Harald Fassmer, Managing Owner, Fassmer Group
Harald Fassmer and his brother Holger are the fifth generation of family leadership of this 165-year-old company. What's their secret?
(Article originally published in Nov/Dec 2015 edition.)
The Fassmer brand has been around since 1850, through good times and bad, and under the same ownership – a remarkable achievement. How do you explain it?
Since Fassmer is a family business we are always looking at the long term. We were never looking at the short term. It is also a matter of family pride to keep the company moving forward.
Can you give us a brief overview of its history?
Fassmer started as a manufacturer of small wooden boats. Over the years we branched into larger boats made of GRP (glass-reinforced plastic or fiberglass), then ships constructed of aluminum and steel, then deck equipment, and eventually wind power and composite technology.
How many offices and employees are there?
Our headquarters and main manufacturing facility are in Berne, Germany. Our After-Sales Service division is also headquartered in Berne with service centers in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and, most recently, Singapore. We have additional production facilities in Rechlin, Germany for the Deck Equipment division. We have joint-venture partners in Poland and China and over 1,000 employees globally.
When I hear the name “Fassmer,” I think of lifeboats. Is that your biggest product?
Actually, our Shipbuilding division is our largest.
The company has six distinct lines of business – Shipbuilding, Lifeboats, Deck Equipment, Composite Technology, Wind Power and After-Sales Service. Tell us a little about each of them.
Our Shipbuilding division focuses on vessels up to 100 meters that are custom-built to our customers’ specifications. Our Lifeboat and Davit division produces all types and sizes from 4.5-meter rescue craft to our extra-large 15.5-meter, 444-person lifeboats and everything in between as well as all related davits. Our Deck Equipment division supplies gangways and accommodation ladders of varying designs and sizes and a diverse range of shell doors, hatches and boarding systems for the yacht industry. Our Composite Technology division produces fiber-reinforced composites that combine exceptional rigidity, strength and corrosion resistance with very low weight. These can be used in many applications such as the automotive industry. Our Wind division uses our construction strengths and production facilities to produce spinners and nacelles for wind turbines. Our After-Sales Service division supplies parts and service globally to support our products.
What are nacelles, and how did you get involved in offshore wind?
Nacelles are the generator housings for wind turbines. They are constructed of GRP or aluminum. Getting involved with wind power stemmed from our expertise in materials’ technology and taking chances to step into new potential markets.
What is your best-selling product?
We have a very diversified product range including, for example, components for the automotive industry of which we produce up to 10,000 pieces a year. On the other end of the spectrum we are selling one-off, custom-designed ships. So it‘s difficult to define our best-selling product. I think the fact that we serve different markets is one reason for our continuing success.
Fassmer is a leader in the construction of LNG- and LPG-powered vessels. Tell us about that.
Fassmer constructed the first ever LNG-powered ferry produced in Germany. This was a challenge for us from start to finish. We had to combine the new technology with the client’s requirements and class approval.
In addition to standardized vessel designs, Fassmer is known for its innovative, one-off designs like the motor-sailing vessel Rainbow Warrior III for Greenpeace and the Hanse Explorer yacht for polar expeditions. How do you achieve such versatility?
We have built up a very strong inhouse design department while many other shipyards of similar size outsource such capabilities. Our experience and know-how in developing, designing and building the most complex and innovative vessels is a critical component of our success. It gives us and our customers the confidence to tackle the risks related to such tailor-made newbuilds.
Is Europe your most important market?
Although we are based in Germany, we are a global company. All regions are important to us.
You and your brother Holger have been at the helm for the last 20 years. What is the division of duties?
I am responsible for Shipbuilding, Lifeboats and Davits. My brother Holger takes care of Deck Equipment, Wind Power and Composite Technology along with our international joint ventures.
As the fifth generation of family leadership, do you feel any special pressure?
Yes, we feel a responsibility to both groom the next generation of Fassmer leadership and increase our global presence.
Who will come after you?
I have three sons – Henrik, Torge and Herke. My brother has a son, Fynn, and a daughter, Friederike. The decision as to who will take over has not yet been made. With our long tradition we will have to see who is interested and who is capable first.
How would you describe the company’s culture – the Fassmer way of doing things?
We have a long tradition of producing high-quality, innovative products. We take great pride in preserving and enhancing that tradition.
We recently visited your new U.S. service center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida – very impressive! Is the U.S. a growing market for Fassmer?
We have invested in the U.S. market to support our customers in the cruise, military, offshore and commercial markets. And yes, we have seen strong growth in the U.S. market as a result of this investment.
Do you make any non-maritime products?
As noted earlier, our Wind division is heavy into the offshore and onshore wind markets. Furthermore, our Composite Technology division is active in the automotive industry, constructing parts for companies like Volkswagen and others. We also make parts for the transportation industry, amusement parks and even helicopter landing pads!
How is business, and what is the outlook for this year and next?
Our business is generally good, but it could always be better. We are feeling the troubles the offshore oil and gas industry is currently experiencing as well as some in the commercial marine sector, but that is the nature of the maritime business and why we serve a number of different markets, not just maritime.
Thank you for spending some time with us.
It was my pleasure. Please stop by and visit us at the 2016 SMM in Hamburg. – MarEx
Jack O’Connell is Senior Editor of the magazine.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.