1970 - 2020
From contract manufacturer to supplier of hydraulic components and systems for customers in every industrial area - all over the world. This is the success story of HKS Dreh-Antriebe GmbH®!
CEO Günter Höhn remembers:
I entered my father’s office in Frankfurt am Main, the place where he’d worked for many years: ancient equipment, everything was dark, black and low to the floor, with old, oil-burning stoves and an outhouse. The electric power connections lay exposed on the floor and there were often flying sparks and loud zaps. The situation and working conditions I found there were absolutely obsolete.
That was in October 1970, two months after I had completed my apprenticeship as a machinist. I was 18 years old and was supposed to start working there. My father, who also apprenticed as a machinist, bought the Ossmer und Manns company which, since the end of war, had developed into an outstanding contract manufacturer of gears. So I was looking at the premises of my father’s company, where he had already been working for years as a machinist. At the time, my mother and I had no idea how long he had already been planning to buy the company.
After the company went into a steep decline, of the thirty former employees only my father and another journeyman remained, manufacturing gears in these dark, damp rooms at the rear of a property, an antiquated carriage house located at Ziegelhüttenweg 5 in the Sachsenhausen section of the city. For me, it was a career change from the modern day back into the ancient past.
Out front, right at the edge of the street, was a traditional, rustic Frankfurt tavern, an apple wine bar, or “Äppelwoikneipe” called “Kutscherhof.” A hardware store and residential complex are located there now. But at the time, next to the tavern was a ten meter long driveway to the rear courtyard where horses were changed years ago -- that’s why the tavern was called “Kutscherhof,” or carriage house. The company’s working premises located there formed the nucleus of my company today, HKS. As the company director, my father was embarrassed when customers came to his location at that time.
Back then, customers and suppliers were still able to look for and actually find each other even though they had absolutely no internet, yellow pages, or even a telephone.
Starting in October 1970 I worked for him as a journeyman machinist, leaving a very advanced machine shop for that time to go back to the Stone Age. I wasn’t at all familiar with the obsolete, very disparate working methods my father used and the working conditions were, for me, a catastrophe. His idea and my idea of quality were worlds apart.
Out of the blue, our landlord terminated the lease to the company’s operating premises in July 1972. They had relatively heated discussions about it because my father didn’t simply accept the termination:
“I have a rental contract here. You can’t just do this!”
The existence of his company was at stake, but the landlord didn’t back down; he was under a great deal of pressure because he was under obligation to someone to tear down the building on a certain schedule. But my father didn’t allow himself to be evicted so easily and put a metaphorical knife to the landlord’s chest:
“Without compensation, I’m not leaving!”
And again he demonstrated his fighting spirit: He got 25,000 marks out of that old man. That was really a lot of money back then and it was the starting capital for building his own company in Aufenau. We had to have our company premises in Kutscherhof cleaned out by the end of March 1973. Time was short.
My father ordered our own first company building, ten by twenty meters in size, to be built by Seeber and Co., a steel fabrication company in Frankfurt and a customer of ours, saying:
“10 x 20 meters has to be big enough! I don’t want it any bigger. A small bathroom, a small office, a small meeting room, and 140 square meters of production space.”
In 1973, with our own first company building in Aufenau and the first employee, the cornerstone was laid and the start made for that which the small company in Kutscherhof has become today. The fact that my father moved the company’s headquarters to Aufenau encouraged me in two ways because this is also where my roots are.
After we moved from Frankfurt am Main to Aufenau in 1973, I delivered the completed orders, just as I had during the previous three years, to our customers in the greater Frankfurt region.
At that time it felt like Aufenau was located at the end of the earth: today’s freeway connection to the A66 had not yet been built; Aufenau was only accessible by a main federal road. None of our customers wanted to take a trip to our premises in the country after our move:
“That’s too far; you have to come to us instead.”
I took our station wagon to visit our customers in Frankfurt several times a week; I put the back seat down and placed a wood platform covered with a sheet on it so that I could transport our goods. I did this for more than a decade.
I picked up turned parts from our customers and we put them together in Aufenau as interlocking gears. I returned the finished goods across an area that included the greater Frankfurt am Main to Mainz region, down to Offenbach, Maintal, Darmstadt, Pfungstadt, and Groß-Gerau. That was the extent to which our customer base reached at that time.
But my father simply understood that his job was to sell himself and what he could do. He benefited from the previous owner’s customer base and continued the cooperation, naturally with a certain amount of fluctuation. Some customers left, but then we just added new ones. We looked for and found each other.
Today I display our oldest machine, with which my father worked until his last day, in our company’s entrance area. It still works and it actually belongs in the Deutsches Museum. We produced gears at watchmaker scale on this machine. But my father was a true magician: With the most primitive means he did high quality work. Without his unbelievable knowledge and ability, together with his unceasing toil we wouldn’t have been able to develop as a company at the beginning; that was the cornerstone.
My father was a true virtuoso, and maybe that is what drove him to establish his own company. Because he knew what he was able to do, that was why he had great trust in the services he provided.
But I did not want to lead the company into the future using my father’s way of working. I was ready for something new, to take a leap forward independent of my father. My interest in business was piqued.
For more company history, see our milestones.