Stories from over 90 years of SEW-EURODRIVE: Karl-Heinz Kling

What would our community be without industry?

Karl-Heinz Kling
Karl-Heinz Kling, Former 1st Deputy Mayor of Graben-Neudorf

SEW-EURODRIVE is celebrating its anniversary. Speaking as a representative of the community, I would like to congratulate the entire company management team and their families on this wonderful achievement! I hope that your company will continue to provide workplaces for many people and remain successful in the future.

I must say, an industrial operation adapted to the site and landscape is a real blessing. What would our community be without industry? Industry in a community is therefore much more than a private affair for the company owner. Much too much depends on the company’s success.

If the businesses in a community are going well then this has an effect on all the families. If a company is in economic difficulty, everyone suffers.

Certain obligations come out of this realization:

  • The mayor, the council and the local authority have to do all they can to support the companies in their area with all the means at their disposal.
  • The company employees have to do all they can to perform high-quality work so that the excellent reputation of the company helps to market the products. This is essential, because the competition – including foreign companies – is just waiting for an opportunity.
  • Following through on its social responsibility, the management team of the company will constantly be working to ensure that it is able to resist future crises by investing in market research, structural improvements and impressive advertising.

I recently heard local citizens talking about “our company.” This clearly expresses the feeling of belonging between companies and the general population. This means there is not just a corporate community, but actually a real connection between industry and the surrounding community.

I truly hope that this connectedness with all the companies in our community will continue to grow, and that includes SEW-EURODRIVE.

For Graben-Neudorf, for the development of the community, the company was and is a real blessing. Yes, after 90 years, you really can say that several generations of families have made their livings working for this company. The prosperity of many was based on secure employment with SEW-EURODRIVE.

SEW-EURODRIVE in Graben-Neudorf 1950
SEW-EURODRIVE in Graben-Neudorf 1950
SEW-EURODRIVE in Graben-Neudorf 1950

A success story unequaled in German business

It is good to look back over the last 90 years and see what has happened in that time and how it all began.

On November 5, 1948, a letter from Karlsruhe district council informed Graben community council that:

“The President of the region of Baden – Department of Economy and Transportation – has on October 28, 1948, approved ... permission for Süddeutsche Elektromotoren-Werke in Bruchsal to construct a branch in Graben to manufacture standard motors.”

This permit was the beginning of a success story unequaled in German business. What was the history leading up to this “secondary plant”?

  • Süddeutsche Elektromotorenwerke was founded in Bruchsal in 1931. Banker Christian Pähr established his company in a sector that would define the future. Machines that were driven by central motors using complicated transmission belts had had their day. Increasingly, they were being replaced by individual gearmotor drives. And it was precisely these new, versatile motors that were being produced in Bruchsal with some success.
  • As early as 1941 – ten years after it started – a staff of 166 was employed in Durlacher Strasse, Bruchsal.
  • In 1945, Pähr’s widow transferred management of the company to her son-in-law Ernst Blickle, who held this position until 1986. Under Mr. Blickle, the company began its transformation from a small, regional business to a globally active corporate group that is a leader in plant technology.
  • The key decision for what is now Graben-Neudorf came with the approval letter quoted above. The old buildings in Bruchsal were no longer big enough to hold the rapidly growing production facilities, so the decision was made to construct a new production plant in nearby Graben, which was also convenient for the railroad. First came a 500-square meter production hall for manufacturing supply parts for the motor plant in Bruchsal. The Graben plant was rapidly expanded.
  • The transfer of production from Bruchsal to Graben was completed in 1958. To enable the production of larger unit quantities, it was necessary to expand beyond the boundaries of the German market. As a result, SEW developed into a global company as we know it today.
  • By the company’s 50th anniversary in 1981, it had a global network of 22 assembly plants in 18 countries, employing more than 3300. This dynamic continued under Ernst Blickle’s successors, especially his son Rainer Blickle. In 2003, the efforts of 9000 staff led to sales crossing the 1 billion euros mark. Some 1400 employees in Graben-Neudorf played their part in this.

Minister-President Erwin Teufel was invited to the opening ceremony of the new electronics factory in Bruchsal on June 23, 2000. The following words from his speech are worth quoting:

“SEW is the motor of progress and ensures that the world keeps moving.”

A typo in the newspaper?

A newspaper article in BNN on November 22, 1999, is also fondly remembered. The renowned regional editor Bertold Moss began his report:

“SEW-EURODRIVE is now represented in 39 countries, has 6897 employees and achieves sales of approximately 1.57 billion marks.”

"... The year was 1970. Very early in the morning, we were called by a Bruchsal-based businessman who was as well-known as he was successful. “There’s quite a typo in your newspaper today – you’ve put a decimal in the wrong place!” “We have not – the number is correct!” There was a short intake of breath at the other end of the line. “All that in the old barn in Durlacher Strasse?” “Well, yes and no,” came the answer, “you would have to go to Graben, too.” What had happened? The Bruchsaler Rundschau had published SEW’s sales for the first time. In 1970, these amounted to 97 million marks, with a staff of 1820."

Two or three years later, the same paper announced, “SEW is the largest gearmotor manufacturer in the world,” and soon after it reported the findings of American experts that “in terms of technology, SEW has the most cutting-edge gearmotor plant in the world.” Very few people knew at the time that the most important entrepreneur in postwar Bruchsal, Ernst Blickle, had implemented his company philosophy for the first time two years earlier (1968) by building an assembly plant in Sweden. “Centralized production, decentralized assembly!”

For Graben-Neudorf the company is a real blessing

There is certainly a lot to report about the last 90 years of SEW-EURODRIVE’s success story. The archives with newspaper reports are full to the brim. For Graben-Neudorf, for the development of the community, the company was and is a real blessing. Yes, after 90 years, you really can say that several generations of families have made their livings working for this company. The prosperity of many was based on secure employment with SEW-EURODRIVE.

The company is currently investing strongly in further expansion of the Graben-Neudorf complex. This will lead to additional jobs. With its dynamic, lasting value and reliability, SEW has thus contributed to young families in particular settling in Graben-Neudorf and also involving SEW as a reliable location factor in their further life plans.

SEW would not be SEW if there were not more to it than just corporate success.

“You owe it to people who have no power to use the power you have.” Mayor Hans D. Reinwald used this quote from Carl Schurz, one of the Baden revolutionaries of 1848/1849, to open his speech in honor of Rainer Blickle on the occasion of presenting him with freedom of the city. He also took this opportunity to highlight the two-pronged effect of the Managing Partner. Firstly, there is the company, the production plant in Graben. Secondly, there is the commitment to the community and the local population, whether in social, humanitarian, cultural or association contexts.

Social and humanitarian commitment

What many people don’t know is that Rainer Blickle had a long-term commitment to social issues in our community, for example the CAP market – a supermarket run by the disabled, which would not have been possible without his support. At the “Festival of Good Deeds”, SEW-EURODRIVE demonstrated its social and humanitarian commitment, particularly in relation to the weakest and most needy in our society.

Many things in Graben-Neudorf would not have been possible without the involvement of Rainer Blickle and SEW-EURODRIVE. Associations and organizations also benefited from this great commitment, and really appreciated it. Over the years, local schools and kindergartens have also been the recipients of not insignificant funding.

Mayor Reinwald spoke of Blickle as an individual who joins a long line of great German entrepreneurs who have always been very conscious of their responsibilities toward people and ties to their home region. The measure of his actions, both for the business and for our community and the local population, was always the desire to see justice done.

Rainer Blickle certainly felt honored to be awarded the freedom of the city of Graben-Neudorf. However, I am also quite certain that many people felt the need to express their heartfelt gratitude in this way and found it an honor to present this man with this award.

To go back to what I said at the beginning, I think you will find that the people of Graben-Neudorf still say with all their hearts, “Our company, our SEW."

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