A gem among farming machinery manufacturers
The company Lemken in Alpen has a fascinating history and corporate culture woven by tradition, innovation and transparency: Lemken has been on the market for agricultural machinery for 230 years, a sixth and seventh generation family-owned business. Despite a regretful return home from a production relocation to Russia, the company is setting up new factories in India and China. But first and foremost Lemken is a company that has reinvented itself and which focuses on open communication and profit sharing internally.
Lemken is and remains a specialist for agriculture, i.e. for soil cultivation, sowing and pest management. For 230 years Lemken has been building ploughs that are robust, light and last long. Today they are accompanied by machines for stubble cultivation, seedbed preparation – i.e. harrows and cultivators – as well as seed drills for sowing. For decades the company has named the various bright blue models after precious stones: diamond, opal, emerald. Today Lemken produces over 14,000 machines a year and generated revenues of 340 million euros in 2012. Lemken has a market share of 40 percent for reversible ploughs and cultivators and is the leading manufacturer in Germany. In 2005 Lemken took over two prestigious companies in plant protection technology. A navigation system for a car is “low-tech” compared to modern field sprayers. The electronics in the field sprayers know which areas of the field have been done and automatically closes the nozzles when going over a section again.
Company founder Wilhelmus Lemken began in 1780 by building horse ploughs for the neighboring farms in a simple forge in Birten near Xanten. One of his descendants developed such an ingenious version of the reversible plough with a fixed fore-carriage that he was given a patent for his invention. In 1925 series production began and in 1936 the company settled in Alpen, where it had more room for further growth. In the 1990‘s Lemken departed from series production and focused instead on manufacturing its machines in group work owing to the increasing diversity of models and equipment. The market, especially in the new German states, required larger machines that could cater to increasingly particular requirements. That could not be achieved by stocking up on series produced machines. Nowadays, the company manufacturers according to customer orders.
The political revolutions in Eastern Europe in the 1990‘s lent further impetus to globalization. Lemken also got swept along and founded a new production site in 1994 in Kaliningrad, formerly Königsberg. After two and a half years the foreign adventure ended without success – but contacts with Russia remained good. The company in Alpen exported many parts to the former Eastern Bloc countries. Russia is the second-largest export market after France. If you visit the factory in the Lower Rhine region, all the company signs are in three languages: German, English and Russian.
Back at the main factory, Lemken didn’t just return to the way things were. Rather, it reinvented itself and turned the corporate culture on its head. Open communication with the staff is not typical for a family business, but Lemken does so with success. There are management boards hanging up all over the factory informing all the staff about how incoming orders, productivity and sales are developing. For ten years now, all the monthly figures have been published in complete transparency. Everyone knows what’s going on and takes on responsibility. A voluntary profit-sharing system also contributes to this. The staff can invest money or overtime in the company and after a year they get their investment with a healthy profit, depending on the business situation. More than 80 percent of the approx. 1,000 Lemken staff participate in the system.
Over 70 percent of the farming machines from Alpen are exported. In October Lemken opened a plough factory in India. Small tractors with a low HP are mostly used in Indian agriculture. The current Lemken ploughs would be much too heavy. Hence, in India small, light ploughs are built, like the ones that ware customary in Germany in the 1960‘s. The next step is a factory in China in order to meet the conditions for state subsidies for agriculture as a local producer.
But Alpen and the Lower Rhine remain the company’s main base even though it is internationally active with 23 foreign companies. Lemken is at home in the Niederrhein. The staff are the company’s most important resource. Many are the second or third generation of their family to work at Lemken. The key competencies are tempering steel and welding large components without thermal distortion. Lemken pays its staff according to their ability, not the number of years they have been at the company. Bonding parts instead of screwing them together was a quantum leap in agricultural engineering production. This technique not only makes the machines last longer, it also shields them from competition. “We will do everything in our power to makes sure Lemken remains just as stable and market-oriented in future as it is today. To this end, we place great value on innovative product portfolio management for generating profitable growth,” managing director Anthony van der Ley explains. “With sustainable agriculture, we want to make an important contribution to global food security and that’s why environment protection is an important aspect of our corporate philosophy.”
The factory has expanded several times over the years at its location, the surface area has multiplied, and now the municipality of Alpen has cleared the way for an additional extension. Lemken has just founded a branch in the USA too. The company proprietor Victor Lemken and his daughter Nicola are focusing on further expansion. The boom has continued uninterrupted for years. All round the world, everyone understands what Lemken means with “The AgroVision Company”.
Lemken GmbH & Co. KG
Weseler Straße 5
Tel. 02802 81-0
Fax 02802 81-220
As at: September 2013