World War II from 1939 to 1945 was a global war that spelt widespread devastation. A war that lasted six years, involved over a 100 million people in 30 countries with use of nuclear warfare resulting in over 50 million casualties.
It was, by far the deadliest war in the history of mankind. In the aftermath of World War II, sometime in 1952, on the streets of Dusseldorf in a war torn Germany, a poor young boy, barely into his teens, stood on the road side watching children going to school, barefoot! While his father was trying to show him historical monuments in the city, this boy was instead more interested to see the factory workers enter their workplaces. Pensive in his thoughts, he was wondering that while the children like he himself, got to eat just one meal a day and the workers he was watching, slogged hard in the factories, the owners of these factories were rich men with elaborate lifestyles. They drove big cars and wore expensive clothes.
Even though life was extremely difficult in those trying times, this poor destitute boy silently wished and resolutely committed to his destiny that one day soon in the future he will become the owner of a big factory. That defining moment in his life and the adversities of life post World War II taught this poor boy that all his life he has to be careful with money and save it. With passing years it dawned on him to be firm and not solve problems with just the use of money but to solve them with innovative ideas. That poor young boy standing on the roadside and dreaming of a prosperous future was none other than Helmut Schreiner, the mentor and owner of 130 million Euro, Schreiner Group.
Theodore Schreiner was a prisoner of war in Russia while his family suffered in Germany during the war. His son Helmut was born in 1939 at the start of World War II, and had an initial childhood wrapped in difficulties of the times prevailing then.
At the end of the war, Theodore returned home tired, shattered and with health problems. There was no money or work and he did not know what to do to survive and support his family in such distressing times. While in army, Theodore worked as an engineer for “reference and logistics”. The technical knowledge and capabilities was his only wealth at that time and it implored him to explore possibilities into manufacturing something.
A close friend, who was an engraver, suggested a business to him and said, “I make the plates, and you make the labels and sell”. These words made sense to Theodore. Poverty and hardship had even made him to consider leaving everything, including his homeland and immigrate elsewhere in search for a better future for himself and his family.
However in 1951, his technical abilities lead him to initiate his startup venture named after his wife Margarete, “Margarete Schreiner-Spezialfabrik fur gepragte Siegelmarken und Etiketten” to produce embossed labels in a 45 square meter garage, which was their first factory. His 12 year old son Helmut was the only help that he had at that time. Both father and son duo actually carried stones to the garage to lay the flooring of their first factory.
Just one year down, Theodore bought his first 3 inch single colour flatbed label press. With Helmut as an apprentice, they started to print wet glue labels for stockings, bread, garments, etc. That was thebeginning.
As is always the case in a maiden start-up venture, the initial years were the most difficult and memorable ones. Memorable because one looks back and learns from the experience of having tackled distressing situations. There was not enough money, space and orders. Whenever an order came by, it had to be managed from the existing capabilities.
A four colour job had to be done in four passes through the same press. The wet labels had to be laid carefully in card board boxes to dry. They worked hard to make both ends meet, Helmut’s sister also pitched in to help in the manufacturing. Helmut reminisces about the difficulties like pulling a handcart himself for 20 kms for either bringing the paper in or for delivering the parcels to the postoffice for dispatch to customers.
In 1955 the Schreiners bought their second 6 inch two colour press and started to make their own special printing plates by doing the etching process in their bathroom. They would also undertake dying and colouring the fabric garment tags for their customers in their kitchen. The family made tremendous compromises in the initial years of their struggle for survival. The space was so short that Helmut would spread his bed each night on the kitchen floor and fold it in the morning to commence another days cooking and production work. Every young child also needs schooling and education to be able to face up to the challenges and diversities of modern day life. Helmut Schreiner had become a boy scout and one day while interacting with friends he realized that he was not educated. He was so motivated that he started reading on his own and in due course of time he adjusted his time such that he would work during the day and attend school in the evening. He got so engrossed in acquiring knowledge that books and cassettes became his regular and immediate companions.
On another front, his heritage coming from a parent with engineering background inspired him to start working one day every week as a printer apprentice with a printing company without any remuneration. He was a quick learner and was judged the best in his class. However still, Helmut maintains that most of his learning came from his mentor and father Theodore Schreiner. His father taught him how to manage and reach goals.
As Helmut progressed towards the end of his teens, he became restless and ambitious yearning for growth into wider avenues. Towards the end of 50’s in 1958 a USA based company approached them with a 50 meter sample roll for pressure sensitive labels.
Theodore Schreiner was not interested in the product but young Helmut saw the new opportunities and wished to move ahead to take up the challenge. With some modifications he could print and produce both wet glue and pressure sensitive adhesive labels with sprocket holes on his flat bed press. It was an invention at that time. This was a game changing moment for them. Helmut could also improve the speed of his press to drive in larger profits. It was their first big moment! Out of teens, the ambitious young man, 20 year old Helmut aspired to sharpen his skills, in 1960 he left the active work in the company and for six years he went to study printing technology and economics.
To fund his endeavors he would work on week-ends in a big offset printing company. This way he was acquiring theoretical knowledge as well as practical experience. After completing his studies he joined yet another large offset printing company printing maps and brochures on big format printing machines like Roland and Heidelberg. Helmut was leaving no stone unturned to acquire knowledge and art of printing. Meanwhile in 1961 his father’s company name was changed to, “Etiketten Schreiner-Spezialfabrik fur Haft, Präge-und Anhänge-Etiketten” (meaning special factory for embossed labels and tags). The small 45 square meter garage and further rooms in the house was falling too short in space for them even to move within. So in 1965 they rented a bigger place measuring 400 square meters. A move from just 100 square meters to 400 square meters was a dramatic move for those times!
In 1970 Helmut was trained and competent to take up responsibilities in his father’s company which by that time had reached a sales turnover of 600.000 DM an equivalent of 300.000 Euros. He rejoined business and 4 years later by 1974 Helmut Schreiner was in the driving seat. The name of the company was this time changed to “Etiketten Schreiner”. In these four years Helmut Schreiner had steered the company to a turnover of 2.50 Million DM or 1.25 Million Euros.
Thereafter there has been no looking back. In 1986, as the company grew into the self-adhesive or pressure sensitive label production, the name was again changed to “Etiketten Schreiner und Selbstklebetechnik”. The company’s sales had started doubling up every five years to reach a figure of 130 million Euros now. Restructuring the growth and providing the right impetus to newly segregated growth areas the company was registered in 2002 as “Schreiner Group GmbH & Co.KG subdivided into the following;
1. Schreiner Protech
2. Schreiner Medipharm
3. Schreiner ProSecure
4. Schreiner LogiData
5. Schreiner Variolight
6. Schreiner Etiketten und Selbstklebetechnik
The Group now operates out of a total workspace of 60,000 square meters with over 800 employees. A walk through the Schreiner manufacturing facility is an experience and an eye opener. One witnesses the extent of passion this company has in their products and innovation. The company exports 60 % of their turnover and have a backup unit in the State of New York with 50 employees. 55% of the total group turnover comes from Medipharm catering to medical applications, 35% from Protech catering to automotive and technical fields and 10% from Printrust catering to security applications.
Prosecure is a sensitive data & Technology maintenance and competence centre, in simpler terms it is the R&D centre. LogiData is the R&D centre for RFID. Helmut Schreiner seems to have lost count of the number of printing equipments in his company, “maybe 70 or more he shrugs” The company has presses of various makes in specialized departments spread over the vast production areas in five multistoried buildings.
Diverse printing technologies like flexo, offset, rotary screen, flat screen, etc. and custom converting processes are employed to produce innovative and state of art label products some of which are patented. Most of the leading brands in label presses and custom converting equipments are obvious by their presence at Schreiner manufacturing facilities.
During my visit many production areas had been cordoned off even for general company employees for reasons of high security printing jobs for specific customers. The entire unit is under surveillance and monitored by CCTV cameras. Sensitive production areas are fully sanitized due to medical requirements. The finishing department has the best inspection system a large presence of the NIKKA defect detection systems is quite visible. Extreme care is taken right up to final packaging.
Each roll of labels produced after inspection is shrink packed in strong corrugated carton and multiples of these cartons go into master cartons with special paper based cushioning being produced in the cushioning machines in their packing department. Every package is labeled, bar-coded and entered into a computer which provides information to various courier companies and transport companies on the packages ready for shipment. I was really impressed by the huge 1050 square meter computerized and fully automated raw material warehouse which is 14.3 meters high, has three levels for storage and three lanes.
The warehouse can store 3624 pallets and can automatically deposit and retrieve reels or pallets of material on computer generated commands. As for innovations in labels; whether it was the labels with built in hang tags for intravenous drug delivery applications or the labels for disposable syringes with a device inbuilt to dispose off the needle safely so that it does not accidentally scratch anyone causing spread of infection. The uniqueness of their products is amazing.
When I asked Helmut Schreiner about the new label technologies impacting PS labels, his reply was, “All technologies will coexist. The customer today is very knowledgeable and knows about the increasing number of options available. Labels are a necessary decoration for any product, innovation is the need of the hour. For example one can design a label such that if you touch a label, it plays music.”
He adds, “I am a fan of innovation. If everyone sells tomatoes, I would like to sell peaches!” Adding a word of caution, “Printing directly on products is dangerous, it reduces cost and could decrease the demand of labels”. Helmut believes his company has to respond to customer needs and innovate to deliver good performing labels whether it is for security, pharmaceuticals or other applications. His opinion on digital printing is that it is a fantastic technology along with laser die-cutting and once it evolves to perfection it will change the printer’s life. One could not imagine reading a newspaper digitally on the phone! On RFID, he feels it is a wonderful technology but on the business side it is not very lucrative. It changes too fast.
Helmut’s wife Ulrike has been by his side as a solid support ever since their marriage in 1966. She still contributes in the business by supporting in the human resources development
in this way she is the “soul” of the family business.
They have two children, son Roland and daughter Carina who is married and is a coach, mentor and motivator for young people. She is a qualified economist and psychologist.
Helmut Schreiner is now 73 years old and believes in the capabilities of the next generation. In September 2012, he had already handed over the reigns of the Schreiner Group to his only son 43 year old son Roland.
Roland completed his studies in printing technology, finance and management before proceeding to USA. While in America, Roland worked in two different label companies for two years before returning home in 2000 to join his father. When I asked Helmut where he sees the Group five years from now, he feels that it is not the size that really matters. It is important for this enterprise to be healthy and consistently deliver to the customers what is needed. Roland wanted to lead the company on his own and Helmut has given that opportunity to his next generation and it is now for him to find the right direction. He feels he has an excellent advisory board.
Having more time on his hands, Helmut founded a new company “Schreiner Innovation GmbH & Co. KG”. Here he is interested in developing partnerships with other companies as well as dealing real estate. He is also now devoting a substantial part of his time to social activities and charities. He lives his philosophy, to be honest and true to himself and to his people and this has evolved from personal experiences in his life. His philosophy for his company and his people has been clear and value oriented. The values were innovation, quality, performance and joy! This clear positioning was always the bases for his personal happiness and business success.
Published with the permission of Narrow Web Tech magazine