Tuesday 28 August 2018

The Long and Winding Road: GEZE UK Celebrates its 30th anniversary

When we think of a timeline, we often visualise a journey - a linear path travelled at a steady pace. 

Although GEZE’s route, taken over 155 years, has spurred off in many directions but over the past three decades, has sped to its current destination – a prominent high ground of spearheading innovation in door and window control technology.

The company, which began as a German craftsman’s business and was once a leading name in ski equipment (as the creators of a unique boot binding) is now the ‘go-to’ manufacturer and supplier of an exhaustive range of automatic and manual products and after sales services. GEZE, not only picked up the baton of change with immaculate timing but spread its wings across the globe and gained international recognition in the process.

Part of that expansion led to the creation of GEZE UK – this year celebrating its 30th anniversary – at a pivotal time when the boon of technology was quickly taking hold.

In 1988, when Rick Astley was topping the charts and Stephen Hawking published a ‘History of Time’, GEZE set-up its UK subsidiary in Chelmsford as a distribution centre - primarily in architectural ironmongery - and an export gateway to Commonwealth countries.

Within a decade, the Disability Discrimination Act became law. Accessibility became a key requirement for publicly accessed buildings, triggering a surge in the demand for automatics. This co-incided with the launch of one of GEZE’s most iconic products, the Slimdrive range for sliding doors – so called because of an unobtrusive 7cm operator height. Automatic doors had come of age.

Around this time, GEZE UK was setting up a ‘project division’ (for the supply and installation of automatic doors) in Tamworth. And then, in 2005, moved to a purpose-built facility in Lichfield which combined the distribution, and supply and installation sides of the business. A service division was launched soon after in 2008.

GEZE has become a brand so synonymous with durability and reliability in this sector, that it’s strange to think that it was only 1983 when its owner Brigitte Vöster-Alber jettisoned the company’s popular ski product line to fully concentrate on door and window systems.

It was definitely the right call. In 2017, GEZE had a turnover of €406 million worldwide and a £30 million turnover in the UK.

Kaz Spiewakowski
The business is still a family affair – an influence which shapes its strategic vision and approach. Kaz Spiewakowski, GEZE UK’s managing director, is himself celebrating an anniversary this year, five years at the helm of the UK company.

“It is most definitely a family business which is very empathetic in how it treats its employees. It has great advantages, that family spirit is far less rigid and corporate than many organisations and there is definitely a long-term view.
“I have worked in all sorts of organisations, all have their pros and cons; those owned by venture capitalists reach a target and then get out. It’s about increasing value, reducing costs and maximising topline forecasts, come hell or high water, then selling the business. In PLCs, if there is a profit warning, there are inevitable short-term repercussions to the company’s value etc, it all leads to a lack of stability.
“At GEZE, there are family members engaged in the business at all levels and they have the long term interests of GEZE at the heart of what they do.”

How does this affect the symbiosis between GEZE UK and its parent company in terms of culture and approach?
“Mrs Vöster-Alber is very patient person with a long-term view,” says Kaz. “I enjoy a tremendous amount of arms-length interaction with Germany. There is a natural assimilation to the parent company, the overarching strategy and our staff counterparts, but we are given the autonomy to manage our own market. We understand our routes to market and customer demand on this island, which is quite different to mainland Europe or other regions. I have been given a mandate to get on with it.”

There are company ‘directives’, he admits, but these are incremental to maintaining the strength of the brand, its credentials and approach as an innovative manufacturer and service provider of solutions. 

Understanding the market, its changing needs neatly dovetails into new product development (NPD). Although the majority of GEZE’s NPD is undertaken at its Leonberg HQ, supported by defined resources, budget and testing, its UK subsidiary is given the flexibility to modify or design products where it identifies an emerging demand. Ideas are developed by the technical team or through the established PDP process which are filtered through a gateway system.

“It’s nice for people here to be able to flex their muscles,” says Kaz “It gives them a chance to move away from the day-to-day running of the business and focus on their own projects.
“The thing that we have to be mindful of, is that any modifications don’t compromise the products and that they must undergo rigorous testing.”

Recent examples include the production of a locking bracket for the drive belt of the Slimdrive SL NT operators for sliding doors – a solution that was created out of test parts from a 3D printer, and a water-resistant underfloor operator that was devised to meet particular client needs.

Technology has brought about the greatest changes in the fortunes of GEZE and that pace of change has been most significant in the past 10-15 years. There has been a digital revolution as opposed to an evolution which have been demonstrated by products such as the GEZE cockpit and range of smart ventilation products that marry the natural environment with digitisation that can orchestrate the working conditions, safety and security of a whole building. 

Says Steve Marshall, GEZE UK’s Service Director:
 “We have always been part of a very technical landscape but technological requirements now are as much about digitisation and system integration as they are about hardware. Safety, security and environmental requirements are key considerations and feature highly on customer’s shopping lists.”
He believes that embracing modern technologies is where the company’s future lies.
“On the service side, we have already seen tremendous change in who our customers are and the frameworks in which they operate. We have been responsive to those needs and kept apace to ensure that we can meet and exceed those demands and will continue to do so by embracing new technologies and adapting them for future needs.”
These include a variety of digital applications – software is now leading the pace of change just as hardware did a few short decades ago. In particular, artificial intelligence (AI) and remote management look set to be incorporated to provide enhanced levels of expertise and application out ‘in the field’.

Although a ‘satellite’ to its parent company – with over 250 employees in the UK, compared to 2,500 in Germany – there is a self-determination that propels GEZE UK to ever-greater things.

“We have great expectations of the future – and we expect a lot of ourselves,” concludes Kaz.

To find out more about Geze visit: www.geze.co.uk

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