Female, 36, managing director
Katja Hof causes a stir — something owing to her position. Day in and day out, this young woman shows what she can do as head of the Franz Hof GmbH.
When Katja Hof tours the Euroblech trade show with her husband, there’s one thing she can be sure of: the exhibitors will always talk to her husband first. “When he then tells them that I’m the CEO, they can hardly hide their surprise!” she recounts, and then she chuckles.
People who don’t yet know the young CEO and call the Franz Hof GmbH for the first time invariably ask for “Mr. Hof.” And that’s no wonder, she thinks, since female managers are a rarity in the metalworking industry. “I try to see the humorous side. Business associates soon realize that I know what I’m doing, and they appreciate this.” Ultimately, her extraordinary position also has its advantages. It sharpens people’s perception of her company and people like negotiating with her. “Men naturally like dealing with women!”
Six years ago Katja Hof took over the family CNC sheet metal processing company, once owned by her father, from her brother — and she changed a lot of things. “The machinery had not been consistently updated and there was an investment backlog.” Katja Hof expanded the range of equipment right in her first year in the saddle. A 6 kW TruLaser 5030 classic was procured. Since then she’s invested each year in CNC machines for 2D laser cutting, punching and bending. In 2008, she had a third production shop built. What’s more, she recruited new personnel for engineering and production work, increasing the workforce from 40 to 70. This is reflected in the revenue figures.
Small lots, short response times
The Franz Hof GmbH job shop designs and produces blanks and assemblies made of steel, stainless steel and aluminum at Haiger-Rodenbach in the German state of Hesse. Production ranges from single prototypes to mass production. Sheets measuring up to 4,000 by 2,000 millimeters can be processed. On request, individual workpieces or complete assemblies can be finished to specification. Single items and short series make up four-fifths of the business.
With its strong job prep capacities, the company is able to work efficiently on a large number of orders, at small batch sizes, and hence to achieve very short delivery times. Many customers are companies from within the region. “Being close by is important,” explains Katja Hof. “Sometimes one of our customers, on a construction site, suddenly realizes that an important part is missing. We can make and deliver it on the same day. Flexibility is our great strength.” The extensive raw materials warehouse, with some five hundred different sheet grades in various qualities and formats, makes this possible.
Women in technical vocations
Katja Hof lays great value on furthering women in technical vocations. More than one third of her employees in technical fields and in administration are women. “Women’s advantage is their emotional intelligence and excel- lent team spirit,” says entrepreneur Katja Hof. Good solidarity among the employees — some of whom she has known from the days when she raced around the shop in her pedal cart — is very important to Katja Hof. “I want to create an environment that motivates employees so that they enjoy coming to work. We have a flat organizational structure and we’re all on a first name basis.” In daily activities, the employees become fully aware that each and every one of them counts and that no one is just a number. Resolute leadership is nonetheless indispensable.
Marching bravely through the crisis
After she took over the company, Katja Hof remained loyal to the suppliers, kept all her father’s customers, and acquired many new ones through targeted marketing campaigns. She regularly calls on her clients, invites them to regional trade fairs, and encourages them to visit her company.
“Once they’ve seen for themselves what we can do, they frequently place new orders.” Two important success factors are customer acquisition and maintaining personal customer contacts. In the crisis year of 2009 she decided to take the bull by the horns. Revenue dropped by one third. Instead of introducing short-time working, she speeded up delivery times even further. “In that way we were able to achieve satisfactory results for 2009 and retain every member of the staff.”
Franz Hof, the master craftsman who lent his name to the company, had taken over a small sheet metal business from his father. There, ash pans were made for domestic stoves. It was in 1984 that Franz Hof acquired his first machine from TRUMPF. Later he was one of the first in the region to invest in laser technology. Now 78, he still comes into the factory almost daily and helps with the delivery of goods to customers.
Katja Hof greatly values consulting with her invariably optimistic father — a devoted technology enthusiast — and with her husband, Kay-Uwe Zöllner, who joins her in managing the company. The most important decisions on strategy, personnel and investments are made jointly. In the final analysis it’s the positive gut feeling that counts, she says. “If I don’t feel good about something, then I don’t do it. I am a devout believer and that gives me the confidence to make any and every decision.”
Now, Katja Hof has dared to make the largest technology investment in the company’s history: the purchase of a Stopa storage system with a capacity of 800 tons, combined with a TruMatic 7000 punch-laser combination machine. Both were installed in June 2011. “We thought the decision over carefully before we made this investment,” she says. “I’m convinced that this is the road to the future. For service-oriented companies like ours, the crucial thing is to increase productivity with innovative technology and thus to safeguard the company’s future.”
Contact us: MastersofSheetMetal@trumpf.com
This article was first published in summer 2011.