On his first day of work at Zeppelin in 1992, Ralph Misselwitz considered quitting the same day. But things didn’t turn out that way. Today he looks back on 28 years at Zeppelin and takes us on an exciting journey through time.
Ralph Misselwitz, Leipzig
Job title: Chairman of Works Council
Years of service: 28 years
LEIPZIG, 1989. When the Berlin wall fell and Germany was reunited, many of the companies that previously existed in East Germany were suddenly gone – and the jobs along with them. What followed was a period of uncertainty, which I bridged by working as a truck driver until one day my neighbor told me about Zeppelin, which had just opened a branch in Leipzig and was looking for locksmiths. I sent my application immediately and had a job just one week later. My first employer from the West!
January 4th, 1992 was my first day of work, and I was already thinking about quitting. (laughs) It was complete chaos; the workshop was totally empty, there were only two containers, lots of new employees and no structure whatsoever. On top of all that, for the first week I had to work with a colleague who was a complete idiot. Fortunately for me, one of the field service technician got sick. I grabbed his VW van, headed out and found my place: I could repair machines, have contact with customers on location and learn a lot of new things.
In 1993 the Chairman of the Works Council at the time visited us in Leipzig. I happened to be sitting in the first row and I guess I looked like I knew what I was doing because he asked me to join the Election Board for the new Works Council. So I did. And because I was on the Election Board, people started voting for me and I joined the Works Council.
Until 1996 I worked as a mechanic, then as a field service foreman. The work with the Works Council was done on the side. My real goal was to be Service Manager. But once again, things turned out differently: In 2000 the Chairman of the Works Council approached me unexpectedly and said that he could imagine me being his successor. At first I couldn’t imagine it at all. But everyone pushed me to do it, so I finally put myself up for election – and the result was very clear: I got 1,800 votes, surprisingly many more than my rival. My plan to carry out the new duties on the side naturally didn’t happen, especially because this new position meant that I was also elected as Deputy Chairman of the Supervisory Board.
And all of a sudden I was playing in a completely different league. My first official duty was a trip to Kiel. We wanted to acquire MaK to expand our engine sector and I was tasked with going to check out the company. I was rather ceremoniously received by the CEO and felt a little out of place. Only a little while ago I had just been a foreman, and all of a sudden there was a big fuss being made just because I turned up. When I came back to the office I told my colleagues: “If I start going crazy, please tell me!” It was nuts!
I needed to and was able to learn a lot. I’d never seen a balance sheet before and now I suddenly needed to assess whether a company was a good fit for us before we bought it. Or negotiate things for employees with the Management Board. I can’t tell you how many sleepless nights that used to cost me.
In 2004 we founded the current Works Council for the entire Group to create a joint representation for all employees. The company has changed a lot. When I started, there was only construction equipment and the Friedrichshafen region. Then we added rentals, engines and the other regions. Zeppelin just kept growing!
Naturally it took a little while until everything worked properly. But once I’d finally grown into my new role, I started to enjoy it. After all, as the Chairman of the Works Council, my current role, you can really make a difference for the employees and the company.
What do you think is special about Zeppelin?
Everyone is given a chance to develop at Zeppelin, no matter where the employee comes from. For example, I never experienced any prejudice because I came from East Germany. I was always just treated as a person. That’s something I really appreciate about Zeppelin: You can have a PhD and still not get a foot in the door at Zeppelin, or you can just be who you are because you perform your job well – and others see it the same way. That’s how everything developed for me!
Was there anything that used to be better?
Things used to be more like a family. When I started the whole company only had 2,300 people. Now we have more than 10,000 employees!
If you could choose: Which year would you pick to work at Zeppelin?
2019. Not only was it the most profitable year for Zeppelin Construction Equipment but it was also the year that we made a new sales record at bauma. All of a sudden, on the last day of bauma, there were salesmen standing around with tears in their eyes! 30 years ago I would never have thought that a job could be so emotional. But Zeppelin gets a hold of you.
What do you wish for Zeppelin for its birthday?
I wish that Zeppelin continues to be able to find and train motivated employees. That we can offer every Zeppeliner working conditions and career opportunities that allow them to develop. And a management culture that is and remains motivating, supportive and respectful. Add in a pinch of luck, boldness, and productive strength when it comes to challenges that arise in the near and distant future. Plus success in the coming decades and a continuation of the passion I was fortunate enough to experience!