Martina Kammann loves going to work and wants her employees to feel the same way. How does she achieve this? With ﬂat hierarchies and plenty of room for ideas.
For Martina Kammann it is important to enjoy doing something during working hours, too: “We spend a lot of time here in the company, so it makes sense that we take pleasure in our work,” she emphasizes. Sounds good and perhaps at the same time a little strange coming from the mouth of a CEO. She has held this position at KMH-Kammann Metallbau GmbH in Bassum, Germany, 25 kilometers south of Bremen, for the last 15 years now.
Her parents founded the company in 1986 and began manufacturing straight tubes, shaped tubes and distribution systems for bulk commodities. “My father always felt that a good relationship between labor and management was essential,” emphasizes Kammann. These values live on to the present day in the company’s flat hierarchies and the friendly cooperation among colleagues at KMH. “It goes without saying that we have to earn money, but the human aspect should never take a back seat.” Kammann puts her most important concern in a nutshell — and does so just this simply.
More freedom, more responsibility
She herself prefers to stay in the background rather than stand in the limelight. “I think that if you are sometimes redundant as a manager, then you are doing a good job.” She gladly gives her 140 employees the latitude needed for their own ideas and creativity. Perhaps more than other companies do. “In many areas there is a relatively broad degree of discretion. This, however, means that the individual workers have to shoulder much greater responsibility,” emphasizes Kammann. She adds that finding people who are prepared to present and implement their own ideas is not a simple job. “But fortunately we have a large number of dedicated employees in our firm.”
KMH’s tubes and systems are to be found wherever dust has to be extracted by suction or products need to be conveyed with slight pressure. This can happen right across the board: in the animal fodder and foodstuff s industries, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, mill and plant construction, ventilation and environmental technology, and the semiconductor industry. This is true not only in Germany. KMH exports 40 per cent of its products — primarily to countries in Europe.
KMH’s customers can choose between 20,000 different standard products. If they can’t find exactly what they need, the company will make it for them. Some 20 per cent of the parts are customized products. “Tailor-made items are very important, because they let us offer customer-oriented solutions,” explains Kammann. Lots of plants are so complex that a standard item is not up to the job. “If we are able to supply individualized components just as quickly, flexibly, and at the same quality, then we will always be a step ahead of the competition.”
To make sure this works, she continuously invests in new machinery and plant. Her largest investment to date was erecting a completely new facility in 2009. “That was an important step for us. It gave us an opportunity to optimize our operations and increase efficiency with clearly defined processes,” says the CEO. In the old facility, our production section had to adapt to the space on hand. Now, everything is geared to meeting production requirements. Her team is now able to supply special parts within a day or two. A Stopa storage system that holds the sheet metal for the TruLaser 5030 and TruLaser 3030 also contributes to smooth operations. Components are first cut on the laser machines, then bent on tube rollers, and finally welded.
It is the precision of the machine that plays the most important role in the selection. To ensure that the welding seams hold up later, the edges must fit precisely and cleanly and tolerances must be maintained. Additionally, KMH cuts precise apertures in finished tubes using the RotoLas option on the TruLaser 3030. This ensures that forked and transitional pieces later fit like a glove. “When the company was founded, we cut our components with plasma equipment,” says Kammann with a smile. “That would be inconceivable today.”
The Bassum-based company normally processes standard steel and various stainless alloys from one to four millimeters in thickness. Many of the operations are still performed manually: “Basically, ours is still a skilled craft,” says Kammann. “There are already plenty of jobs to do by machine, but we still perform a large number of operations by hand.” This is due primarily to the many different geometrical shapes that the company deals with. They make automation difficult. “For the next few years there is definitely no way to do without skilled workers who can take action as appropriate to the moment.” Kammann is sure of this.
At the beginning of her career, business administrator Martina Kammann would hardly have thought she would be so deeply involved in technology today. Her resolute response to any questions about whether she always knew she was going to follow her parents in company management is: “Not one little bit!” Once she completed her training as an industrial clerk, her parents asked whether she might consider working in the administrative office at KMH. She was skeptical at first, but then agreed. She has never regretted the decision. Even though it wasn’t always easy at the beginning. “After a short period I switched to the purchasing department. At that time there were many elderly gentlemen out in the field who were very skeptical about a young woman occupying this position — especially one with no technical experience,” remembers Kammann. “Plenty of snide comments were made.” Today she can only smile at that memory.
Male? Female? Human!
Is her management style different from that employed by men? Martina Kammann shrugs her shoulders. “I don’t think there is really all that much difference between men and women in management. We women might react more intuitively and sensitively.” Skepticism about her being the company’s CEO is something she has hardly encountered in recent years. She has grown into her role, her industry, and the world of technology. “And the industrial sector is certainly never boring,” she says with a laugh.
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This article was first published in spring 2014.