From revolution to evolution
Success factors for a special business relationship
From product revolution, through research and development, to a change in company philosophy: PCV Group and Georg Fischer Waga NV have been working closely together for 34 years, almost always symbiotically. What is the secret behind this successful relationship? Engineer Dries Nijsen, founder of PCV’s predecessor First Design, and Michel Hulsebos, of Georg Fischer Waga NV, shed some light on the factors contributing to the success of this extraordinary alliance.
When one looks back on the start of a long-term relationship, a humorous anecdote often comes to mind. This also applies to the 34-year business relationship between PCV Group (and its predecessor, First Design) from Enschede, and Georg Fischer Waga NV from Epe. Their close partnership began with an outright provocation. The year is 1987. The biggest challenge in the pipe industry: gas and water pipeline networks use pipes made from a wide variety of materials and with very different diameters. The effect: every connecting component has to be manufactured individually and is challenging to install. A time-consuming and expensive process.
Now, as the team at Georg Fischer, which specialises in piping systems and couplings, proudly presents their new high-bay warehouse, a guest from the recently founded company First expresses a daring opinion: “If you need such a big warehouse, you’re doing something wrong,” a young engineer by the name of Dries Nijsen asserts brashly. The whole thing should work without needing so many different couplings. The managing director of Georg Fischer Waga NV at the time picks up the verbal gauntlet. Not really believing that it would be possible, he offers an attractive profit-sharing incentive if a “one-size-fits-all” solution can be found. “No problem”, replies Dries Nijsen with total conviction.
A global success
The young engineer, just out of his student days, and his team make good on the promise. “The inspiration came to me when I was in the shower. The shower hose can be compressed and stretched. That’s the basic principle of the Multi/Joint 2000, a flexible connector for pipes of different diameters and materials. The result went down in history: the Multi/Joint 2000 became a bestseller. The management of Georg Fischer had expected the first commissions to be due after five years. But it was so successful that the money started flowing after a year. “And not an inconsiderable amount. With that income, we were able to expand production to meet the rapidly growing demand” Michel Hulsebos looks back with a smile. “After I’d taken the shower hose apart, I couldn’t shower for a whole week. But it was definitely worth it.” Nijsen adds with a chuckle. World history also worked in the partners’ favour: after the fall of the Berlin wall, there was huge demand for the Multi/Joint 2000 in the new federal states, much to the delight of the inventors. “So we also made our own contribution to connecting East and West,” says Nijsen with a twinkle in his eye.
So the relationship reached its first peak early on. How do you keep the level of collaboration high after such a success? “This success was not anticipated; the product revolutionised the market” explains Michel Hulsebos. Obviously, there was no way of planning to repeat such a success. Therefore, the next step was to further develop the successful solution, which resulted in the Multi/Joint 3000. Even better, with progressive tension protection, but only slightly more expensive – another worldwide success. “We used a new plastic technology here. We had anticipated a small market share, so we were overwhelmed by the success. With this development, Georg Fischer became a global market leader”, says Hulsebos.
Trust and Camaraderie
“In the ‘80s and ‘90s, the two companies owed their success to one another,” Nijsen emphasises. During that time, they filed at least ten joint patents. But a good relationship needs more than good financial results. “Absolute trust, similar corporate cultures and good rapport between the people involved, to name but three aspects”, says Nijsen.
After that, the relationship evolved into a new phase. “We went from revolution to evolution, constantly improving the product”, says Hulsebos. And, as in even the best marriages, there were setbacks. The notorious litmus test of any business relationship. “We invested a lot of time and considerable sums of money into one product development project that ultimately no product came out of. A lot of spin-offs came out of that”, reports Hulsebos. Many insights from this project could be applied to optimise existing product lines. This even resulted in two patents. The partners did not sit around moaning, but looked for opportunities in their failures – and found them. This is precisely what characterises the spirit of this cooperation.
The question of why
A good relationship is also characterised by the fact that even though the partners change, they remain committed to one another. That also applies to the business relationship between PCV Group and Georg Fischer Waga. “Over time, we have effectively become an in-house service department for Georg Fischer Waga. This was particularly useful when we invested in our first CAD system. Since we had a regular client, we could afford the investment.” Nijsen recalls. “Yes, in the beginning, PCV was one of our service providers. With time, the company has effectively become our R&D department. In the meantime, the role has evolved more towards project management. Today, I see PCV primarily as a facilitator, as it guides the process.” says Hulsebos, looking back over the years. But what exactly does that mean? “In the past year, we have been thinking about the future direction for our company. Where do we want to go? What areas will we focus on? PCV has supported us through this brainstorming. And that in turn has led to the philosophy of “from know-how to know-why”. Many companies base their thinking on their experience, but no longer know why they do certain things. We are now more concerned with the question of why.” Hulsebos states.
One concrete task has already emerged from these reflections. “We are starting a project to secure our knowledge for the future. Since our business model involves outsourcing as much as possible, we have commissioned PCV to do this. We must carefully preserve what we currently have and continue to innovate. We can’t rest on our laurels.” says Hulsebos. “Exactly! The young generation of engineers in our companies is already making sure that we stay alert and don't get too blinkered," adds Nijsen. The relationship between PCV Group and Georg Fischer Waga NV has bright prospects. So nothing should stand in the way of their “golden anniversary” in 2037....