The MTA executive board from the other side

What happens when two men in their late thirties who have been friends since they were young, and who now work for the same company, feel as though senior management doesn’t understand them and doesn’t listen to them…? Right, they start their own company!
This is what happened in Austria in 2010:
The Head of Sales for Austria and the Technical Lead for Automation & Software at one of the leading German companies for drive technology and automation both resigned.

Mr Feuerstein, what was it that led you and your partner, Mr Pankraz, to give up a career of many years with a successful and consistently growing company, and jump in at the deep end?

Herwig Feuerstein
My intensive involvement on the customer frontline further confirmed to me and Dietmar (Mr Pankraz) that the days of 400 V technology were numbered and the future lay in low voltage power, such as motor rollers for example, which indeed became the industry standard some time ago.

Dietmar Pankraz
Exactly, it was the typical arrogance of companies, who were used to being successful, simply not wanting to accept a predictable paradigm shift. It was made very clear to us that we should do our jobs “quietly” and leave “the thinking” to our R&D department in Head Office. But that’s probably quite normal for companies with over 3,000 staff, even if it means that a lot of the “corporate intelligence” is lost, or wasted.

How would you describe forming a company, or a ‘start-up’ as we call them today?

Dietmar Pankraz (left) and Herwig Feuerstein (right)
Dietmar Pankraz (left) and Herwig Feuerstein (right)

Herwig Feuerstein
It’s extreme, or as the Americans put it so wittily, “blood, sweat and tears” …
At the beginning, we were also very disappointed, in particular by potential clients in Austria.Tthey said, rather succinctly that “we should set ourselves up and then get back to them if we were still in business in a few years”.

Dietmar Pankraz
Yes, it was far from encouraging, literally sitting in the garage, the two of us, developing the motors ourselves so we could develop technically outstanding prototypes. This also meant in the beginning, that we often had to do the R&D-type development work, without being paid sufficiently for it.
And so it was Herwig who quickly made the decision not to be slowed down any longer by the potential customers in Austria, who were difficult to persuade, but to go straight for the big fish in Germany.

Herwig Feuerstein
Yes, this is what saved us in the end, as people in Germany are more open and willing to take a risk when faced with genuine new product innovations which have real benefits for the customer.
It would only be a slight exaggeration to say what a success it was, just to have got through the first two years. And along with everything else, you also have your own personal circumstances to deal with, when you have responsibility for your family and then have to explain at home why you have given up a well paid job in industry.

Ouch… that doesn’t exactly sound encouraging?

Dietmar Pankraz
Yes but we were bubbling over with ideas, and it seemed like the time was right for them; they were just waiting to be perceived as genuine innovations on the market.
And we were so sure of our new developments - and remain even more so today - that are really beneficial to the customer and leave the competition looking a bit old-fashioned.
That is an indescribably satisfying force for motivation!

Herwig Feuerstein
And it’s like expanding your own family, or almost growing a second family, when, like us, you end up taking new staff on board, which is now literally every month, and you see how your company’s reputation is growing, along with its market share.

You include the word ‘innovation’ in your company name, and in your new tag line “Innovation is our drive”. Can you please explain a little about these innovations…

Herwig Feuerstein
Gearless motor rollers and drum motors. They didn’t exist until 2010, and none of our competitors have really cracked it technologically even now. Full stop.

Dietmar Pankraz
But there’s nothing better than getting rid of a component (e.g. the gearing mechanism) which has a high level of wear and tear, is noisy, and of course - in our designs – unnecessary!

Herwig Feuerstein
I think it’s best explained by quoting a customer who recently described one of our new drives as unparalleled…
There is no better compliment than that. We generally aim to achieve a market position of “second to none”, when it comes to the power density and therefore the compactness of our drives.

Dietmar Pankraz
And that’s only possible if I get out there and literally kneel in front of our customers’ machines, conveyor belts and control cabinets.
Sharp tongues even claim that I “worship” the machines. Personally, I think that every good CTO (Chief Technical Officer) needs to get out of their ivory tower to really learn how their products are used, from “real live” customers, on site.

Finally, one more question on your private background:
How long have you actually known each other?

Herwig Feuerstein
Quite simply, we grew up in the same village and got to know each other when we were knee-high to the proverbial grasshopper.

Dietmar Pankraz
And then it was Herwig who, in 2005, lured me from my job as a university assistant, back into the business, where he had been climbing the career ladder in sales. It’s ultimately his “fault” that we then started MTA in 2010. He can be quite convincing…

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