A True, Global Swabian

Swabians are often considered “the Scots of Germany.” The residents of Baden-Württemberg have quite a reputation in the rest of the country, and let’s just say it’s not an altogether positive one.

Swabians are often considered “the Scots of Germany.” The residents of Baden-Württemberg have quite a reputation in the rest of the country, and let’s just say it’s not an altogether positive one. They are accused of being thrifty and miserly; however, they are also seen as tidy, hardworking and inventive.

The latter is certainly true of Lothar Horn, managing director of Hartmetall-Werkzeugfabrik Paul Horn in Tübingen, Germany. Mr. Horn is a very open, positive and generous man— judging from the many events and trade shows where I had the honor to meet him and his family—and has grown his father’s company into what is today a world leader in the production of grooving, turning and slot-milling tools used by automotive, general engineering, aerospace, hydraulics/pneumatics, jewelry and medical equipment manufacturers around the world.

Celebrating his 60th birthday last year, the man who employs more than 1,400 people worldwide, generating a turnover of around 270 million euros, says he has not always wanted to join the family business, which was founded by his father, Paul Horn, in 1969 as Paul Horn Einstechtechnik in Waiblingen.

“When I was young, joining my father’s company was never my plan in the first place,” Mr. Horn says. “Thus, when my parents decided to move from Waiblingen to Tübingen in 1974, I stayed in Waiblingen. I wanted to get some working experience first. Finally, in 1989, we talked about me joining the company, which I did in 1991. My parents were already past their retirement age at the time, but I am grateful that I had the chance to develop myself and my skills, while at the same time being guided by my parents.

“When I joined the company in sales and production, my father said it would certainly take 10 years to grow into the position of general manager, to gain the necessary experience. But I was working hard, up to 16 hours per day, which I said was a very easy calculation: If you divide my daily work hours by a normal eight-hour work day, then those 10 years are reduced to five; and I became managing director of Paul Horn GmbH in 1995.”

That was no joke, Mr. Horn says with a smile, and judging by his achievements it is easy to believe he really is a hard-working man. And the facts prove him right: When he took over the company in 1995, it was generating around 14 million euros with 200 employees in Tübingen. Today, the company employs more than 900 people in Tübingen, generating 170 million euros.

Mr. Horn has grown a once local Swabian company into a world leader in its field, with production sites in the U.S., Italy, U.K. and the Czech Republic. But the company remains committed to its base and production site in Germany and is continually investing in its headquarters. Here, the company produces green carbide blanks and wear parts.

At the end of 2016, Paul Horn moved into two new buildings for production and administration, yet again doubling its capacity. “We are investing in our future,” Mr. Horn says. “It will be especially beneficial for our customers, as we continue to focus on speed of response to orders, top quality and precision.”

Covering an area of 3,500 m² across six floors, the new administration building houses not only offices, but also seminar rooms for customer training and internal training facilities for Horn employees. Completed and occupied last summer, the two-story structure is now the largest industrial building in Tübingen. “We are planning tangible growth over the next few years,” Mr. Horn says. The new production building is dedicated to the manufacture of toolholders and houses the tool-coating department and logistics. Automated guided vehicle systems are to be introduced this year to transport materials, production orders and tools around the site. This is a sign of a gradual move toward Industry 4.0.

Education has become a special focus for Horn. For this reason, Horn Academy has been founded as a separate department within the company. It has five pillars: apprenticeships, further training, academic studies, occupational retraining and customer seminars.

As for the future, Mr. Horn remains optimistic. He plans to double the company’s turnover with the same amount of employees, which he says has been the plan since he joined the company. He has not yet realized this objective, but you have to aim high to achieve your goals.