Since the sudden death of the Klio-Eterna owner and CEO, Hans Michael Höhner, in April 2017 Edeltraud Syllwasschy and Michael Gleich have been running the company. After one year, which was characterised by reorganisations on the one hand and continuity on the other, the two new CEOs have now taken stock.
Mrs. Syllwasschy and Mr. Gleich, the loss of Mr. Höhner came as a total surprise, which meant that you were forced to find a succession plan very quickly. How did the decision come about that Klio-Eterna would be run by two managers henceforth?
Edeltraud Syllwasschy: As Hans Höhner’s partner and heiress of the company it was immediately clear to me that I would take over the reins, I didn’t hesitate for a second. I have been in charge of the accounting department at Klio-Eterna since 1992, in 2005 I then took over responsibility for the business administration, so I know the company very well. I also have experience in the position of being a “boss”: Alongside working for Klio, I have been running a company since 1987, which sells software for the personnel area and which today has a headcount of 13 people. My daughter has now took over responsible for managing it. At the same time, I asked myself the question: What would be if something happened to me too? That is where Mr. Gleich came into play. He has been Director of the Plastic Production Department at Klio since 1986 and knows the processes within the company inside out.
You have both been with the company for many years – how did the staff react to you as the “new bosses”?
Edeltraud Syllwasschy: We made our decision very quickly: Mr. Höhner passed away on the Sunday and we held a staff meeting on the Monday and informed all 120 employees about our plans. The feedback was excellent.
Michael Gleich: Our decision went down very well with the staff and they have given us their full support so that the reorganisations mostly ran very smoothly.
Could you just run through the new management structure with the areas of responsibility again?
Edeltraud Syllwasschy: I am responsible for the entire business administration – including the sales, controlling, accounting and personnel.
Michael Gleich: I am in charge of the technical areas: The machinery, customising and production.
The new alignment of the management went hand in hand with changes to the product range: You have almost completely discontinued the electronics line of products. What led to you taking this step?
Michael Gleich: Our core competence is and will remain to be ballpoint pens, we have ended our excursion into the world of electronics – the segment is too far away from what we specialise in. The market for digital gadgets demands a high degree of expertise, is very short-lived and develops extremely rapidly – what is state-of-the-art today, is obsolete tomorrow and as such almost unsellable. The margins are tight at the same time everything has to be financed in advance. Companies that don’t know exactly what is going to be a hot seller over the next few months, quickly find themselves in difficulties. Whereby we really did have good, well thought-out and beautifully designed items that were also popular on the market – they were however also quite expensive, not least because we had them customised in Germany. Many customers found the range attractive, but were hesitant because of the price.
How did the changes to the product range go down on the market?
Edeltraud Syllwasschy: Very positively. Many customers welcomed the new “clear approach”, because it is now crystal clear what Klio stands for: Quality, service and writing instruments – the majority of which are “made in Germany”.
How high is the percentage of domestic production in comparison to the overall turnover?
Michael Gleich: Around 20% of our turnover is made with imported goods, the rest are produced in Wolfach, Germany. Approx. 30 mil. writing instruments leave our production halls every year. The embellishing per laser, screen, pad and digital printing as well as per soft-touch varnishing is completely carried out in Germany. In 2017, we sold 2% more in-house produced items and we intend to further increase this share. We are currently setting up a production line for metal writing instruments “made in Germany”, which we will have assembled on-site and via an external service provider.
Mrs. Syllwasschy, what is your interim conclusion after just under a year?
Edeltraud Syllwasschy: The first year was totally positive – it was great fun! The relations within the industry are very friendly and I feel at home. Our sales team has intensively communicated the changes within the company. All of the customers have been invited to get to know us personally. So there was no unrest or irritations at all.
Michael Gleich: The fact that the staff have really supported us well has been a great help to us over the past months. A good work climate pays off immensely in such times. Everyone is pulling in the same direction, are committed and are pleased that everything is working well. This can also be seen from the figures: In spite of the difficult circumstances, we did well in 2017, our profits succeeded our expectations.
What has Klio-Eterna got in store for us next?
Edeltraud Syllwasschy: This year alone we will be exhibit at around 40 shows in Germany and abroad. Our export share is approx. 40%. Since we are already certified according to the environmental management norm ISO 14001, we will strive to obtain the environmental management system EMAS next. Our quality management has already been ISO 9001 certified for a long time. Beyond that we are simply bubbling with ideas and are planning many exciting new products that we will be presenting to the market soon.
// Till Barth spoke with Edeltraud Syllwasschy and Michael Gleich.