When weaving machines become excavators
Over 100 years ago, a small company in Liechtenstein started producing weaving machines. It was no walk in the park, but – thanks to its passion, courage and ingenuity – the family-owned company succeeded time and again in overcoming the challenges and turning its visions into reality. Today, Kaiser AG is regarded as an international market leader and technological pioneer – although not for weaving machines, but rather for mobile walking excavators and vehicles for sewer cleaning.
No mountain is too steep for them, no terrain unconquerable, and no position seems impossible. The spider-like mobile walking excavators from KAISER AG in Schaanwald can be used virtually anywhere. Today, however, the product portfolio of the long-standing company includes not only excavators, but also highly specialised vehicles for sewer cleaning and industrial disposal. If environmental issues are to be discussed, it is worth taking a closer look. These vehicles manufactured in Liechtenstein to individual customer specifications save up to 24 million litres of water – and that's per vehicle per year. It's the sophisticated water recovery technology that makes it possible. This incredible amount of water can fill 6.4 Olympic-size swimming pools or cover the water consumption of a family of four in Europe for 110 years.
- Founded in 1913 in Liechtenstein
- Production sites in Liechtenstein, Austria (2001), Slovakia (2008), Finland (KAISER EUR-MARK 2011), Italy (KAISER MORO 2014) and the USA (KAISER PREMIER 2017)
- Over 500 employees worldwide, 150 of which work in Liechtenstein
- KAISER AG is the market leader and technological pioneer in sewer cleaning and industrial disposal vehicles as well as in mobile walking excavators. The company, headquartered in Schaanwald, is synonymous with innovative technical solutions in these industries.
- Today, KAISER vehicles are already in use on 5 continents, in 116 countries and well over 1,000 cities.
Success through credibility, transparency and trust
The company – started by Liechtenstein-native Josef Kaiser Sr. in 1913 with a patent for weaving machines – experienced its first reorientation after just 10 years. When business with Austrian textile customers collapsed in 1923 as a result of Liechtenstein’s customs union with Switzerland, Kaiser switched from purely struggling for survival to auto tractors and a general repair shop. In the 1950s, his son Josef Kaiser Jr. successfully led the transition from a commercial operation to an industrial enterprise. The passionate entrepreneur and inventor brought a whole range of different products to the company. From suction-pressure tankers and sludge vacuum vehicles to the very first excavator. His vision was to provide technically complex special vehicles for niche applications. Once Markus Kaiser, the grandson of the company founder, took over as manager in 2005, the company could begin its process of systematic internationalisation. Can you really compare different generations and business situations? The current CEO describes himself «not as an inventor type, but I understand enough about technology for the company to continue innovating.» Markus Kaiser also knows that change management is one of his strengths, which has served him particularly well since he began his internationalisation strategy. «This is a challenge for a medium-sized company, which has hardly changed systematically for years and an industry that has not moved for decades,» explains the cur-rent CEO. He relies on credibility, transparency and trust, «so that everyone understands what my goals are and is willing to go in this direction along with me,» he continues. With the first company acquisitions, the uncertainty among the workforce was still very palpable. «Today, we approach these topics with much more self-confidence,» says Kaiser.
The Principality of Liechtenstein, home of KAISER AG, is significantly more industrialised than most Western industrialised countries. The strong diversification of its industrial landscape is simply aston-ishing. Economic stability is ensured by the diverse mix of industries – such as mechanical, vehicle and apparatus engineering, food, dental products and construction. Like KAISER AG, other industrial companies in Liechtenstein have evolved into international market leaders in their respective sectors. Altogether, they provide 40% of the country's jobs. Diversification has yet another advantage – it allows for cross-industry exchange. «In the Liechtenstein Chamber of Commerce and Industry, everyone knows each other. You maintain a certain openness and support each other. With issues of internationalisation, for example. We aren't in competition with each other – like in a trade association. That makes collaboration very pleasant,» says the CEO.
Living cultural diversity
Working in an international company is exciting. Northern Europe, Southern Europe and more recently the USA. Where do we have to respect cultural differences? When do you try to hide behind cultural differences? And in the thick of all this, the Liechtenstein mentality is helpful – not least, «because of the directness with which we approach topics because we value those who are different and approach everything with openness,» says Markus Kaiser. The Principality currently has more jobs than inhabit-ants. Slightly less than half of the jobs can be covered by the domestic workforce. As a result, Liech-tenstein has a very low unemployment rate of just under 2%. But it also means that every day around 20,000 workers commute into Liechtenstein from the neighbouring St. Gallen Rhine Valley, from Vor-arlberg and southern Germany. It's ultimately the attractive jobs with modern working conditions and interesting perspectives that attract so much talent. In the industrial sector, the percentage of com-muters is even higher – at 64%. Finding good specialists is always a key issue, but KAISER AG sees the advantage in its exceptional products and modern production without highly automated production processes. KAISER AG produces a complete product. People appreciate this, and it promotes a sense of identity with the company and its products. «The employee personally knows the customer buying and using the product he has made. That doesn't really exist all too often anymore. This direct relationship is a real motivator and provides the kind of emotional connection that sets us apart,» says Kaiser.
International and yet close to the customer
It's no surprise that internationalisation is getting increasingly complex. The integration of people and processes requires a great deal of time and presence on site. Even the most modern information technologies cannot replace personal contact. «Success and entrepreneurship are still very much dependent on people and personal communication – and this should not be underestimated. You can achieve so much more with a strong foundation of trust. Especially when cultural differences are add-ed to the mix,» explains Kaiser. Using internationality means learning from each other. Implementing best practice, imparting company values and benefiting from the exchange between different people in innovation or strategy workshops. «After all, it's always about bringing things together that have a different story.»
Since every walking excavator is only as good as its driver, and the complex handling of a mobile walking excavator is similar to that of a helicopter, KAISER AG has been providing appropriate training for beginner and advanced excavator operators since 1985. To date, six walking excavator Olympiads have been organised in irregular intervals, where the best in the world come to compete. In 2002, the Spyder Club was also founded – a platform for professional walking excavator operators. This in reference to «spiders», which is another name for walking excavators.
Through his acquisitions, Markus Kaiser now knows exactly which areas he excels in more than oth-ers. And he uses that to his benefit. «We are big enough to be able to work really professionally and, in a way, set the industry benchmark. But we're still at a manageable size, meaning we don't lose effi-ciency in bureaucratic processes.» At KAISER AG, it's all about understanding the big picture. Em-ployees are expected to have expertise in customer contact and to understand the customer's applications. «There is a big difference between only understanding the product and really trying to understand what success means for the customer,» explains the entrepreneur.
Where is this road leading?
«There's no doubt the company will be different in five years. There are some things you can plan for; others just come as opportunities,» explains Kaiser. Urbanisation is increasing worldwide and with it the need for efficient and environmentally friendly infrastructure maintenance. With its environmental technologies, KAISER AG has a real advantage because water recovery and ecology are becoming increasingly important. Asia is on the agenda, but with this kind of international development, it is important to wait for the right moment. Alternative drive options are an important topic, especially given that the power KAISER AG requires cannot yet be achieved with today's battery capacity. The entrepreneur seems calm: «Industry is evolving and the opportunities are there. They are sometimes even bigger during difficult times. As we all know, fortune favours the bold. If we are well positioned and do a very good job, we have the chance to continue playing a key role in our industries in the longer term and to continue constantly dynamically developing our business.»
What values are important to you in your company?
Performance and professionalism. High demands on management and on our employees to deliver an outstanding service. Combined with a strong balance of collegiality, team spirit and trust.
What motivates you?
Constant dynamism within the organisation. Being a technology leader is in our DNA – as is leading the way with new topics such as digitisation and shaping industry.
What does success mean to you?
Success creates opportunities for entrepreneurial freedom. But you have to work towards success every day. You can't get comfortable.
What is the significance of family businesses?
It is well known that family businesses have many advantages, such as their long-term focus and, in many cases, much more strongly rooted key values. But even a family business needs professionalism in leadership. It deserves to have the right people with the right experience in the right positions. There's no point in putting somebody in a situation that they can't deal with professionally.
What advice do you have for young people?
Show courage. Do not be afraid to face competition with confidence. For a company to perform well, it needs to go beyond the superficial. This requires passionate commitment and genuine dedication.
Would you like to know more about Liechtenstein as a business location? The Office of Economic Affairs and Liechtenstein Marketing are happy to help.
9494 Schaan, Liechtenstein
+423 236 68 71
Dr. Simone Frick
+423 236 69 96
+423 236 69 42
Äulestrasse 30, P.O. 139
9490 Vaduz, Liechtenstein
+423 239 63 63
Michelle Kranz, Managing Director
+423 239 63 60
Marlene Engler, Division Manager Economy
+423 239 63 08