in a monastic document dated 1056, but to speed forward almost nine centuries, Coburg would join the Upper Franconia Region of Bavaria in 1920 where it remains today. Back here in 1919, the United States passed the 19th Amendment allowing women the right to vote and Pancho Villa was attacking Juarez, Mexico. So it was in 1919 that in Coburg a gentleman named Carl Kaeser Senior would open a small workshop producing parts for the early automotive industry, along with gear wheels and special machines for the glass industry.

In 1947 the city of Coburg found itself surrounded on three sides by the Iron Curtain.  Although feeling fortunate to be in the West (folklore says Coburg citizens walked outside the city to tell the approaching Russians that the Americans had already occupied the town!), the Kaeser business had to start over because their automotive clients were all on the east side of the Iron Curtain.

Kaeser Kompressoren Chairman Thomas Kaeser said, “Taking advantage of their automotive experience, my father, Carl Kaeser Junior, made the investment and decision to begin serial production of a standard range of piston air compressors.”

Maybe that is one of the few things we can thank the Iron Curtain for.

 

A Family Business Celebrates 100 Years

I was invited to join the Kaeser Americas group during their April 2019 trip visiting the Hannover Messe and Kaeser’s headquarters in Coburg. As always, I was impressed by the family feel of Kaeser Kompressoren.

“We are a 100% family owned firm present in over 100 countries and employing over 6,500 people,” said Thomas Kaeser. “All staff are considered family at Kaeser. This is reflected in the high apprenticeship rates, in the average employee tenure of 30 years and most of all it’s reflected in the 100 years of consistent business growth.”

The Kaeser Americas group consisted of a contingent from Canada, led by Kaeser Canada President Harold Wagner and a U.S. group led by Kaeser Compressors, Inc. President Frank Mueller. Mueller commented, “The U.S. business started with four employees and grew to 270 in 2007. Today, we have grown to 600 employees and the family business philosophy is still at the heart of our success.”

A fellow traveler on the trip was Jim Miller, the owner of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania based CASCO USA who said, “Kaeser is consistently honorable with their customers and business partners. They are also consistent in their desire to always improve themselves and everything they do.” 

The Kaeser booth at the 2019 Hannover Messe looked like a small tradeshow unto itself. There were cool history timeline displays including a 1969 “Apollo 6000” piston compressor featuring 6 pistons able to deliver 6 m3/min! The Sigma Profile airend inside of a new technology called rotary screw air compressors was launched in 1973 and the first subsidiaries were formed in Austria and Switzerland in 1978.  Located on the “other” side of the recently fallen Iron Curtain, the Gera plant for blowers and dryers was opened in 1993. Lastly, a massive expansion and modernization was completed to the “Coburg Smart Factory” in 2018.

Thomas Kaeser said, “We can be thankful, satisfied and proud of our history. As we look towards the future, together as a family, we know we will embrace the breathtaking opportunities which today may be disguised as challenges.”

 Tina-Maria Vlantoussi, Thomas Kaeser and Frank Mueller

Tina-Maria Vlantoussi, Thomas Kaeser and Frank Mueller welcome the Kaeser Americas delegation to the Kaeser Kompressoren 100-Year Celebration at the 2019 Hannover Messe.

 Frank Mueller

Kaeser Compressors, Inc. President, Frank Mueller, in front of a Kaeser DSD Series rotary screw air compressor at the 2019 Hannover Messe.

 Kaeser compressed air refrigerated dryer technology

Kaeser compressed air refrigerated dryer technology, featuring R-513a refrigerants with a low Global Warming Potential (GWP) of 631, installed at the Kaeser world headquarters in Coburg, Germany.

 Larry and Cindy Morton and Pam and Jim Miller

Larry and Cindy Morton (Kaeser Memphis) and Pam and Jim Miller, from CASCO USA in Bamberg during the Spring 2019 Hannover Messe trip to Germany (left to right).

There have been no shortages of events to mark the company’s 100th Year Anniversary, said Mueller. “The anniversary of Kaeser Kompressoren has been celebrated by subsidiaries around the world all year,” he said.

That includes the U.S. business and I was fortunate to be invited to their Oktoberfest party held September 30th at their headquarters in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

 

Long-Term Focus on Technology and Training

Whether it’s the heart of a rotary screw air compressor, the airend, or an important component like a motor, Kaeser people say the priority is always placed on providing the best possible quality.

Bill Mehall, a Senior Manager for Key Accounts has worked for Kaeser since 1994, and before that, starting in 1984 at Goshen, Indiana-based Tri-State Compressed Air Systems, Inc.

“From Day One, the Kaeser Sigma Profile airend delivered more air per horsepower. This justified its position as a premium product,” said. “When you combine market-leading technology with superior training on when, where and how to best apply it, then you have fantastic results for customers.”

Bill Fitzell, President of Kenilworth, New Jersey based Air Center, Inc., expressed his pride in partnering with Kaeser.

“I’m the second generation in our family business which started with three employees in 1986. Kaeser has been our partner the whole way,” Fitzell said. “Our customers make the best-informed decisions in the market due to Kaeser’s long-term investments in superior compressed air system education and training.”

Others like Chad Murray, the President of Greencastle, Pennsylvania-based Quad State, Inc., can’t say enough about Kaeser’s commitment to technological advancements.

“Kaeser keeps bringing new technologies, well ahead of the market, to help our clients run reliably and efficiently,” Murray said. “We’ve been a distributor for 15 years and benefit over the years from always being one of the first to the market with air compressor features like IE3  motors, Wye-Delta starters, TEFC motors, built-in after-coolers and so on.”

Murray said he appreciates the advantage of working with Kaeser. 

“Our competitors normally follow suit three years later. Twenty-five years ago we sold air compressors, today we sell energy solutions,” he said.

 Chad Murray and Bill Fitzell

Chad Murray, Greencastle, Pennsylvania based Quad State, Inc. and Bill Fitzell, Air Center, Inc., from Kenilworth, New Jersey (left to right).

 

Long-Term Customers, Business Partners and Employees

For Keith Carley, Co-Owner of Riviera Beach, Florida-based Air Compressor Works, Inc., a hallmark of Kaeser is its dedication to customer service. 

“Kaeser has always prioritized keeping our customers up and running,” said Carley. “We’ve been a Kaeser distributor since 1985 and our customers have always benefited from quality products and strong communication channels. It’s nice to know if my customers need help, the most senior Kaeser leadership is always one phone call away.”

They say relationships are built one at a time and step by step, and this is certainly true when it comes to the compressed air industry.

Dave Guerrieri, from Air Center out of Madison Heights, Michigan said, “Our relationship with Kaeser is trusting, predictable and has kept growing since we started working together in 1984.”

Guerrieri’s partner, Mike Clark, added, “Besides our compressed air division, we have a big tool business supporting our automotive clients in Michigan. Our relationships with those vendors are completely different than our relationship with Kaeser.”

The value of Air Center’s strong relationship with Kaeser is invaluable, said Guerrieri.

“Without Kaeser, we would not have enjoyed the same level of personal business success,” he said.

Kaeser Kompressoren’s appreciation for employees – and the strong bonds formed – shines through at every company location. 

Reiner Mueller arrived in 1982 to begin the Kaeser business in the United States. Starting from scratch, he hired people like Roy Stuhlmann and Bob Ryan in those early years.

“I was hired in 1986 as the National Accounts Manager,” said Ryan. “We worked hard together and built a good business and had a rewarding career. I retired in 2012 fortunate to have become close personal friends with Reiner, Ruth and Frank Mueller.”

Eva Pruett worked for Kaeser in the United States from 1985 to 2010. She carried out many roles over the years, from Marketing Manager to Executive Assistant to Reiner Mueller.

“I had never seen a person manage by truly walking around and who remembered and was genuinely interested in knowing every person’s family life,” said Pruitt. “This built a loyalty and feeling of family I had never seen or experienced before.”

Lawrence Crews is the Director of Finance and Human Resources for Kaeser Compressors, and as such, has worked closely with President Frank Mueller in overseeing the explosive growth over the past twelve years.

“Kaeser creates long-term visions and plans and can stay the course when markets are in turmoil. We can also provide employees flexibility when it’s needed,” he said.

 Keith Carley

Keith Carley, Air Compressor Works, Inc., from Riviera Beach, Florida.

Mike Clark, Dave Guerrieri and Jim Casey

Mike Clark, Dave Guerrieri and Jim Casey, Air Center, from Madison Heights, Michigan in front of the Kaeser USA headquarters in Fredericksburg, Virginia (left to right).

 

Long-Term Supplier Relationships

It’s clear Kaeser extends their family philosophy beyond their immediate circle.

Tilo Fruth, President, Beko Technologies said, “The success Kaeser has experienced in the United States encouraged us, as a complementary German manufacturer of compressed air system products, to believe we could also build a significant business here. During our close 25-plus year partnership with Kaeser, they’ve also had a hugely positive influence upon our technology development by working closely with our engineering teams.”

Jay Francis, National Sales Manager Industrial Products Americas, SPX Flow commented, “Both our firms believe in long-term partnerships. We’ve had a mutually beneficial relationship with Kaeser, starting in the 1970’s in Germany and with Kaeser Americas since 1982. I’ve personally been fortunate to be their U.S. Key Account Manager since 1996.”

 

Conclusion

It’s a great feeling in life when you see people work hard, work with joy, work the honorable way - and come out ahead. This has been my personal experience, since 1992, working with Kaeser during the different chapters of my career.  Kaeser continues to be a wonderful partner for our family firm, Smith Onandia Communications, and a template on how to conduct both personal and business life. For this we’d like to say thank you and congratulations to all of Kaeser Kompressoren.

I thought a gentleman I met at a Kaeser dinner said it best. Raul Castaneda is a District Manager for the Southcentral District and has worked for Kaeser for 9 ½ years. He said, “Kaeser communicates like a family. The standards are high and sometimes you might get a good talking to. Yet, Kaeser will still love you, like a family does, and help you learn to succeed.”

Tilo Fruth (BEKO), Janni Sims, Frank Mueller, Sophia and Ulli.

Kaeser Compressors hosted a 100-Year Kaeser Kompressoren Anniversary Oktoberfest in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Pictured from left to right are Tilo Fruth (BEKO), Janni Sims and Frank Mueller with his daughter, Sophia and wife, Ulli.

 

For more information on Kaeser Kompressoren visit www.kaeser.com.

To read similar Air Compressor Technology articles visit www.airbestpractices.com/technology/air-compressors.