Content - Only the boxes are grey at Georg Utz

  • 13 October 2008

Only the boxes are grey at Georg Utz

The bulk of their products – warehousing and transport containers made of plastic – is grey, their profit figures, however, are deep black and the business development rosy: The market-leading Utz company stays on a steep growth course.

Dieter Utz, Axel Ritzberger and Jean-Marc Dubois

Aargauer Zeitung / Switzerland, 10. October 2008; Text: Ruedi Mäder, Photo: Raphael Hünerfauth

Plastics Engineering Group: Swiss market leader in record form – Change in leadership after almost 30 years

Utz is one of the group of “hidden champions”, those companies mostly in an SMB format and Family-owned, which set the tone in the industry and write growth stories, without making a fuss about it. The company was founded 61 years ago in Höngg as a tool-making company. Since 1953, Utz has been resident in Bremgarten, where the disused buildings of a former textile factory were acquired.
For almost 28 years, Jean-Marc Dubois (60) from Neuenburg, grown up in Bern, has managed the company. At the beginning of October, Axel Ritzberger took over the management. The 43-year old from Zurich is a construction engineer and completed a manager training at the University of St. Gallen. He worked for Hilti, Sarna, and Sika. Last, at Sika he managed the integration of Sarna as the Manager of the “Roofing” Division.

High dynamic of growth
Before Dubois joined Georg Utz, he had worked for Escher Wyss and Oerlikon Bührle. In his “era”, the turnover of Utz climbed from 20 million to last 230 million SFR. This year, a further growth spurt of 20 percent should be possible. Since 2006 alone, the number of employees increased from 670 to over 800, of which 220 work in Switzerland, where one fifth of the group’s turnover is generated and 20 of the 50 apprentices are trained today.
Worldwide, Utz has more than 30 agencies and a network of 8 subsidiaries, all of them production plants, which additionally render customer-specific development work. The main focus lies on Europe (Switzerland, Germany, France, Poland, and England); further subsidiaries were founded in the USA (Columbus/Indiana) and China (Suzhou). Each additional subsidiary, as Dubois notes in retrospect, generated additional growth and thus also contributed to the stabilisation of the home base. According to their own statements, Utz is among the top 3 in Europe.

The evergreen is the Rako-Box
Per year, the group of companies processes around 35 000 tons of plastics into more than 5000 different products – containers, pallets, and component holders – for warehousing and transport purposes; recyclates represent just over one tenth of the processed plastics. Injection moulding (for large-scale production) and deep drawing are the central technologies. Reusable transport systems have become an important pillar. Around 60 percent of the containers made by Utz are customer-specific solutions. From the wide range of standard products, the (mostly grey) Rako-Box sticks out: launched in 1967, this container may be called an evergreen, a Swiss brand product, which found its way right up into the shelves of selected wholesale distributors and DIY stores and enjoys international kudos, as was proofed by a short Google test on the Internet. By the way, grey still is the most-used Rako variant: on the one hand, this colour is associated with a certain quality level. On the other hand, it is the cheapest variant, because the originally opaque plastics granulate has to be admixed the least colour to be able to manufacture right this grey product.

More plastics, more re-use
Worldwide, the Utz Group supplies around 10 000 customers. About half of the turnover is generated with products or solutions, respectively, for the automobile industry, followed by post organisations and logistics companies, dealers as well as electronics and pharmaceuticals companies. There are two growth generators in the foreground: plastics increasingly replace other materials. In this connection, Dubois mentioned, as a representative, the wholesale distributors Migros and Coop: 28 years ago, these still largely used cardboard boxes for transport packaging, and today almost exclusively re-usable containers made of plastic. Within four years, the prices for the processed raw materials have increased by a factor of 2.5. Utz is dealing with this cost challenge with a high innovation rhythm and the orientation towards high quality system solutions. An interesting potential offers the further development of the logistics chains even in relatively mature markets like (Western) Europe.

Sale of the company not an issue
The most recent expansion project concerns the expansion of the fabrication capacity at the US plant in Columbus for 20 million SFR. In total, over the last ten years, Utz have invested 200 million SFR. Nevertheless, the group is completely free of debt. A sale of the family business was not at all an issue, Dieter Utz decidedly replies as a representative of the long-time majority stockholder. Utz, Managing Director and owner of a Zurich organ-building company, passed on the chairmanship of the holding’s administrative board to the former CEO. Jean-Marc Dubois is now enjoying a six-month break (“for the first time after 37 years on the job”). However, he is not lacking future targets: Dubois wants to run the marathon under four hours once again, and finally learn Spanish.

THE NEW HEAD: CEO Axel Ritzberger, flanked by Dieter Utz (on the left) and his predecessor Jean-Marc Dubois. In the component holder shown, stamped parts for vehicle steering columns are intermediately stored.