“I say hello and you say good bye”. “It could be the title to a song if it weren’t already”, Her Majesty’s Ambassador joked as he breezed past me leaving the Embassy as I was arriving.
Who had not arrived yet was the speaker of last night’s lecture, Dr Andreas Ludwig, Executive Chairman of the Umdasch Group AG. A mild panic was visibly welling up in our President Prof Dr Kurt Tiroch who saw himself already holding the lecture instead. Memories came alive when Dr Ludwig was prevented from giving a presentation to us some years ago because he was stranded at the airport in New York due to a severe snowstorm but he was able to arrange for a substitute speaker. It soon became crystal clear that this was not happening this time.
The thundering and parket floor-denting crash of the boulder falling of the presidential heart was almost audible and the relief quite visible when precisely at 6.16 pm Dr Ludwig entered the reception room.
Somehow Amstetten does not have the same sexy ring like Wolfsburg or Detroit to be the centre of a very major global player in the construction industry. Still a privately owned family business without shareholders and virtually debt free the Umdasch Group with nearly 9,000 employees, operates in more than 70 countries on 5 continents. Under the umbrella of the holding there are 3 companies: Formwork of Doka and Shop Fittings. The third company, Umdasch Group Ventures, is looking for disruptive innovations – in construction sector but also in the field of commerce.
An innovation in itself does not significantly affect existing markets but in business theory a disruptive innovation is an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market leading firms, products and alliances. The term was defined and first analysed by the American scholar Clayton M Christensen and his collaborators beginning in 1995 and has been called the most influential business idea of the early 21st century. An example in history of a disruptive innovation is the low-priced, affordable Ford Model T, which displaced horse drawn carriages.
With 88% export share, the Austrian family business invests all over the world, operates investments in politically and economically relatively secure but also extremely unsafe markets. They are constantly entering new markets in order to exploit new business opportunities.
The Umdasch Group has also developed a strong market position in the UK and especially in London. But how does the company see as a foreign investor its business future in the UK after the Brexit? It is re-assuring that in Britain Umdasch faces no competition apart from a single German competitor. This means that even when Brexit forces price increases onto the Austrian company this remains without consequences due to the lack of domestic competition. “We are upbeat” declares Dr Ludwig “because we are continuing to do well in the UK.” “What I want to convey today is Infrastructure. Not only has the UK but the World in general has a significant problem with underinvestment in the infrastructure” he continued. We will have to build housing for one and a half billion people over the next 25 years, not because of population growth but because according to a study people are increasingly moving into cities. The traditional way to create housing is inadequate due to lack of space, the only solution being to build upwards.
“For me Growth is not a target but the best way to measure your competitiveness. If you can’t, I think your business will die. Yes, we want to grow because we think we are very competitive!” so Dr Ludwig.
To learn how successful Austrian companies really are entitles us to be justifiably proud. Proud also because the Storemakers Division completed the most prestigious and exciting project in London: Harrod’s Store. So, if in London, have a look at it and remember it had all been made by an Austrian company.
The very informed questions put by our members, as always expertly moderated by our President Prof Dr Kurt Tiroch, were patiently answered in detail by Dr Ludwig. What followed was an excellent flying buffet and a variety of beautiful drinks.