Peter Müller - clear road ahead into the new phase of his life
Co-owner, Board member and former CEO of Müller Group, Peter Müller (PM), will retire at the end of March 2021. He has decided and moved a great deal for Müller Group over the past 39 years. But anyone who knows him knows that, as a team player, he does not want to let this stand.
PM: We, by that I mean my colleagues on the Board of Directors and members of the Executive Board, the management staff and all employees in production and administration, have achieved a great deal together as a team, and have come through ups and downs. And with a good portion of confidence, sometimes also a lucky hand for the right decisions, forward-looking planning and daily diligence, we have continuously and successfully advanced the Müller Group.
As a contemporary document, the book "The Müller Group. From a plumbing company to an industrial enterprise" was published. Among other things, it outlines the career of co-owner Peter Müller within the Müller Group. In 1982, he joined Müller Plastics (then Plastomatic) as Sales Manager, then took over as Managing Director. In 1999 he became CFO of the entire Group, and in 2006 Delegate of the Board of Directors and CEO of the Müller Group. He handed over the CEO post to Christian Reinau in 2019. Since 1997, he has also been a member of the Board of Directors - in addition to his operational functions.
Mr. Müller, which of these functions have you enjoyed most? In which one have you been able to make the most difference?
PM: I have enjoyed performing every function. It is the variety of tasks that makes me look back on my work with great satisfaction. I particularly appreciated the contacts with all employees and management colleagues. I have therefore also systematically cultivated interpersonal relationships. In all functions, I have tried to set a good example and have a positive attitude. From a technical point of view, I am associated with plastics processing; ultimately, I spent 17 years of my Müller years at Müller Plastics. As Sales Manager of Müller Plastics, I realized that an important part of a customer relationship is listening to the customer and showing respect. I have upheld this customer-centricity in all my subsequent tasks. As a person with an affinity for numbers, I was particularly fascinated by the tasks of the CFO of the Müller Group. And the position of CEO was, of course, the crowning glory for me. In this phase, I was able - together with the entire team - to set milestones and to move and initiate many things that can still be felt today.
What have been your greatest successes in your work at Müller Group? What was your biggest mistake?
PM: Among the successes, I would cite the improvement in communication and the establishment of a corporate culture that enables and radiates trust and transparency both internally and externally. In terms of business management, the major rationalization investments have had a lasting effect. At Müller Plastics, the introduction of Coex technology has given the company a special status in the market. And the purchase of the station road, which originally ran through our premises in Münchenstein, was also a clever move that enabled the later construction of a new building in Tramstrasse and the optimization of Müller Packaging's production. My biggest mistake was certainly to have delayed one or the other personnel decision for too long, because I hoped that the people concerned would change in the matter, in the way they ran the business, but this did not happen.
In the contemporary document "The Müller Group. From the tinsmith's shop to the industrial enterprise" some statements of you or about you have appeared. We would like to know how you judge some of these statements today - 13 years later.
Statement 1 from 2008: "Since Peter Müller has been managing the group, a lot has been invested in rationalizing production. He believes that the potential has not yet been exhausted".
Where does the Müller Group stand today in terms of lean management?
PM: We are at a good level of "being lean" within the Müller Group. However, our efforts to "be lean" should be seen as an ongoing development, as a long-distance race. Accordingly, we are still persistently pursuing the goal of operating as lean organizations in our companies.
Statement 2 from 2008: "Peter Müller is not yet satisfied with what he has achieved. He wants to improve communication within the Group and externally. Group thinking is to be promoted and the management teams are to be welded together."
Has communication improved, has silo thinking been eliminated and do the management teams regularly exchange ideas in a spirit of partnership?
PM: There is a healthy group mentality in the Müller Group. The Müller companies value each other, work well together on overarching issues and exchange ideas on a regular basis. Since the companies all act independently and pursue their own sales and growth targets, the self-interest of the four Müller companies naturally remains high.
Statement 3 from 2008: "One important element of Peter Müller's business policy is: No expensive experiments abroad".
How do you assess the Müller Unifab joint venture, which was launched in 2018?
PM: The risk of an engagement abroad must be assessable and calculable. This is the case with our Indian joint venture Müller Unifab. The entrepreneurial risk is manageable and the financial commitment clearly defined. The family relationships that we maintain with our Indian partner are also well supported and sustainable. Due to the Corona situation, the joint venture has not yet taken off. However, I am confident that the people responsible will soon be able to press on the gas pedal.
You are now taking your well-deserved retirement at the end of March 2021, having already relinquished your CEO post two years ago. When was your successor as CEO, Christian Reinau, appointed?
PM: Christian Reinau was my CFO for many years. I discussed many operational and strategic issues with him and found solutions. His holistic entrepreneurial thinking convinced me and the Board of Directors early on. Two years before the CEO handover, he was appointed CEO Stv. Since March 2019, he has already been acting confidently as the captain of the Müller Group. In my last two years at Müller Group, I was able to witness directly that we made the right decision and that Christian Reinau is an ideal appointment.
Many SMEs in Switzerland - so you read - have problems with succession planning for company management. What makes Müller Group better in this respect?
PM: As an entrepreneur, you always have to create options and strongly consider the future. That's how the planning for my succession began five years ago. The internal succession solution made total sense for us: Christian Reinau knows the company, its history and its culture. He is very familiar with the strategy and helped develop it himself. His experience gives him credibility and broad support. When the time came to hand over the reins, I was ready to step down and deliberately stayed out of the CEO's decisions. A typical win-win situation in the classic sense.
Peter Müller, what do you wish the Müller Group team for the future? On which points should it focus?
PM: The dynamics in our markets, digitalization in the industry, geopolitical influences - there are many challenges to master. In the past, too, the challenges were great - but today the wheel of change turns faster, which makes managing an SME more demanding. So I wish the whole team a lot of courage and strength to face these challenges. And also a large portion of composure to keep calm at the right moment and to seize opportunities wisely at the right time. As a result, our customers, e.g. from the pharmaceutical, chemical and food sectors, should continue to be able to rely on high-quality and safe products from our two business areas Industrial Packaging and Handling & Processing.
Your last year at work was marked by the Corona pandemic. What impressions from the Müller Group will stick with you?
PM: The Corona pandemic affected our four companies in different ways. Two of the companies worked briefly in the meantime. Our company with the highest turnover, Müller Packaging, was practically unaffected. Here in Münchenstein, however, we were also fortunate in that we had hardly any accumulated cases of illness. The Group management analyzed the situation on an ongoing basis and reacted with a sense of proportion. The protection concept was quickly implemented and proved its worth. I was impressed by the flexibility of our employees, who kept production running at full capacity and continued to provide courteous service to existing customers from their offices and home offices. The Corona pandemic has strengthened the sense of togetherness and demonstrated the flexibility of the teams.
You have been very busy over the last 39 years, with the Müller Group and a number of board mandates. And now, at the end of March, your retirement will give you a huge gain in time. Are there projects and undertakings that you have wanted to carry out for a long time, but have not had the time to date?
PM: I have always cultivated my hobbies - to balance the professional challenges. And now I will be able to do so more extensively in a larger time frame. I am looking forward to spending more time with my dear wife Marie-Therese and with our large family and my many grandchildren. I will certainly also enjoy our extended vintage car trips and the river trips with the houseboat in France. I will also make more use of my studio: I am an enthusiastic model maker. I will continue to socialize in the Rebmessern guild in Reinach, in the local Rotary Club and in a management club in the region. And finally, I will remain with the Müller Group as a member of the Board of Directors, at least for a little while longer (smiles).
Thank you very much for this interview and only the best for the future!
Have a good ride, Peter and Marie-Therese Müller!