Restructure makes Buhler even more responsive to customers

by Teresa Acklin
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   In January 1992, Buhler Ltd., Uzwil, Switzerland, introduced a new corporate structure, creating groups based on its three customer segments: food, non-food and die casting.

   The food group is divided into five business units, the largest of which is the Milling Division. Hans-Jakob Schoch, who last year succeeded Ernst Schefer as head of the Milling Division, is responsible for Buhler's activities in building and equipping flour and durum mills and erecting installations for the production of bread and pastry, biscuits and cookies, ready-mixes and food bran and germ.

   Mr. Schoch recently discussed Buhler's reorganization and the Milling Division's worldwide activities with World Grain. The interview with Mr. Schoch follows:

   WG: After a year of restructured organization, how do you view the results? What were the reasons for the changes, and how have they been implemented?

   Mr. Schoch: The company has developed over its 130 years from a foundry into an engineering company of substantial size working in diverse fields. The division of the company into the three groups — food, non-food and die casting — has resulted in bringing together into each group activities from similar fields. Consequently, decision-making in these smaller groups is much faster, and there is a better exchange of experience and know-how. The implementation of these changes required a leaner management structure and the handing over of more decision-making power to the people actually doing the work. As a result, these changes have made our company more flexible and adaptable to market developments.

   WG: How does the restructuring affect the position of Buhler in serving the flour milling industry?

   Mr. Schoch: The shorter lines of communication within the company have made us more alert to customer requirements. At the same time, the results of our extensive R & D work as well as experiences made elsewhere will be more quickly transmitted to and from our representatives in the field. We feel that this will be of benefit to both our customers and to us.

   WG: Please elaborate on Buhler's corporate principle of being “faster, better, more economic'' in regard to the flour milling industry.

   Mr. Schoch: Faster, better and more economic means more efficient, and this we are. We have technical experts in the field whose advice and service is beneficial to the customer. Moreover, they provide us with a true assessment of the customer's needs. Of course, we aim at the same time for an efficient support organization at our head office. It is and will be our strength to have highly qualified technical representatives throughout the world whom we continuously update on the latest know-how. In addition, we have built and will continue to build subsidiaries and manufacturing bases in all the major markets. This will guarantee quality standards and speed of response.

   WG: What direction do you see the flour milling business unit taking in 1993?

   Mr. Schoch: Flour milling supplies basic food worldwide. Because of this, milling is not hit severely by recession nor does it experience real booms. Therefore, I foresee a steady development in 1993, maybe with some geographical focal points because of possible political changes. This means that our activities will also increase steadily. Additionally, we have some new interesting developments that will have a positive influence on our business. We are strengthening our R & D work to ensure progress.

   WG: Has being head of the flour milling unit affected your role in the company? What impact has it had on your perception of the global milling business?

   Mr. Schoch: Before taking up my present position, I was in charge of the British market, which is, from the technical point of view, one of the most advanced. However, the actual requirements of the milling industry differ considerably depending on the local flour market, regulations, labor costs, quality control, etc., which influence plant technology and equipment selection. Moreover, the lack of population growth in developed countries will result in limited business opportunities for new mills compared with what can be expected in rapidly growing developing countries.

   WG: What changes do you see taking place in the worldwide flour milling industry?

   Mr. Schoch: Not too long ago, flour milling was a family business; it still is in many countries. During the past few years, a number of large flour milling groups have been formed, which have expanded internationally. I feel that this tendency will continue in the future.

   In the developed countries, consumers demand many different products, which will, in turn, require a corresponding variety of flours from the milling industry. At the same time, the needs for quality control, sanitation, etc., will increase even further. All of these developments bear challenges for many flour millers.

   In my opinion, there will be an increase in the production of wheat flour because of the changes in eating habits in Eastern countries. Ample supplies produced by wheat farmers will maintain prices for wheat products at reasonable levels. This also will open new market opportunities.

   WG: What areas of the world do you see Buhler's milling unit focusing on in the near future?

   Mr. Schoch: It is not our business strategy to focus on individual areas where a lot of activity is expected in the short term. Our business is based on long-term relationships with customers and continuous service through local representatives, even if the major new business activity is temporarily centered elsewhere.

   At present, there is considerable activity in some of the Asian countries. Increased demand for more of the sophisticated products such as cake flours, cookies, pasta, etc., has resulted in important investments in Europe, America and Japan. All these developments are of interest to our company as our R & D work covers development of milling technologies that can produce flours for all these products.