This month, we would like to highlight our member, Alfred Kärcher SE & Co. KG, a company which is a leader in effective and efficient cleaning solutions. In this member story, Hartmut Jenner, CEO & Chairman of the Board of Management at Kärcher, sheds light on the company's philosophy, its sustainability goals, and he gives us insights on the innovative technologies developed at Kärcher. Further, Jenner describes how Kärcher profits from the transatlantic business relationship.
Kärcher is renowned for its innovative technology regarding its products. Could you explain in what ways your products are so unique?
An inventive spirit and innovative solutions of problems have always been in the DNA of Kärcher. Thus, our founder Alfred Kärcher had already been on the lookout for new and better solutions for his customers continually. In Germany, we call those people “Tüftler”, meaning persons that like doing fiddly work. However, what was so special about Alfred Kärcher was that, apart from his inventive spirit and curiosity, he also was an exceptionally good entrepreneur. So, he was an inventor and an entrepreneur at the same time.
These qualities are still present in our products today – that is what makes them so unique. Then as now, we develop the best and most innovative cleaning solutions for all aspects of life – always under the premise that our products should solve a particular problem for our customers, because innovations at Kärcher are not an end in themselves: So, technological innovation combined with user-friendliness is always in the focus of our consideration. This way, we have opened new markets for Kärcher in recent decades again and again that were not there up until then.
What are current projects that are ongoing at Kärcher?
The digital transformation received an enormous extra boost from the corona pandemic. An entirely new way of working is associated with that for us, too. I am not just talking about the opportunity of mobile working here. In particular, I am talking about the holistic way we are going to work together as a team. The key terms in this context are: Management and self-management. We have to show our employees how to manage themselves, if they are to work remotely with success.
During the past year and a half, we have found that so-called routine activities can be carried out just as well from home as at the office. However, we have also noticed that creativity in general and certain creative processes in particular fall by the wayside, so to speak. What emerges in the communication and interaction with colleagues on site, or what sticks as an impulse from a business trip to another country, that is missing if we do no longer meet in person and exchange our views. The strength of Kärcher depends to a large extent on our innovative power and our solutions of problems that we can offer our customers. A lot can get lost particularly in these areas with this physical distance. Here, we are faced with the big task of learning as to how we are going to tackle this challenge in the leadership of employees.
Kärcher has put an emphasis on its sustainability goals. Could you tell us more about your sustainability strategies and targets?
Apart from digitization and related questions, the group of themes around sustainability is a key future issue at Kärcher. We are convinced that sustainability is no accidental product but the result of conscious decisions – it makes no sense in our eyes to view it in isolation. Therefore, our sustainability goals are an integral component of our Sustainability Strategy 2025.
In essence, when sustainability is concerned, we are about taking the responsibility for one’s own actions. Responsibility for nature, culture, and society. Responsibility for our supply chain and our products. Since this year, Kärcher plants worldwide are climate-neutral. We have already been supporting the reduction of plastic as well as the recycling of ocean plastic in our products since 2020. And we are going to sustainably optimize all product packaging until the middle of the decade, to name just a few examples. In addition, we support many of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations with our sustainability goals. And last but not least, we also take responsibility for our employees with our actions, of course.
From your business standpoint, what can be done to improve Germany as a business location?
Germany as a business location continues to be held in high esteem in the world – rightly so, in my opinion. We have excellent companies, great qualified employees, and therefore high productivity. Nevertheless, Germany as a location has to be developed constantly and continuously – especially in the current situation, to get out of this pandemic quickly and well.
There is a tendency of over-regulating the economy in Germany. Furthermore, we have been focusing very much on the distribution of wealth in Germany in recent years. It is important now to make Germany as a business location more competitive – particularly in view of tax burden and energy prices. It is essential in a globalized world to have a look at what other countries may be doing better. Especially our immediate neighbors such as the Netherlands, Poland, and the Czech Republic, but also the U.S., have developed very strongly in recent years. It is now up to Germany to follow suit by offering its many strong companies an attractive and stable environment for their innovations, and thereby giving them a solid foundation for their business.
How does Kärcher profit from the transatlantic business relationship?
Kärcher is generating about 85 percent of its sales outside Germany; for the most part also outside Europe. The most important partner here are clearly the U.S. Europe and the U.S. maintain the world’s biggest and most important economic relations. In particular the many medium-sized companies, and with them the entire export-oriented economy in Germany, need globalization so that people in this country will be able to continue to live in prosperity. The intact and working trading partnership with the U.S. is a fundamental requirement for that. This is another reason why the trade barriers and tariff policy of the former U.S. administration have not failed to leave their mark on us.
Therefore, another important milestone for the ongoing trading partnership between Kärcher and the U.S. is the opening of our new headquarters in Aurora near Denver, Colorado. This location, which is going to be the most important one in North America, combines all the functions important to us in one place: Offices, production, warehouse, and training rooms. These features, as well as the central position in Aurora, are further accelerating our processes, and bring us even closer to our customers on the U.S.-American market.