Interview with Stephan Harleman
"With the current team, we are well able to maintain, strengthen and further expand our leading position. I'm convinced of that."
Master minds look back
A quarter of a century full of challenges, innovations, successes, highs and lows, and countless extraordinary people. There is no better opportunity to look back on 25 years of Henkelman than with some of Henkelman’s master minds. In this first episode the interview with Stephan Harleman, Managing Director.
He has been working at Henkelman for exactly half his life. In 1994, at the age of 25 he was hired by the founders, Coen Henkelman and René Muskens, as a commercial force. Stephan Harleman looks back: “We were three. Nothing was arranged, we had to do everything ourselves, including the cleaning of the toilets. What I especially remember from that time is our focus and drive to make the company succeed. For example, we had to negotiate with suppliers to convince them to work with us and make good price agreements. Furthermore, we had to make commercial and technical documentation of machines that were not yet fully developed, financing had to be arranged and we had to persuade the market and potential distributors of Henkelman’s right to exist."
He continues: "Of course, it is great to be at the start of such a process and even better that we have been able to realize our goals step by step and to raise the bar to eventually become the world's largest and most leading manufacturer of chamber vacuum machines. Initially, we focused on the Dutch and Belgian market, but it didn't take long before we realized that the whole world was actually at our feet..."
One year after the company was founded, Henkelman experienced the breakthrough it needed. Stephan explains: “At the IFFA in Frankfurt, we ran into our first large account, from Brazil. Then we really hit it off and we were able to produce large numbers, work more efficiently and control the cost price better. Our second and third major accounts came from South Korea, but when the economic crisis hit Asia in 1997, that was a hard lesson for us. We had 2 large shipments of OEM machines ready, all equipped with a special 60 Hz voltage. At the time, it was a true disaster when these orders were canceled, but also a very necessary lesson. As a manufacturer, you cannot depend on a few large accounts."
Many, many lessons followed. Stephan adds frankly: “The Henkelman team now consists of 60 people, and our network of distributors has grown to more than 450 in over 80 countries. This growth has demanded quite a lot from the organization. That is why we have gone through a professionalization step-by-step in numerous areas, from automation, R&D, production and in the supply chain to service, marketing and support. In the past, a few people shared responsibilities, now there is a better spread of tasks and therefore a higher degree of specialization. And yet, professionalization or not, we remain Henkelman. A team of enthusiastic, driven people who want to make the most beautiful and best product in the world with and for each other.”
If he was asked to mention a personal highlight, Stephan recalls the opening of the new premises in 2010. “The urge to move to a larger building originated in 2001 already, both in terms of space and appearance. Due to unforeseen circumstances, such as the departure of René Muskens in 2001 and the sudden death of Coen in 2005, ‘the’ move was always postponed. In fact, when Coen died, our main concern was to convince all our customers that we would continue the business. When we then experienced significant growth in 2006 and 2007, the building really became too small for us and we started looking for a location where we could realize a new building that matched our A-brand status in terms of appearance. In 2010, we finally moved, and I am convinced that our growth from 2010 until now was partly based on the professionalism that we have obtained since that time. In 2014, we even built another 2500 m² warehouse next to the new building.”
When it comes to his perspective on the future development of Henkelman as a company, Stephan is still as driven as the day he started: “We are on a mission to spread the word that our vacuum packaging technology contributes to the quality and protection of both food and non food products. That it reduces waste. And that it is a smart tool for every professional to save money by cutting the costs."
"Henkelman has become the worldwide market leader in chamber vacuum packaging machines. It is our main objective to stay number 1 in the world. With the current team, we are well able to maintain, strengthen and further expand our position. I'm convinced of that."