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Passion for office furniture through the generations

On the company's 80th anniversary, Dirk Assmann and his father, Dieter Ahsmann, report on ASSMANN's development over the last few decades

The pride of Dieter Ahsmann is obvious when we meet with him and his son, Dirk, for a joint interview on the company's 80th anniversary. Pride in the successful continuation of ASSMANN Büromöbel. The firm was established under his leadership after he in turn took over Ahsmann village carpenter's shop from his father in 1968. The craftsman's business with a dozen employees evolved into a production company for office furniture systems that now operates throughout Europe. In 1999, Dirk Assmann was appointed Managing Director of the company, successfully leading it into the 21st century. Father and son have a lot to say – about eight decades of passion for office furniture, industry trends and memorable experiences at ASSMANN.

"When I started working here 51 years ago, I acquired 15 employees from my father. None of us had any specific roles. We were all craftsmen and I was the only person responsible for sales," says Dieter Ahsmann. His arrival at the village carpenter's shop, founded in 1939 by his father, Heinrich Ahsmann, marked the beginning of the development of ASSMANN Büromöbel. "In my final active year, over 30 times as many people were employed at ASSMANN than at the start. In addition, we've been debt-free since 1983, which is something I'm particularly happy about. Along with the fact that my son has continued this, even though the firm has expanded." Dieter Ahsmann's son, Dirk Assmann, is the current Managing Director, having joined the company in 1995 in Operational Planning and was appointed to the Executive Board in early 1999.

Old times, new times

"I had my first holiday job in production at the age of twelve," says Dirk Assmann. The fact that he would one day become Managing Director was not initially planned. "Now, however, I'm extremely happy that I took this path and was able to help lead ASSMANN into the future as a modern family-owned company." In the years before Dirk Assmann took over the business, he had already developed an idea for reorganising ASSMANN. “In 2000 I began to expand and initiated a restructuring process based on the Japanese Kaizen principle – i.e. the gradual optimisation of our procedures and manufacturing processes." Some of our working practices have changed considerably over the generations. Even though father and son had different requirements, they both tackled the respective challenges of their day in equal measure. "We didn't have IT or any control options," says Dieter Ahsmann. "I think my son implements what's feasible in his day, just as I did back in my day." For example: as Managing Director, Dieter Ahsmann travelled up to 100,000 kilometres by car every year – selling the office furniture as well as maintaining customer contacts, of course. For Dirk Assmann, this would now be inconceivable: "In the past, you did this by car, now we use video conferences." As well as expanding sales throughout Europe, digitalisation has also been one of Dirk Assmann's key projects in recent years. At the beginning of the 2000s, IT systems were put in place that allowed us to take our first steps towards today's connected production. "Ten years ago, we implemented a connected production control system and integrated robot technology into the production processes," says Dirk Assmann. "Manufacturing is virtually paperless and the production status can be accessed and controlled at any time on monitors and online."

The ASSMANN mentality

Throughout all the change, one thing has always remained the same: a corporate culture that values every employee. "My door is always open, be it for an apprentice or the company secretary!" stresses Dirk Assmann. "This was the case for my father and is something I haven't changed." The fact that Dieter Ahsmann was an extremely popular managing director and owner among all his colleagues is still in evidence today at the company's site in Westerhausen: "Of course, many people no longer know me personally. But there are still a great many colleagues in the business who shout "Dieter, how are you?" when passing by in their forklift truck. Of course, I'm delighted to still be so well liked!" Dirk Assmann believes that open doors and a willingness to listen to what staff have to say – this has been central to the ASSMANN mentality for decades: "I always say: I treat people the way I would like them to treat me. We're all on first-name terms and my employees' birthdays are in my diary. I go up to them and personally congratulate them." In addition, ASSMANN has been working hard to provide the optimum working conditions for several years. Be these flexible working time models, the ability to work from home or the provision childcare places - these all help to ensure a good work-life balance. "And finally, we also hold regular family, summer and company parties. Our summer party is like a small carnival. Everyone's invited – grandmas, grandpas, children, aunts, uncles," says Dirk Assmann.

Facing the future with passion.

"The challenges of the future are already upon us. This includes digitalisation, as well as general industry trends," explains Dirk Assmann. "For example: in the future, it will no longer be enough to simply manufacture a good product. Although we'll continue to produce office furniture systems, our service divisions and aftersales will also undergo further expansion. Our customers also expect conceptual solutions from us with regard to the planning and implementation of modern working environments." The brand image was therefore extensively revised last year – with the aim of further increasing and expanding ASSMANN's brand awareness in the future. The previous addition of ‘Office furniture’ to the logo was deleted, since ASSMANN, with its wide range of products and services, is now much more than simply a manufacturer of office furniture systems: a company that is no longer in any way comparable with the former Ahsmann village carpenter's shop founded by Dirk Assmann's grandfather 80 years ago.