Albert Schenk – an interview with LIFTjournal
2019 has been a special year for him: Osma celebrated its 100th anniversary and he himself his 70th. Albert Schenk talked about private and personal milestones and challenges in an interview with LIFTjournal.
You studied mechanical engineering and business economics, completed an apprenticeship as machine fitter, further training as photographer, printer and EDP expert – how did you manage it all?
Schenk: Twelve-hour days were no exception for me, even later. But I loved my work and do so to this day! Sometimes I ended up without enough sleep, but it was a beautiful time and I’ve still turned 70 …
You took over the company relatively young – at 40 – but had already worked at Osma before as an apprentice, but later also as a student. What was working with your father like? What kind of man was he?
Schenk: My father was a hard-working, but not a passionate, managing director. He was an officer, came back from the war and built up the company with a great deal of hard work. But the passion came more from me later. And of course he had a different management style. The workforce had to finish working on what they had been told to do. For me, that was a waste of human expertise. As I saw it, committed, motivated employees should contribute their own ideas and also be able to take a critical look at the processes in a company. However, my father did not approve of all of my ideas. Today it’s almost an anecdote that my father resisted buying a fax machine for years. Then I bought it in secret and hid it in a hall. But he didn’t resist some ideas. A good example of this is professional marketing, which I introduced back then at Osma.
Apart from technology – marketing – and photography in particular – became a kind of passion for you…
Schenk: You’re right – at heart, I’m a technician, a technical manager and hold a few patents. But I’m also very design-oriented. At the beginning, I used to drive through the whole of Germany taking photos of a lot of Osma lifts. Today we have a photo archive with 300,000 photos, in private it’s over 350,000. These were not only the basis for pamphlets, brochures and picture books – the VDMA also uses my entire photo archive. Lift design is also very close to my heart. That’s why I’m naturally very proud that we won the renowned ‘red dot design award’ for car design – incidentally for a lift in a Berlin artists’ hotel.
You mentioned that you have been chairman of the Trade Association "Lifts and escalators" in VDMA since 2005. How much does the industry mean to you?
Schenk: We’re a real lift family in VDMA, they’re my friends. But I also want to actively influence the trade association as chairman. At the same time, I’ve always tried to integrate, maintain networks and contacts and bring people together. But I’ve decided not to run again in 2021 in order to give a younger generation with new ideas the space it deserves. But it’s not going to be easy for me …
You spoke about your passion for lift technology. So what were special milestones at Osma for you?
Schenk: Technology was and is something dear to my heart. Milestones were for example the introduction of the automatic population machines in electronic pcb production, development of the thyristor controller launched in 1983 or the electronic door controller ‘Portonik 2000’, which I had a share in developing. Our drive concept ‘Futura 3000’ was of course a highlight. Back then, KONE had launched the first lift without machine room and secured a patent for it. None of us had an answer to this. Then I got the idea of building a belt lift – we installed the motor above the door impost and this area was then the gap we had been looking for in the KONE patent. Incidentally, KONE’s boss at that time then congratulated me on my invention.
Your son has been a member of the company management for ten years. He is now responsible for day-to-day management. But you’re still managing partner – how does that work?
Schenk: I’ve been in the industry since 1967, one of the old hands and I’ve been a doer all my life. That’s why it’s been difficult for me to give up the overall company management. It was a great help to us in the transition that we’re very honest towards each other and cooperate closely. But that is also precisely the art of getting older – where do I get involved and where do I let go? But I know that I’m part of the old generation and that fresh new ideas need to get their chance if Osma is to remain competitive. I’ve often enough observed how seniors have slowed down or even blocked new developments. I want to spare my son and myself that.