Hannes Wörwag On Top

On Top

Hannes Wörwag represents the family in the company. In addition to his knack for figures, it is human qualities like pragmatism and dependability that also distinguish the Chief Financial Officer. He doesn’t like to talk about that, though. He prefers to look ahead and let results speak for themselves – as one of nearly a thousand Wörwag employees around the world.

Right now, there is only one path to the top. It requires courage. And a lack of vertigo as well. Hannes Wörwag climbs confidently up the seven rungs of the facade access ladder to the roof of the distinctive building in the Strohgäustrasse.

It’s obvious that the Chief Financial Officer is enjoying his little adventure. “I’ve known the company since childhood, but I have never been up here before,” the 52-year-old discloses during the photo shoot, which takes place with him standing next to the giant letters that spell his family’s name against the skyline of Zuffenhausen. Wörwag: “The lettering doesn’t mean anything to me. I’m not a sentimental person. But the idea of climbing up here one time appealed to me.”

To stand at the very top is actually contradictory to his nature. Especially when he is at risk of having to move into the spotlight. To describe Wörwag in words is almost as difficult as granting final approval for a new special effect series coating under deadline pressure.

If you are looking for adjectives to describe the man wearing jeans and a softshell jacket, then words like down-to-earth, normal, realistic, honest quickly come to mind. An employee like everyone else. Always authentic, and appreciated for his sense of humor. “Am I humorous?” the avid motorcyclist asks modestly, as expected, and raises his eyebrows. A video ad with “Snuffy” the seal – now that is something he would find funny, he reveals.

Hannes Wörwag

Wörwag has been working at the company since 2003, and has been responsible for finances, purchasing and human resources, among other things, since 2011, when he became Chief Financial Officer.

Plenty of incisive statements come out when he speaks.

He always gives reasons for his assessments, explains the background in detail. “There’s not a lot, however, to write about me. I don’t want to be a man of grand words,” Wörwag says with a chuckle.

He’s similarly unenthusiastic when a lot of fuss is made about him just because he bears the name of the company he works for. He’s not into showing camaraderie with the employees by going on routine rounds – he’ll have a chat “in the smoker’s corner, at most.”

The 100-year anniversary is primarily a snapshot in time to him – but a fine one nonetheless, in spite of the Swabian understatement. Wörwag values the observation that longevity alone doesn’t create a tradition.

Nevertheless, his father Karl Eberhard and other relatives made many good decisions. For example, betting on coatings for plastic components as far back as 30 years ago. Or following reliable business partners abroad at the right time to advance international growth.

Topics he avoids include complications in the development of high-tech coatings and complex processes: “We aren’t talking about rocket science here, or a mission to Mars. We’re dealing with coating systems.” The company has been subject to constant change for decades.

There were already big challenges to master 30 years ago. “My father still did calculations on a slide rule during his university studies. But he nonetheless set up our IT,” Wörwag reminisces, leaving open the question of when the hurdles were actually higher.

Ultimately the company grew along with the demands placed on products and processes. The success proves that those responsible were right. Wörwag may not be one of the biggest companies in the coatings industry, but it is one of the most renowned. The company found a market niche with its enormous amount of expertise. “We have earned our reputation over decades,” Wörwag emphasizes. However, he doesn’t speculate what role their status as a family-run company has played along the way.

“We also have to face economic constraints, have to do the math and make decisions that some don’t like,” he says.

He doesn’t feel at all privileged as a family member in the operational side of the business. “Many of our colleagues are very devoted to the company and also think entrepreneurially,” the chemical engineer says in praise of them. “If the employees are convinced that Wörwag is wired a little bit differently, then that’s great,” says the CFO, who is a little bit different himself. And when he goes to the office in Stuttgart every day, eats in the cafeteria and only wears a suit if it’s absolutely necessary, he is underscoring his desire to be normal.

„If the employees are convinced that Wörwag is wired a little bit differently, then that’s great,”
says the CFO, who is a little bit different himself.

Detour by motorbike: Hannes Wörwag checks progress of the construction work.

One hundred years old, with the future in its sights: Wörwag is building a new plant for thirty million euros – an investment with symbolic impact.

Wörwag allows his gaze to roam into the distance. He can’t see Korntal-Münchingen, it’s a little too far for that, but part of the company’s future is located there, less than five kilometers (3 miles) away as the crow flies. Wörwag needs five minutes to get there on his Husqvarna. He is passionate about his motorcycle. He loves the speed, the curves, the thrill. The Sunday drivers less so. He is often drawn to riding it in the South Tyrol or French Alps. He parks at the edge of the construction site, pulls off his helmet and assesses the progress of the earthworks.

Work at the 20,000-square meter (approx. 215,000 square feet) site on Stuttgart’s outskirts has been ongoing since the end of 2017. Office space and a factory building with room for a good one hundred employees are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2019. Wörwag flinches when he hears the word “vision”; he wants to avoid using expressions like that. In his opinion, “The decision to move with part of the workforce as a first step underlines that the company stakeholders are planning for the long term. That is absolutely in the interests of the employees.” The family is investing thirty million euros here.

Wörwag clarifies something here to ensure that no false impression arises: “Our company isn’t making a fashion statement. We don’t need an ostentatious building. The family, my father and my uncles were never interested in pushing their way into the limelight. We aren’t doing that now, either.” In any event, the company has seized the right moment to plan its future. That also applies to the photo shoot on the roof, because the view of the old plant will be different after the relocation: the administra­tion building will be torn down.

Wörwag is building a new plant for thirty million euros – an investment with symbolic impact.

Münchingen is located just five kilometers from the headquarters in Zuffenhausen.

By end of 2019 offices and a factory hall for a hundred employees should be finished.

A three-storey factory building, which will accommodate the accredited test laboratory, among other things, is to be built in addition to four floors of attractive office space.

By: Michael Thiem

Photos by: Victor John Goico