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The Vutz Era 1998 - 2020

From Andrew Wheeler's column, 'President's Corner' in the Spring 2021 issue of Conversions

In the previous 125 years of Windmoeller & Hoelscher, no “outsider” had ever risen to the level of CEO of the company.

Dr. Jürgen Vutz had the unenviable task of following the widely respected and revered Walter Steinbeck in the small town of Lengerich, where W&H was the biggest employer in the region, not an easy job!

Jürgen Vutz (r) with Peter Steinbeck (l) and Heidi Windmöller (m) in 1998 at the beginning of his career at W&H.

Jürgen had been recruited away from industry behemoth, Heidelberger Druckmaschinen, where he had worked in various roles since 1987, ending up as Production Director, overseeing a division with more people than W&H employed at the time. W&H was seen as a blue-chip private company, but was nevertheless mired in a competitively challenging industry, with 2,500 employees and revenues of approx. 250 million Euros ($300 Million).

Anyone who has ever met Jürgen would admit that he never shied away from a challenge. He and his wife, Sabine, agreed to move the family (young children Vicky and Julius) from the picturesque university town of Heidelberg to Münster, finding new schools and an opportunity for Sabine to continue her work as a therapist.

Jürgen and Andrew at Vicky Vutz' wedding in 2019 on the Dutch coast

W&H has always been a technology-driven company. From his very first day in Lengerich, Jürgen challenged his team to come up with new ideas. With a PhD in Engineering from the prestigious University of Aachen, Jürgen not only understood the concepts and challenges, but also commanded the respect of the design engineers.

While it was clear from the beginning that Jürgen was a “Treiber” (driver, mover, and shaker), I got to know him as someone insatiably curious, who greatly appreciated ideas and concepts across different markets. His fascination with the management and advancements in the automobile industry, in particular, were no doubt the inspiration for his many car analogies.

A serious, yet open-minded and inquisitive leader, Jürgen felt that innovation is a combination of the right idea, partnered with the right technology at the right time. As a result, he implemented the "lego" principle of modular, intelligent design, forging a new direction for the company. His mantra was "let's not engineer for engineering's sake".

As much as Jürgen loved the engineering and technical side of the business, he very much believed that innovative spirit and culture are the truly sustainable features of a successful company. The unprecedented growth during his time at W&H was in large part due to the talented and highly motivated team that he helped put together.

Heading into retirement ... it's always a good time to pick up golf

When visiting us in the U.S., the suit and tie would come off, and his sense of irony and humor would be added to the mix, cracking us up with stories of how one of his greatest fears was the thought of NOT passing his Ship’s Captain test, so that he would be “allowed” to drive a 20’ motorboat on the river near his house!

He loved how the North American market drove packaging concepts, appreciated German technology, and yet constantly pushed his team further. This extended to his family as well. Jürgen sent his daughter Viktoria to the States multiple times to get international experience that she would eventually use as an elementary school English teacher.

Jürgen’s son, Julius, came to the U.S. as an exchange student in high school, and then returned to do an internship here at W&H in Rhode Island before starting college. Having developed a love for and curiosity of international business from his time here, Julius came back and just completed his Masters and PhD in Economics from Princeton University.

Under Jürgen’s leadership, along with co-managing director (now CEO) Peter Steinbeck, CTO Falco Paepenmueller and CFO Martin Schulteis, W&H has quadrupled in size, hitting the $1 Billion mark in 2020 revenues, while only having increased personnel by 30% to 3,500 people. W&H is truly a worldwide force in our industry, represented in over 90 countries. Jürgen’s influence will be felt for decades and we will all miss him!