With the Bundeswehr into crisis areas

This text is a translation of the article by Claudia Mahnke that was published in the General-Anzeiger Bonn on January 4, 2017. For the original German article, please go to www.general-anzeiger-bonn.de

BONN. A Dransdorf-based company produces for the German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr). The support includes transport, installation and commissioning – even in crisis areas.

Anyone who regularly sees Bundeswehr officers enter and exit the Bonn-based service provider steep can guess that the Bundeswehr is an important customer of the company. For more than 40 years, the steep GmbH has been providing technical support services for the German Armed Forces (Luftwaffe) via framework contracts.

The radar service of the Dransdorf-based company deals with maintenance and repair of radar systems. In the workshops at the company’s headquarters at Justus-von-Liebig Strasse, experts repair defective components. “Often, there are no original spare parts for older systems, anymore” says steep Managing Director Peter Pützfeld. In these cases the spare parts themselves are produced. For more than 25 years, the team of steep GmbH has been inspecting the air surveillance radar systems of the German Air Force every two years. Also in other European countries and in the Middle East, the employees conduct flight measurements, a prerequisite for the commissioning of a radar system.

Since the middle of the year, Pützfeld has been sole managing director, after owner Matthias Möseler withdrew from the management. Möseler took over the company in 2012 from the British parent company Serco. This has now led to internal changes, as well: “Our organization still mirrors structures of a major corporation,” says Pützfeld. However, this is no longer required since the company has become independent. For this reason, steep deleted a hierarchy level this year. “Employees should be able to think more entrepreneurially.” During a management meeting, leadership principles were agreed upon.

“We had a good economic year,” says Pützfeld. Turnover in 2016 will be EUR 84.8 million, compared with EUR 81.3 million in the previous year. The profit before taxes and interest payments (EBIT) is expected to be three million Euros.

The expansion of containers is another pillar of the company, with the Bundeswehr as an important customer. “We integrate shelves, electricity, air-conditioning and heating technology into the containers,” explains Pützfeld. These containers are frequently sent on Bundeswehr missions in crisis areas. System support includes transport, set-up and commissioning. In doing so, the experts go where customers need them: “We support in exercises and carry out maintenance work even in operational areas,” explains the managing director. The containers also have to be functional at very high and very low temperatures.

The mobile networks, which have developed into an important sales factor for the company in recent years, must be similarly resilient. The employees develop fast-paced communication solutions, which also function in climatic zones up to 60 degrees Celsius. Security requirements also have a different effect: “Systems with access controls are also increasingly in demand,” says Pützfeld.

Civil customers are at the heart of the Training department. steep conducts training courses and runs training centers for the employees of large automotive companies. The Harley-Davidson University is located on the company premises. This is where employees of the motorcycle company’s workshops come to take part in technical training. Yet, the department is no easy task, as well: “Orders are regularly re-issued and with an extension the profit margin often decreases.”
steep’s department of cyber security is still in development stages. IT services are included in the company’s offer for a long time now. This is complemented by customer-specific data protection concepts.

Beyond the region, steep is known for the fact that the company operates the JVA in Hünfeld, Hesse. This concerns the sustenance of prisoners, the operation of workshops as well as social-psychological and medical services. To operate the workshops profitably is not easy: “The company has high costs,” says Pützfeld. In Hünfeld, many prisoners serve with shorter sentences of imprisonment. Therefore, great efforts in training are required. The prisoners recycle wires for commerce or assemble sockets. Two new sales representatives will now provide further orders.

Currently, steep has 689 employees and 49 employees at the subsidiary BetaTech. “We have extended the workforce slightly.”

A major burden for the company is the former company pension system, which has been frozen since 2004. “Extremely well-equipped retirement packages were offered,” says Pützfeld. In the past, the company had more than 1000 employees. When Möseler took over the company from the British parent company Serco in 2012, EUR 64 million of the balance sheet amounted to EUR 48 million pensions.
This strained the otherwise completely normal equity ratio. As a result, Steep is poorly valued and suppliers are required to demand advance funds even though the company is healthy. A new law helped with the fact that the rate of interests, which is important for the valuation of company pensions, is no longer calculated over seven years, but over ten years. Thus, today’s valuation of future payments will decrease. “We always have to do a good business so that we can bear the burden of company pensions.” Other companies that are active in shrinking or highly fluctuating markets may face existential hardships. Next year, steep will record the climax of charge. Today, pension provision is regulated differently: the employer pays 50 Euro per month to an external direct insurer.

steep witnesses a distinct professional deficit of IT experts. There is a strong competition for them. In order to avoid high costs for external staff, steep hired a recruiter who looks for highly qualified specialists and executives. In October, there were twelve new hires already.


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