In the United States, we know the company as BIG Kaiser Precision Tooling Inc., of Elk Grove Village, Illinois. Its roots, however, reach back to Heinz Kaiser AG, founded 60 years ago in Zurich, Switzerland, by Heinz Kaiser. I was fortunate to be invited to the 60th anniversary observance in Rümlang, the Zurich suburb where company headquarters have been located since 1960. Although this event focused on commemoration and celebration, it did offer the careful observer an instructive case history on how a company manages to grow, prosper and position itself for a secure future.
Here are some of the right steps Kaiser has taken along the way:
• Even as a one-man operation in 1948, Heinz Kaiser was pursuing a “passion for precision.” The company has been defined and driven by this pursuit ever since.
• By solving a problem (the lack of good boring tools for its own machining operations), the company hit upon a product line that met an industry need.
• Marketing and product promotion were recognized early as key to customer acceptance. The company continually sought new markets but has been careful not to expand too rapidly.
• A program of continual product development and redesign was established at the start.
• Caring for employees in an extraordinary way has been a priority from the beginning. In its hometown, the company provided housing assistance and other benefit programs, even in its early years. It takes social responsibility seriously.
• The company has kept its own production facilities up to date by embracing new technology and re-investing heavily. Kaiser has not been afraid to be an early adopter of new processes and techniques. Even today, its equipment
includes several “first of its type” machines.
• The company began thinking and acting globally before many other companies did the same. In addition to setting up international sales channels, it formed alliances with like-minded manufacturers in other countries and overseas. Most notable is its partnership with BIG Daishowa Seiki of Japan, which now owns BIG Kaiser as its U.S. sales channel.
• Patents were obtained, but licensing agreements have allowed the company to share technology. The company has never neglected protection of its intellectual property rights.
• The company learned to adjust to local markets and accommodate their special needs. The company’s comprehensive inch-based product lines are a prime example.
• Kaiser has remained family owned and operated, but it brings in a balanced perspective on strategic decision making by working with a knowledgeable, engaged and objective board of directors. The transition to second-generation ownership and management was conducted smoothly and equitably.
• Employee training gets attention. The company’s apprenticeship program has been maintained for more than 50 years.
• The global nature of its business notwithstanding, Kaiser maintains its Swiss identity and respects its cultural roots. It supports local cultural activities and events.
As a company, Kaiser seems to have a unique “personality,” but many other successful supplier and end-user companies in metalworking are a lot like this one. That’s one thing that makes it good to be a part of this industry.
Examining the “habits” that characterize a successful business is a helpful exercise. Companies that are 10, 20 or 30 years old can look at Kaiser and see what they might do differently to emulate its longevity. If nothing else, they can take heart that a company at 60 years can be this youthfully energetic, yet wise in its business style.