Timo Springer, CEO, Springer Maschinenfabrik GmbH

Timo Springer, CEO, Springer

As mechanisation, digitisation and sustainability have become essential across all industrial sectors, opportunities for innovators have increased exponentially. Austrian company Springer Maschinenfabrik GmbH has taken full advantage of this, becoming a leading player. We spoke with CEO Timo Springer about combining tradition with modernity.  

Headquartered in Friesach, a small, historic town in Southern Austria, Springer Maschinenfabrik GmbH is developing a truly modern reputation. A family-run company currently in its third generation of ownership after more than seventy years of trading, it finds itself riding the crest of the mechanisation wave.

Now regarded as a global leader for innovative solutions in the wood processing industry, Springer manages all processes associated with this niche to the highest technological standards. It does so while maintaining impeccable environmental standards, too. A carbon neutral company, Springer has recently opened a US division and employs more than 500 people.  

Current CEO Timo Springer took up his present position in 2012, sixty years after the company was founded. Naturally, in taking the role, there was an element of pressure, of having big shoes to fill, but this was welcomed by the young executive. 

A family affair 

“The company was started by my grandfather in 1952,” Mr Springer explains. “At first, it was a repair shop. My father turned it into more of an international affair. My brother Gero and I both joined just after the turn of the millennium.” 

Prior to starting work within the family firm, Mr Springer had been a lawyer, while his brother had worked for another wood processing company. This was perhaps unusual for a traditional, family business, where it might be assumed that the brothers were assured roles from birth. “Our father always advised us to work somewhere else first,” Mr Springer recalls. “Then, if things worked out, we could join the company when the time was right. This, in the end, is what happened, and both Gero and I are very pleased that everything came together as it did.” 

At first, in keeping with his background, Timo took up a post as the company lawyer. Yet over time, his role and influence grew. He worked in a variety of departments, learning and absorbing as much as he could, meaning that during the decade that followed, he developed an all-around understanding of the business.  

Getting into the groove 

Once the generational handover took place and Timo and Gero found themselves in charge of Springer’s future direction, a straightforward division of labour was agreed on. Gero would handle everything to do with overseas markets with a particular focus on the USA and Canada, while Timo was more focused on internal processes, company development and the implementation of new ideas and technologies. 

“Although my background was in law,” Mr Springer says, “I was always interested in technical solutions and ideas. This has been especially apparent in recent years with the worldwide growth in digitisation and IT. These were also big interests of mine for a long time, so I think I was well-positioned to understand how these developments could provide better services to the customer.” 

While such modernisation could be seen as organic to some degree in that it was happening everywhere, for a company like Springer, it was vital to be ahead of the curve. Timo and his brother understood that although the company had been trading successfully for many years, change and development were needed for that journey to continue. This required some bold decision-making, for which the CEO modestly refuses to take credit. 

Room for growth 

“There were many decisions, of course,” he explains. “And like anybody, we made mistakes. This is very important, I think. You have to understand them and learn from them so you can progress in the future. One fact from my point of view is totally clear: There is no such thing as faultlessness. You have to be able to recognise your faults, and then you adapt from there. So for me, that is the most important piece of learning and something I am very grateful to my father for. He was always someone who allowed enough space for errors or faults.” 

"We were successful in identifying new technology and the impact it would have."

With that said, the new CEO had the foresight to understand that the international economy was embarking on a technological revolution. If Springer did not adapt to the changing global environment, the company was in danger of being left behind. 

“This is true,” Mr Springer states. “I think other than the ability to learn from mistakes, the second point I would really stress about leadership is how important it is to stay abreast of technological changes. In my time here as CEO, digitisation has been such a major development and it is still ongoing, with new advancements like artificial intelligence. This was one thing we, my brother and I, did very well. We were successful in identifying new technology and the impact it would have, meaning we were able to incorporate it for ourselves and our customers.” 

A view to sustainability 

Another standout feature of Springer’s recent development has been in its environmental awareness. The company’s main plant has solar cells on the roof, generating the power needed below. Employees are given electric company cars or e-bikes to travel to work, all of which have contributed to Springer’s status as a completely carbon neutral operator. 

While executive leadership has clearly played a key role in all of this innovation, Mr Springer is keen to highlight the contribution of others. The company has enjoyed huge stability among its workforce. Central to this is the management team, which forms an engine room of creativity on which the brothers depend.  

Our personnel are dedicated and eager to succeed with us.

“Their work in tackling issues has been invaluable,” the CEO says proudly. “There have been so many joint meetings where everybody has brought their expertise and ideas. Our personnel are dedicated and eager to succeed with us. That is actually how we develop new things and is something we encourage from all our employees.” 

Full speed ahead 

With such a positive culture and more than half a century’s worth of recorded growth and success, the company appears well-positioned as it heads toward the future. Despite recent economic turbulence and other negative external impacts (coronavirus, wars etc.), Springer’s upward trajectory has remained stable. What then might be in store in the medium term? 

“I am convinced we can continue on our growth curve,” Mr Springer states with calm confidence. “We see future opportunities in other regions, South America for example or Australia and New Zealand, alongside continued development of our North American division. This gives us plenty of options for finding new customers who are willing and open to new technologies.” 

"Every day we are working to cement our status as a global leader in our field."

It builds into an impressive overall picture. One of a historic family firm with modern, forward-thinking priorities. Springer appears to have achieved the balance between legacy and modernity perfectly. 

“Every day we are working to cement our status as a global leader in our field,” Mr Springer concludes. “We are all dedicated to that and to the knowledge that our customers get top-notch technology which differentiates them from the competition. That is our motivation.” 

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