Recently, we had the opportunity to exchange a few words with Mr. Markus Giese, Drahtwerk Wagener CEO, regarding the whole Covid-19 situation, how it has affected the company and the plans for the future.
In December, when we were talking about coronavirus as something very far away, would you have ever imagined that it could come all the way here with such consequences?
"I learnt about the virus in January, when I was travelling with a friend who works for a Chinese company. He told me that his colleagues were not allowed to travel to Europe for business purposes and his trips to China had been postponed. At that time, I still believed that China would be in a position to keep the virus under control, preventing it from spreading to other countries. As many people, I was convinced that Europe would not be hit."
How did you experience the first weeks of pandemic? Did you shut down the company completely, or were you able to keep some departments up and running? What impact did the pandemic have on the morale of your team?
"At first, there was a lot of uncertainty. Every day, there were news articles with the latest information about how not to be infected. It was hard to believe what was happening in Italy and Spain; I was shocked to see how serious the situation had become in China.
We tried to follow the safety instructions as much as we could and continued to work in factories as “usual” as possible, encouraging home-office practices where possible.
From my perspective, people have grown to care more for each other. This has been tangible in our company, where the team spirit has been greatly strengthened."
In detail, what measures did you have to implement in order to comply with the safety standards of your country?
"First of all, the most important thing was for employees to understand that their habits had to change. Keep distance, wash your hands, avoid touching your face, stay at home, do not meet friends. Especially the younger people, who felt immune from the virus.
We reduced the visits into the company as much as we could. All travels and meetings were canceled. Of course, we have glued distance instructions to the floor, set up plexiglass panels, placed disinfectant dispensers everywhere, increased cleaning intervals, and posted written instructions on how to behave in each area."
Do you think these measures are adequate to fight the pandemic? Why?
"According to my point of view, it was alright to impose all these measures. There was no information about the virus - how it spread, who would be in danger, who could survive the disease. Therefore, it was important to do all we could to protect everyone. Now that we have some more knowledge about it we can step by step loosen the measures and allow more freedom. It is a fact that the countries that underestimated the virus at first are still fighting to try to stop the deaths and contagion."
Did you have to re-evaluate your goals and priorities in the short/medium term?
"First of all, we feel blessed that we got to this point without being affected personally. As far as our business is concerned, we have to re-evaluate our goals in any way. Of course, the world will be different after the pandemic will be overcome. Nevertheless, nobody knows how it will be in reality. Things change every day. It is our main obligation to watch carefully the different developments and anticipate trends as soon as possible. We are a medium size company, we are no game changer. We can only influence the small space in our factory."
Is there anything you would like to tell the Government of your country about how the emergency was addressed? What should the governments and Europe do to support businesses and economic recovery?
"In my opinion, the government did a great job. All politicians were aware that this was not the time for ideological discussions. Instead, they were able to make clear announcements to protect the people from being infected. One of the major problems right now is the misinformation: there are so many people who believe in fake news and conspiracy theories.
However, going back to question, supporting the companies to recover from this crisis is the right thing to do. It is good that programs are being created to stimulate the demand. However, it is also important to watch very carefully who and what kind of industries are being supported. Supporting sustainable and climate-friendly projects is also fundamental. Moreover, the focus should also be on digitalization - for the companies as well as for education purposes."
Did you feel the institutions by your side, in terms of economic support in a real emergency situation?
"Overall, the economic support was quick and pragmatic. A lot of money was available for many companies who got in trouble and the legislation quickly adapted to meet the requests of the companies, i.e. short time work."
Fairs and events are an important business opportunity for companies: do you think that the virus will affect their organization and the way they are carried out? If so, how?
"After all, meeting people from now on will be much different than before. Everyone will think twice if attending a show is really necessary. In general, I think that this could be a problem, as I am still convinced that the future is created by successful relationships. So, we risk losing lots of progress opportunities."
Many agree that the pandemic will leave a heavy burden on the national and international economies. Do you share these concerns?
"It is already obvious today that the GDP dropped dramatically in every country in the world. There is no way to prevent most of the economies from drifting into recession. No one has a clear view about how long it will take to overcome this situation, how many companies will fail to survive and how far our attitude toward free global trade will change."
How do you think the industry will react? What will the consequences be, in the short to long term?
"We should never forget that other topics on the agenda were a driving force in the industry evolution process, such as sustainability, environmental matters, climate change, carbon-free production, change of mobility, urbanization, and growth of the world population. These challenges remain and the government has already published a plan to force the industry to work harder on these issues.
Having a vaccine as soon as possible will be the key factor. Although it is clear that it will not be available for every country at the same time, it will help to get back to a business life that gives higher returns on investments. At the moment, there is hardly any confidence for a bright future."
Do you think we will soon get back to our everyday life or will we be forced to change our habits permanently?
"Even if a vaccine is available, it is clear that the world has become vulnerable. Therefore, for many years there will be the question: what will the next CORONA be?
This will have an influence on how we work (from home?), travel, meet friends, and visit restaurants, concerts, theaters, etc. This change in our everyday life will impact our consumption and purchasing habits (more online?), mobility, and so on."
Drahtwerk Wagener, part of the Künne Group, is an important German manufacturer of drawn steel wire for springs. With more than 150 years of expertise, the company is the perfect choice if you are looking for first-class solutions to your problems.