In the early 1970s, Optima succeeded in entering the booming paper hygiene industry, which, in the early 1980s, was dominated by major international players that were mainly located in the US. They in turn had subsidiaries in many countries around the world. Great opportunities developed in new areas for globally-minded sales, service, and assembly specialists, like Optima and its employees. Following are a few travel experiences from some of our experts.
Service technicians, at that time, usually only on the road for a few days and mainly in Germany or other European countries now had to travel to all corners of the world, for weeks at a time. They ensured that the complex systems were professionally installed and commissioned, and the customer’s operators and technicians were properly trained on site.
One of these pioneers was Michael Weber, who is now the Director of Customer Service at Optima. The former “farm lad” from a small village in Germany, as he refers to himself jokingly, started training as a mechanic at Optima at the age of 15 and was just 18 when his career took off.
“What have I gotten myself into?” wondered the young man as he sat on the plane and the doors were closing. He was going to the USA! In the 80s, this was not yet a routine flight. On the other side of the Atlantic, a huge challenge awaited him – the installation of a large system on site! Even today, Michael Weber recalls his first impressions when he first arrived in the U.S. with excitement: “There were these huge V8 cars everywhere and all the cool brands like Nike, Levis, and Reebok and they were all much cheaper than at home!” Welcome to the land of endless opportunities! However, it was also a country that devoured a significant portion of his expense budget for the rental car deposit, right after he landed (credit cards weren’t very common in Germany, cash was king at that time). Exact change for the tollbooths on the highway was needed to avoid cars piling up behind you, honking their horns. And how did you stay in touch with the headquarters and family at a time without e-mail or Internet? That’s right, by payphone: “Feeding in the coins at high speed was a challenge,” said Weber with a grin. Life lessons!
It was a completely different story when it came to the installation of the machine. The customers were surprised to see such a young crew sent to install their machine. “Therefore, there was even more respect after the equipment was commissioned on schedule and the Optima crew demonstrated its expertise. They literally rolled out the red carpet for us!” remembered Weber.
And after work? There was lots to discover and to do, like impromptu boat trips, fishing and hunting trips – and no need for licenses or any other bureaucratic paper work. On the weekend, we would go out to the bars in downtown Chicago. “These were cool times,” Weber remembered fondly.
He still finds his way back across the pond. He even lived there with his wife and two children for three years and helped set up Optima’s Green Bay, Wisconsin headquarters. Back in Germany, he completed his certified mechanics master’s degree, and later, his MBA. Today, he looks back with contentment: “It was really great to have the opportunity to help develop the Green Bay headquarters and work with my colleagues overseas, keep discovering new things, and learn a lot in the process.”
The USA is an important market for Optima outside Europe, but it is not the only one that presents interesting prospects. Sales opportunities were also opening up in the Middle East and they needed to be explored.
In 1995, two Optima machines, accompanied by Mr. Sulzmann, Mr. Laser and Mr. Dörr, were sent to the SaudiPack trade show in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. They believed themselves to be in one of the fairy tales from 1001 Arabian Nights: The marble sidewalks were constantly swept, gasoline was free, and there were magnificent buildings everywhere! Unfortunately, it was strictly prohibited to take pictures, which promptly earned them a several hour-long interview at the police station.
But true Hohenlohers (region close to Schwäbisch Hall) are not discouraged by police interrogations or the intense heat. On time for the opening of the trade show, they were at the booth as planned and the huge interest in Optima’s machinery quickly made them forget the hardship.
Wolfgang Götz, service engineer, experienced both heat and very cold weather during his assignment in Ufa, the capital of the Republic of Bashkortostan. Situated around 1,200 kilometers east of Moscow and 100 kilometers west of the Ural Mountains, the temperatures sometimes fall to -40 °C in winter. The hotel room, however, was holding a constant comfortable 28 °C, even at night.
Getting to Ufa was not entirely without complications. His plane landed in a thick fog but unfortunately not in Ufa. He couldn’t make out where he exactly landed. No surprise when all signs are written in the Cyrillic alphabet and no one spoke German or English! Not until the next day, after the fog lifted was he able to take the next plane to his destination – and from thereon it was smooth sailing.
The installation of a turnkey multi-line with isolator and freeze dryer was a very demanding project but carried out in a highly professional manner and according to plan. “Our Russian counterparts were great at providing support if you needed anything. They did everything in their power,” reported Götz.
However, it took him some time to get used to the traditional breakfast: fish, pasta, coleslaw, soup, and meat ravioli all served for breakfast.
In contrast, Jemima Fromm, a colleague who was sent to China, almost goes into raptures when it comes to Chinese cuisine: The scent of “aromatic garlic, spicy ginger and fine coriander” accompanied her throughout her visit in China. However, eating with chopsticks proved to be a challenge. “For people who are not used to it, it might take more energy to consume the food than the actual calorie intake,” she noted. Even routine chores like operating the washing machine or taking a cab can turn into an adventure when you don’t know any Chinese characters but fortunately, she quickly realized that the Chinese are very friendly, helpful people.
She ended her report with a highly positive note: “I would highly recommend to anyone to get out on their own and experience another country and culture. (...) A trip like this always enriches your personal and professional life.
Whether it is traveling to the U.S., China, Brazil or Saudi Arabia, for Optima experts, missions to faraway countries have always been and still are associated with a wide range of impressions. Some find new friends; others meet the love of their lives or even find a new place to call home. Most people returning, don’t just bring souvenirs or foreign language skills home, but a fresh perspective on the world. In their own way, they are contributing to the successful ongoing development of Schwäbisch Hall’s flagship into a real global player. “Seeing the world and earning a living at the same time is a dream job!” There is no doubt in Michael Weber’s mind – he would do it all over again!