2020-09-24

Looking back on an eventful career

Openness, a thirst for knowledge, team spirit, and always ready to engage in dialog – these characteristics provided the basis for Andreas Fäth’s career, which began in 1970 as an apprentice high-voltage electrician at Linde Aschaffenburg. This September, KION Group’s Senior Director of Industrial Engineering will be taking his well-deserved retirement. Andreas Fäth is one of a number of employees whose enthusiasm and motivation has helped the KION Group and its subsidiaries to move with the times over the course of several decades. An eventful professional life has taken him around the world more than once. We look back with him on the most important experiences of his 50-year career.

At the age of 16, Andreas Fäth embarked on his career as one of 50 apprentices in the forklift factory at Linde Aschaffenburg on September 1, 1970. Little could he know what exciting paths his professional life would take him down. And that was probably a good thing: “My mentor at the time challenged me a lot, but also gave me plenty of encouragement,” Fäth recalls. Discipline and care were the order of the day, both in the practical tasks and in the handwritten entries in the reports, which at that time had to be signed by the apprentices’ parents. “It was a very challenging time for me, but in the truest sense of the word also a very instructive one,” says Fäth. After three and a half years of training, he was taken on in the electrical workshop, where he spent the next few years in electrical services and repairs.

The pupil becomes the master

In the early days of his career, the technology was not as advanced as it is today. There was only ‘conventional’ machinery, where the precision of the work still depended heavily on the skills of the operator. But soon forklift truck production took a technological leap forward that was to have a major impact on Fäth’s future career: “Linde purchased two CNC milling machines made by the US company Milwaukee, and I was tasked with connecting them. But the user manual was all in English, and none of my more experienced colleagues could read it. I had taken English at school, so I grabbed a dictionary and memorized all the technical terms. This is how I became the go-to guy when it came to servicing the machines – all because I was the only one who could read English.”

This new technology, which was able to independently mill precise shapes from metal, required further training, both for new apprentices and long-standing employees. Fäth became the instructor for new job profiles in electronics and mechanical engineering across all age groups. It was a role in which he felt comfortable right from the start: “During my own apprenticeship, I had seen how apprentices were repeatedly asked to help out in certain areas where they were encouraged to learn. I immediately understood that we can only improve if we continually develop our own skills and the skills of young workers.” When a new, centralized training workshop was set up in Aschaffenburg shortly afterwards, Fäth was involved in the planning. He later worked there for several years as the training manager for these departments.

We can only improve if we continually develop our own skills and the skills of young workers.

Andreas Fäth

Technical expertise informs capital investment

One morning a few years later, he had another experience that would shape his future, as on his way into the office he watched ‘his’ beloved Milwaukee CNC milling machines being scrapped. “At that moment, I thought: You’re not an electrician any more. Now you’re doing something else. You’ve got to make sure that you buy the right machines.” In his mind, it made sense to purchase the training at the same time as the machines. “After all, there’s no point in buying a fancy car if you don’t have a license.” He quickly made up his mind to change direction and move into capital investment planning. But in order to do so, Fäth had to again acquire new knowledge. So he took additional courses in the evenings and at weekends, among other things to become an electrical engineer in the field of drive technology. At the same time, Linde Aschaffenburg’s parent company, Linde AG, underwent a period of expansion from the mid-1980s onward, purchasing new truck production plants across Europe. As part of the team that provided support for the takeover of new plants, Fäth was responsible for the sites’ technical equipment.

A small souvenir with a big impact

Fäth had wanted to visit his brother, who was working in Beijing, for some time, and an international tool fair in April 1993 presented the perfect opportunity. At the fair, he spotted Chinese-language brochures of some German manufacturers and took them as a souvenir. Back in Germany, the brochures landed on Fäth’s desk and were forgotten for the time being, until a Chinese delegation visited the Linde Aschaffenburg plant in June 1993. “Suddenly, one of the visitors stopped at my desk, leafed through the brochures, greeted me briefly and disappeared again,” Fäth remembers. A few days later, he was called to the CEO’s office, where he learned to his surprise that the Chinese delegation had decided on a joint venture with Linde AG and wanted to set up a plant in China. And there was a further surprise in store: The head of the delegation, Director Xin, specifically asked for Fäth to work on delivering the project. As it turned out later, this Xin was the very same person who had leafed through the brochures on his desk. That November, Fäth traveled to China in a team of four, and the planning of the Linde production plant in Xiamen began to take shape.

A German-Chinese success story

Fäth was a key member of the project team for six years. “It was a whole new world. None of us spoke Chinese or had experience with projects of this magnitude in Asia,” says Fäth looking back. And the language barrier was not the only challenge, as few of the processes he was used to from Europe could be implemented like-for-like in Asia. But with the help of his "mentor" Zhu Lin and the team, Fäth always found a solution. On September 1, 1996, the first Linde truck ‘made in China’ rolled off the assembly line.

That should have been the end of his work in Xiamen. But here, too, it turned out that a perfectly equipped plant without qualified employees was like having a car without a license. So Fäth expanded the factory to include a training center and introduced dual vocational training. This was a first in China, where employees had either practical or theoretical experience, but never both. This all changed with the new training concept, and thanks to its skilled workforce, Linde (China) became the largest foreign supplier of material handling solutions in China at the time.

People are the key if you want to establish a business. You have to get to know the local people and get them on board, but this cannot be achieved with a top-down approach from afar. You need to be on the ground and to take responsibility in the team for meeting targets and ensuring that the project is a success.

Andreas Fäth

Sharing his expertise with the world

Linde AG’s international growth and the technical development of production processes continued to shape Fäth’s career. In the following years, he travelled all over Asia and Europe to oversee the planning, the construction, and the first year of production at various plants. He also took new technologies such as 2D laser cutting (1993) and automated production lines (2000) from Germany to sites around the world. In 2009, he returned to China for the initial stages of the proposed Baoli plant in Jingjiang, this time as a representative of KION Group, which had been founded in 2006. Work on the Baoli plant project commenced in 2011 and continued until the middle of 2012. At the same time, he worked on the construction and operation of the KION India plant in Pune from 2010 to 2020. Fäth and his team also introduced 3D laser cutting (2018) and metal printing and laser marking (2019) as new standards at the sites. In addition, Fäth worked on the process and plant planning of the new KION site in Jinan, eastern China, as senior project planner until September 2020.

Always a team player, never a one-man show

The native Aschaffenburger never really aspired to an international career: “It just turned out that way,” he says looking back. Nonetheless, his presence on site was a crucial factor in the success of these projects. “People are the key if you want to establish a business. You have to get to know the local people and get them on board, but this cannot be achieved with a top-down approach from afar. You need to be on the ground and to take responsibility in the team for meeting targets and ensuring that the project is a success,” he adds. Cooperation within the team, open communication, and a good working atmosphere are equally important: “As a manager, I have learned that you have to give employees the opportunity to play their part. I usually got a lot more back from people with this approach than I might have expected.” Andreas Fäth’s professional career is a shining example of how collaboration, as a core value of the KION Group, can write extraordinary global stories – in this case for as long as 50 years.

A tribute to brave heroes

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