Welcome to the second episode of we.talk, the new video podcast from thyssenkrupp. As you can see, we are not in the studio today, we are outside by the water axis in front of the Q1 building with a new guest.

Today I am pleased to welcome Winfried Schulte, CEO of Bearings. Hello Mr. Schulte.

Hello Mr. Ettwig. Thank you for the invitation to Essen. It’s good to be here.

My pleasure. Before we start, just a word about the coronavirus. Even if it looks like the situation is starting to ease, we are of course remaining cautious. We have both been tested and we will stay a safe distance apart. I’m ready, how about you Mr. Schulte?

Absolutely, I’m ready!

Then let’s start.

Mr. Schulte, I just introduced you as the CEO of Bearings. What many people may not know is that Rothe Erde GmbH is one of the biggest activities of the Bearings unit which is this year celebrating its 160th anniversary. That makes you part of a truly great success story. Obviously a lot of things have been done right. The question is, what does it take to achieve success like this?

Thank you, Mr. Ettwig. Yes, and I’m happy to accept your compliment, also on behalf of all our employees, because it really is a pleasure and makes us very proud to be celebrating 160 years of our company this year. Rothe Erde, or Bearings as you rightly said, is market leader for slewing bearings and a leading manufacturer of seamless rolled rings. Slewing bearings allow two objects to rotate against each other and reduce friction. Picture an excavator with an undercarriage and tracks or wheels, and a superstructure that has to be rotated, and between the two there is a slewing bearing. It’s the same in a wind turbine when the blade at the top has to be adjusted. These slewing bearings are made using seamless rolled rings, that’s our second product area. But we also supply these rings to external customers, where they are used in many applications such as transmissions, flanges and general engineering. In addition we also produce components, truly core components, for our products – that gives us appropriate capabilities in the corresponding supply chain and means we know exactly how these components interact in the bearing. It also means that we generate a great deal of value added within the company.

What are the success factors for Bearings?

Back then I don’t think anyone could have imagined that today we would be a company with 7,000 employees working in 12 countries, processing 15,000 tons of steel every month and producing bearings of eight or 20 meters in diameter and weighing up to 150 tons each. But the success factors in the past and now are very similar if not even the same: innovation and courage, good and motivated employees, a firm customer focus, a strong performance orientation and a global setup enable us to create value for our partners.

As we know, successful businesses are key to the success of the thyssenkrupp group as a whole. What contribution does Bearings make?

We are pleased that for many years Bearings has made steady earnings and cash contributions to thyssenkrupp. For us at Bearings, performance means measuring yourself against the best in the market. We consistently question our own standards and our own views. And very importantly we regularly give thought to developing and implementing measures that will help increase our performance – i.e. improve our profitability and boost our efficiency. But performance also means aligning ourselves to market changes. That is a very difficult topic, because when it comes to structural changes we are talking about organizational units or even entire sites that need to undergo restructuring. But as we see it, this is absolutely necessary to remain competitive and safeguard the future of the company. And finally performance also means products. Because identifying changes, changes requested by our customers on the market, is essential if we are to position our company successfully on the market long-term and ultimately be the partner of choice for our customers.

Thanks for the context. Shall we walk on a little?

The way you describe your company’s performance, you sound very satisfied. That’s great at first glance, but what about the future?

Well we’re very optimistic about the future. If you look at the topics being discussed in the political and public arena today, these are areas in which Rothe Erde, in which Bearings has been successful for many years. Take climate change and sustainability, for example: the bearings we supply to the wind energy industry: main shaft, pitch, and yaw bearings. Or look at infrastructure. Health topics are also big on the agenda and we supply products for example for CT and MRT scanners. The production and transportation of goods is another important area. The products we make can be found in mining excavators and conveyors, but also in all kinds of transportation equipment through to ship propulsion systems to carry products across the oceans. With this wide range of applications, we have very good prospects for the future. And being a global organization means we can serve both local needs and global strategies very well.

Right now everyone’s talking about the green transformation. You’ve already touched on some aspects of this, where do you see Bearings in this context?

This green transformation is now really taking off fast, but at Bearings we’ve actually been part of it for many years and we are well positioned. All states have set themselves targets for reducing CO2,all the way to net zero. And for this of course renewable energies will be needed, and wind energy is a key technology here. With regard to hydrogen technology, too, offshore wind energy in particular is being touted very strongly. And with our bearings we’re in a very good position here. And wind turbines are getting bigger all the time, which means the components are also getting bigger, and not only that, they require proven design expertise and manufacturing capabilities. These are capabilities that Rothe Erde has, and that’s why I believe we are well on track. And as I said, I believe we’re in a very good position and ready to take on the challenge.

Let’s talk briefly about the Group of Companies. As we know, thyssenkrupp is undergoing the biggest change process in the company’s history. How do you perceive this from the company’s point of view? What are the advantages and disadvantages, if any?

First of all, as Bearings we are glad to be part of thyssenkrupp and to be one of the businesses that also has growth prospects. And we can not only make an earnings contribution or a cash contribution to thyssenkrupp, we can also make a contribution in terms of sustainability, with our products that go into the wind energy sector, for example. The move towards a Group of Companies is right in my view. Giving more space to the businesses and aiming less at overarching synergies. But on the other hand, I think it’s also important that we find a way in this greater decentralization to still be able to exchange information and experience, in other words, to form a network. This is certainly more difficult than it was in the past, and it certainly requires more commitment and more responsibility from the businesses and also from the people in charge. But there are also some very good examples and we as Bearings have one that we have just finished recently: the production line for tapered rollers, which are manufactured fully automatically at our plant in Italy. This is a wonderful cross-group, cross-border project where colleagues from Bearings worked together with Camshafts to build this highly automated line. Colleagues from Italy, from Liechtenstein, from Germany, from Slovakia got together, put the best ideas together and really built a great line for us that has just started production. And I think this is a very good example of the fact that there is a lot of experience in this company that we should draw on.

We’re almost through now. I have one more question, we’ll do it over there, okay?

Last question, also against the background of the Pulse Check: How do you personally perceive the mood specifically in your workforce, but also overall at thyssenkrupp?

After having to go through such a long and continuing period of transformation at thyssenkrupp, it’s not surprising that employees are worried and confused and perhaps also fearful. And I think that is reflected to some extent in the responses to the Pulse Check. What I find very positive is that the employees’ responses also show that they are keen to continue to play their part in transforming the company into a company with successful performance-oriented businesses. I believe this holds a lot of opportunities, because if we achieve this transformation – and I’m sure we will – then there are opportunities on the one hand to generate the necessary financial resources, grow with them and develop a really good outlook for the future again, both for the individual businesses and for thyssenkrupp as a whole. And I think that’s really worth fighting for.

That sounds confident, a confident conclusion! Thank you very much, Mr. Schulte, for taking the time. Thank you also for watching. That was we.talk, the second episode. We will be back with new guests. Stay safe, stay at it. See you soon, bye from Essen!