The road from Siegen – the district centre – to the town of Erndtebrück and EEW Group headquarters is quiet and distinctly rural in character. The sun shines down from a cloudless March sky but the air has an icy bite that soon sees off any thought of lingering outside. If anything, the scene suggests agriculture and forestry rather than heavy industry, but in fact the area plays host to a number of highly successful businesses – and has done for a long time. This is one of the oldest industrial regions in Central Europe. Small and midsize enterprises, often family owned, dominate the local economy, with metal production and processing a particular focus.
One company that knows very well how to combine strong regional roots with a prominent global presence is the EEW Group: founded in Erndtebrück and still based there today, it also has production facilities in South Korea, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and the UK. EEW specialises in the manufacture of longitudinally-welded pipes, most notably large pipe sections for the oil and gas industry and the offshore wind sector.
Nestled among tree-clad hills on the edge of town, EEW headquarters seem a world away from the tumult of the global markets. Yet nothing could be further from the truth: when President Trump threatened punitive tariffs on steel imports one day earlier, Erndtebrück took as much notice as anywhere. Discussing what these tariffs could mean for their business during a meeting with representatives of Helaba and Sparkasse Wittgenstein, EEW Managing Directors Christoph Schorge and Ralf Pulverich soon come back to just what it is that makes their company so successful: its excellent quality. And excellent quality is as important in the markets of the Middle East, Norway, Singapore, Vietnam and India – all of which are of interest to EEW –as it is in the US market.
Closer to home lie the offshore wind industry centres in Denmark, Germany and the UK, a key focus of activity serviced primarily from EEW’s own plant in Rostock. The European renewable energy sector currently accounts for approximately 70 % of sales revenue. The EEW Group supplies the pipes used in the foundations for offshore wind installations. Its ability to develop highly specialised solutions for fields such as this goes a long way to explaining its impressive expansion.
A keen eye for a gap in the market was one of the factors that led Christoph Schorge’s grandfather to establish the business back in 1936. Originally the company produced pressure vessels of all kinds in Erndtebrück as well as pipes and other components, but the oil crisis in 1974 prompted a change of course and a decision to concentrate on the manufacture of steel pipes of the type needed in the emerging North Sea oil fields.
“The site has developed in step with the company,” says Christoph Schorge. “When we switched over to producing pipes for the North Sea oil industry under my father’s leadership during the oil crisis in the 1970s, we were the smallest pipe factory in the district.”
This was a big decision and it was certainly made with care and consideration. Nevertheless, their short decision pathways and capacity to factor in entrepreneurial instinct undoubtedly give family-owned companies an edge: “A family business just ticks differently to a DAX company. Quick two-person executive decisions were the rule for many, many years. Eventually we started keeping statistics and bringing in external consultants. And we just grew and grew – and we continue to grow,” Schorge explains.
"The site has developed in step with the company"
EEW Managing Directors
The company’s increasingly international outlook required some new approaches. Finance assumed ever greater significance for what had become very much a project-driven business. Large volumes require strong partners – partners like the Sparkasse and Helaba.
Direct personal contact with the bankis very important here. Schorge especially values the relationship with the local Sparkasse: “Short communication pathways and personal links really matter to a family-owned company. Direct contact and the knowledge that we, as a family-managed company, are treated as more than just another anonymous customer, which is how some of the bigger banks might see us – of course this is a real advantage of dealing with the Sparkasse and Helaba.”
Could the company have grown as it has without Helaba and the Sparkasse at its side? Schorge says the history of the company suggests not. “Our business is highly capital intensive and we are dealing with sums on a scale that only a strong bank consortium could manage,” Ralf Pulverich adds. “This is why we have been pursuing a lasting collaboration with the Sparkasse and Helaba for all these years.”
Stefan W. Ropers, Head of the Helaba branch in Düsseldorf and branch officer in charge of SME business, offers a deceptively straightforward explanation of what makes an effective relationship: “Really it all comes down to three big factors: people need to know each other – mutual trust is important – and people have to have the right skills and be able to deliver on their promises.”
"Direct contact and the knowledge that we, as a family-managed company, are treated as more than just another anonymous customer, which is how some of the bigger banks might see us – of course this is a real advantage of dealing with the Sparkasse and Helaba."
EEW Managing Directors
Constancy and tradition clearly count for a great deal in Erndtebrück, so how does the company cope with the constant pressure to innovate?
Christoph Schorge has a ready answer: “We are always innovating. Treading water means being left behind. Our company has been committed to innovation from its very inception, be it in the continuous development of our products or our financing arrangements with our banks. You have to listen carefully to what the customer actually needs too to avoid innovating yourself up a blind alley.”Innovation management at the family-owned EEW Group is all about people. That everyone knows everyone and everyone’s abilities are valued goes with the territory at a company like this, which places as much emphasis on developing technical expertise among its staff as it does on enhancing general quality of life in the region. Building childcare centres in the surrounding area is just one of the ways the EEW Group strives to give something back not just to the specialist personnel and families it draws in, but also to the population as a whole.
Walking past the massive steel pipes that dominate much of the site it is clear that big things are happening here. And that Erndtebrück, first impressions to the contrary, really does have its finger firmly on the pulse of the global markets that matter.
"We are always innovating. Treading water means being left behind. Our company has been committed to innovation from its very inception, be it in the continuous development of our products or our financing arrangements with our banks."
EEW Managing Directors