“The quality of life at Lake Constance is fantastic.”
The Zepplin Group‘s domicile is Friedrichshafen while its Head Office is in Garching near Munich. The Group, with 190 sites and 7,646 employees, achieved turnover of 2.36 billion euros in 2016.
Zeppelin continues to define every aspect of Friedrichshafen – be it industry, social life or prosperity. Much of this is down to the actions of Count Ferdinand Zeppelin himself. Reason enough for a personal interview with Peter Gerstmann, Chairman of the Management Board of Zeppelin GmbH.
CLOSEUP: Mr. Gerstmann, like the Managing Director of Messe Friedrichshafen, Klaus Wellmann, you too moved from Cologne to Friedrichshafen. What was the best thing about this change of location and what do you miss most?
Peter Gerstmann: The move was perfect in every respect. Just look at the wonderful landscape, the lake, the recreational amenities or the infrastructure! The only thing I miss a bit is the straightforward approach of the Rhineland people. It is a little more difficult to win people’s trust here. But, to be fair, I have to admit that the people around me definitely have to suffer more from the Rhinelander, Peter Gerstmann, than I do from the Swabians.
CLOSEUP: As the Chairman of the Management Board of Zeppelin GmbH you often work at the corporate head office in Garching near Munich. If you make a direct comparison between that major conurbation and the Lake Constance region, what advantages does Friedrichshafen offer?
Peter Gerstmann: For me, Friedrichshafen is a haven where the demands of everyday life and the rapid pace of business can be slowed down to an acceptable level. It is the perfect place for work and for the family. There is no traffic chaos – even if the locals here see it differently because they don’t know Munich’s orbital motorway – and then there’s the direct connection with nature as well. It’s easy to deal with official matters before work, schools are in safe, easy reach, bread is still bought fresh from the bakery and not a factory, the markets get their supplies from farmers and the local region and not from the wholesale market. The quality of life is fantastic and, ultimately, that’s what counts.
CLOSEUP: Your company employs highly qualified staff in an economically strong region. How do you manage to find and retain employees before others snap them up? How do you persuade potential candidates that they are making the right decision in moving to the lake?
Peter Gerstmann: The points I mentioned before are definitely extremely important, particularly for young families. But the region does offer exceptionally attractive and secure jobs. “Living and working by the lake” is a highly attractive package. Naturally, on top of that, Zeppelin offers a very special environment: given our medium-sized company structure, we offer even new staff who are qualified a high degree of autonomy and the chance to be entrepreneurial. Our flat hierarchies also promote fast-track careers and direct contact with management. Moreover, as a sales, service and engineering organisation, we are a real "people’s company” with the highest level of customer orientation. During the last employee survey, 86 per cent of our employees cited customer orientation as the biggest motivating factor for their work at Zeppelin. Isn’t that fantastic? Employees with those high standards come to us.
CLOSEUP: Count Zeppelin laid the cornerstone of your company with his vision of a dirigible airship. To what extent does this historic connection continue to define the Zeppelin Group today?
Peter Gerstmann: Our values and leadership culture are aligned with the way Count Zeppelin operated. For example, in using the phrase “Grafen fail successfully” in our Mission Statement, we are recalling not only the patience and persistence that Count Zeppelin exercised in his journey but also – and most notably – the setbacks he suffered.
CLOSEUP: The solutions provided by your Rental business unit are used by Messe Friedrichshafen as well. Exhibitors rent office containers; barrier solutions are put in place for large-scale events. How is the Rental business unit developing and where do you see the greatest potential for it?
Peter Gerstmann: Rental must be the most innovative business model within the Group. These days it is about so much more than simply hiring a piece of construction machinery. Today we provide a complete package of solutions – with everything you need for a successful building site. We are a one-stop shop for all you need – from traffic safety and access control, logistics, power supply and mobile accommodation to construction machinery and waste management. There is gigantic, as-yet untapped potential which is why we acquire new companies every year that can further round out and enhance the solutions we offer our clients.
CLOSEUP: Your Z Lab business unit combines the Zeppelin Group’s industry know-how with the digital expertise of a start-up. The idea here is that digital innovations will make the construction site of the future more efficient, more networked and more automated. How do you envisage the Lake Constance region in 2030? In what direction will it develop: in tourism and leisure, as an industrial centre, as an e-mobility and sustainability pioneer…?
Peter Gerstmann: In every direction – because everything we have here at the lake has the very highest standards. And those responsible won’t be resting on their laurels – companies will remain industrial leaders. With ZF and its partner companies, we have a leading e-mobility hub in the region; tourism and recreational amenities are natural endowments; we are already committed to sustainability because of our regional location; and the region offers the best basis for start-ups and founders thanks to its network of outstanding schools and universities.
CLOSEUP: You yourself are said to be direct, reliable and down-to-earth. To what extent are qualities like these crucial to lasting success in a company with such a lengthy tradition as yours?
Peter Gerstmann: I am absolutely convinced that our most important duty as company managers is to create sustainable values, not to meet short-term key performance expectations. A profound understanding of values provides orientation and security for the future and this helps to secure success.
CLOSEUP: You are the head of a global group and probably have more stress than holidays. How and where do you best switch off and recharge?
Peter Gerstmann: Firstly, work is part of life. For me, it is a privilege to take on new challenges and meet new people every day. That avoids stress which is something that always appears once we start experiencing work as personal pressure. However, I also take time out. I enjoy travelling a lot with my wife, cruising through the countryside on my Harley, collecting old cameras, and I love making music. For the latter, I’m a happy member of the Zeppelin Band that has already been in existence for seven years in Garching and is made up of company employees.