HEINE - the world´s largest exporter of hand-held primary diagnostic instruments - is celebrating its 60th anniversary. An important milestone in the history of a company. Helmut M. and Oliver Heine provide insights into the exciting success story of a family-owned company in the third generation which puts emphasis on quality and family values.
Your father, Helmut Heine sen., was a physicist and scientist. How did he come to produce medical optical instruments?
Helmut M. Heine: During the Second World War, my father was involved in developing and building radar equipment. If he had wanted to continue doing this, he would have had to emigrate to the USA at the end of the war, since radar equipment could no longer be legally produced in Germany. However, for him emigration was out of the question. He was a father of two children aged three and six. This meant that he had to think of a solution of how he and his family could make ends meet. The answer came by chance in the form of "Uncle John", an American lieutenant. As a former teacher, "Uncle John" was responsible for the further training of the GIs stationed in Herrsching. My father helped him transport lathes, milling machines and other metal processing machines to Kientalstrasse 7 in Herrsching. My father also organized colleagues from his former team to teach the soldiers how to turn and mill. This is when my father faced the all-decisive question: What should we produce with these machines? The American administration had a ready answer: medical instruments! My father, who had already shown great interest in the subject of medicine during his physics studies, immediately realized that this was his chance for a new beginning. He researched which medical instruments would be suitable for manufacture with lathes and milling machines and decided to produce otoscopes, ophthalmoscopes, tongue depressors and similar instruments.
Has your father always been a leader?
Helmut M. Heine: Without a doubt. He was always a very charismatic and assertive man. Moreover, he always sought to be as independent as possible. It was for this reason that he did not hesitate to take the risk of founding his own company in these difficult times.
And how did his personality affect the character of the company?
Helmut M. Heine: It is a well-known fact that a strong leader shapes a company to a great extent. My father was a man who always considered science and technology as being more important than commercial interests. Values such as precision, quality and perfection were of great importance to him. He always strived for complete perfection in quality, operation and appearance. This went as far as having his signature engraved on every instrument during the first few years. It was his way of showing our customers that he personally stood behind the quality of every product!
This means that your father was involved in every production phase, from the conception and the design to the finished product. Was he a modern Allrounder?
Helmut M. Heine: Yes, you could say that. Back in those days, HEINE employed 12 people. My father was not only the boss, but also a modern leader. He perceived himself as a part of the whole HEINE team and was actively involved in the entire production process.
What motivated your father in these difficult times?
Helmut M. Heine: The ambitious goal to use his scientific background to design and build the best instruments on the market.
And what was the key to success?
Helmut M. Heine: It was the simple fact that his philosophy worked. His instruments were better than anything else on the market at the time. The message quickly spread in the medical world: "Buy HEINE instruments. They are the best!" This word-of-mouth advertising was the beginning of the success story.
How important is quality for you today and how would you define it?
Helmut M. Heine: In my opinion, quality is the complete trust in the operation, reliability and durability of a product as well as in the service that comes with it. These maxims are essential especially in the medical sector. Ultimately, the quality of the diagnosis depends on the quality of the diagnostic instrument!
Does this high standard of quality give you an edge over your competition?
Oliver Heine: If quality standards are the top priority of all areas of a company like they are in our company, then the answer is yes. This applies to research and development as well as design, production and service. For 60 years, we have been striving to find the best solutions and develop them further. Our end-users appreciate this and are prepared to make an additional investment to purchase a HEINE product. In the long run this investment pays itself in a lower "real" cost of ownership. That`s true value.
Such high quality standards result in very long product life-cycles. What are the reasons for the strong growth rate of your company?
Oliver Heine: There are two important aspects. On the one hand, we continually improve the new generations of our instruments, which translates to better performance, and also an incentive for our customers to invest in a new HEINE Instrument. Thus, we give the customer an incentive to replace old instruments. And we also invest heavily in the development of new products. During the last 60 years, HEINE has added to its range approx. 260 instruments with approx. 1,800 product components and combinations which are currently available in our product portfolio.
How important is good design for a medical instrument in your opinion?
Oliver Heine: The design of our diagnostic instruments during the first 40 to 45 years of our company was based primarily on the practical implementation of technology and function in the design of the instrument. This has only really changed in the last 15 years or so. Over the last ten years, a unique, attractive design has become more and more important in the purchase decision as an important product feature.
Now a completely different question. Why does HEINE continue to invest to such a great extent in its own production sites?
Oliver Heine: This is also related to our concept of quality. When my grandfather founded the company in 1946, there were hardly any manufacturers who were able to supply the parts we needed for our production. Moreover, we quickly realized that parts that we produced ourselves, exactly to our own specification ensure much higher overall product quality. Therefore, the obvious thing to do was to supply HEINE quality from just one source. Even now, we produce as many parts as possible ourselves.
Is this also a financial question?
Helmut M. Heine: Yes. Most companies are not able to afford such a high degree of vertical integration because they do not reinvest profits earned in their own company. For the last 60 years, HEINE has traditionally re-invested almost all of its profit back into the company, allowing us to continually increase the depth of our own manufacturing. And we have almost complete control over the quality of our products from A to Z.
And this high degree of vertical integration provides a large number of competitive advantages?
Helmut M. Heine: Precisely. It makes us a lot more efficient. And above all, faster. Regardless of whether new designs or product improvements - we can react quickly, make the necessary changes and implement them in the manufacturing process right away.
Why doesn`t HEINE follow the EU trend to switch to low-wage countries?
Oliver Heine: There are several good reasons for this. First of all, it is our top-most objective to sell quality products in a global market for a long time to come. We have been doing this very successfully from Germany for 60 years. And as a family-owned company in the third generation, we have strong ties to our location here in Herrsching. We are convinced that the quality of our company depends on the overall quality of our employees. Our company is characterized by loyal, very competent and, above all, very quality-conscious personnel. And we are constantly at work improving production processes and methods to balance our higher labor costs with gains in production efficiency.
How many people are employed by HEINE world-wide?
Helmut M. Heine: The HEINE Group employs a total of 550 people in sites located in Germany, Switzerland, USA, Canada, Australia and Scandinavia. We have approx. 440 employees in Germany, approx. 340 in Herrsching and approx. 100 at Zorn on Lake Constance. The remaining employees work for our affiliates abroad.
Many HEINE employees have been working in the company for over 20 years and a large number even over 40 years. What is the reason for this great loyalty?
Helmut M. Heine: The loyalty of our employees may be influenced by the fact that we are a family-owned company and that every HEINE employee is a part of the "HEINE family". From the start, my father was always very interested in "his" employees and my son Oliver and I continue this tradition. The fact that so many employees stay with us for such a long time means that they feel comfortable and that the working environment is right! We have a true family relationship, we respect every member of our "HEINE team" and always try to treat everyone fairly.
How important is the international market for you?
Oliver Heine: The international market is extremely important for us. Around 15 percent of HEINE´s turnover comes from Germany. The rest, i.e. approx. 85 percent of the turnover, comes from export markets.
And which role do your distribution partners play in this?
Oliver Heine: As our products are only available through our network of medical dealers, they play a very significant role. We have approx. 5,000 partners world-wide who supply our instruments to end-users. These specialized dealers in foreign markets, who may be supplied by importers, agents or our own branches, are very important.
5,000 trade partners - how do you ensure that they are competent representatives for HEINE products?
Oliver Heine: This is an important part of our business. We put a strong emphasis on training, training and more training. An effective Communication Program is essential, ensuring that our end-users are able to work with competent HEINE Partners who can support them with the most up to date information.
Looking at the figures, you would assume that HEINE instruments can be found in every country and every corner of the world.
Helmut M. Heine: This is true! Even in the Seychelles or in other remote places on this planet there is a good chance that you will be examined with a HEINE instrument if you need to see a physician there.
After 60 years - has anything remained unchanged at HEINE?
Oliver Heine: The basic philosophy has definitely remained the same since the start. Our goal was and still is uncompromising quality. Therefore, we will remain true to our belief that a high degree of vertical integration in the design and manufacturing of our product is the best way of staying in control of our own destiny. Moreover, it remains our philosophy to treat all people with whom we co-operate in a trustworthy, fair, honest and friendly manner. This lies at the heart of our corporate culture and is a key to creating the environment for success.
And what has changed over the last 60 years in your opinion?
Helmut M. Heine: From a global point of view alone, there have been enormous changes. Nowadays, we are facing new levels of plagiarism and very aggressive competition. The demands made on our products are much more complex, of course. Not only has HEINE reacted to this by restructuring the organization and production processes completely, but also by developing new products. And we have put a new focus on complimenting our excellent product quality with a corresponding marketing strategy and program.
What is your vision for the future?
Oliver Heine: Today, HEINE is an international market leader in the field of medical diagnostic instruments. Of course, we strive to continue along this road in the future, keeping the same structure as we have today: located in Germany as an independent family-owned company focused on quality. We have learned from experience that significant changes in ownership, especially if large companies take control of family-owned companies, destroy corporate culture. Therefore, our visions are "Independence" and "Quality". We´re hard at work every day to keep these two principles alive.
One final question: Could you tell us what you enjoy most after 20 years of working for HEINE?
Helmut M. Heine: For one, the fact that physicians and our distributors world-wide recognize and appreciate the quality of the HEINE brand. Sometimes, physicians who are visiting a trade fair pass our booth, shake hands with us and spontaneously thank HEINE for producing such excellent products.
On the other hand, it is always enjoyable to face the everyday challenges - together with our dedicated HEINE team.
And it is particularly satisfying that we have forged close relationships and friendships with our distribution partners over the years. The personal side is just as important as the actual business itself!