Thomas Schaller (President of the US branch of SCHLENK)
„A great challenge.“
Interview with the new President of the US branch of SCHLENK
Mr. Schaller, you have been living and working in the United States for 14 years. In June you became president of the US branch of the Pigment Sector. How did you come by SCHLENK?
I was born in Nuremberg and started my training as an industrial clerk at Schlenk in my hometown in September 1992. I had applied for the job that was advertised in the local newspaper.
Well now you carry responsibility for employees and business divisions.
Yes, this is a great challenge. The US branch of the pigment sector has 17 employees and we mostly take care of the divisions BU Coatings and Colorants as well as Inks and Graphic Arts. But also the pigments in the division metallic material have become an important part for us.
Schlenk has settled in a small town in the northeast of the United States.
Ashland is located in Massachusetts and has about 16,000 inhabitants. It is about half an hour west of Boston. The area here is typical of New England: deciduous forests, which feature a wonderful Indian Summer, many lakes and white churches - just like shown in a guide.
So you would opt for the US again?
We are still happy with our decision. I went to the United States in March 2000 to work as a product manager: The chance to be able to live and work there was a challenge I could not refuse. I didn‘t have children yet, which made it easier for me and my girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife, Daniela. My sons Luca, 12, and Leon, 6, are both born in the United States.
Was the adjustment difficult?
If you go abroad, even in a country like America, you quickly realize that many things are very different and you have to learn the ropes. However, this has the appeal that you can experience something new every day: I enjoy that a lot.
The American market is different to the German market. What difficulties have you come across?
Our three major competitors have been well established for a long time. Therefore, it is not always easy to assure your position as a relatively new player. However, we operate according to the motto: We cut the pieces of the pie that are most interesting for us! We also place great emphasis on supporting our customers with exceptional service. That way we can distance ourselves from our competitors.
Where do you see your biggest opportunities for the future?
We are confident that we can expand our business with our very high quality VMP products. The need for and interest in chrome-like effects are increasing both in print and the lacquer sector.
How did you experience the year of the financial crisis 2008 from an American perspective?
2008 we survived reasaonably unscathed, but in 2009, our business dropped significantly. In 2010, we were able to make up for that and have since returned to growth.
What was the biggest professional challenge for you in the US?
For me as a seller it was dealing with American customers. They have very high expectations when it comes to service. Samples or orders should be best done the next day. Also, I initially felt a negative attitude towards a non-local supplier. This was in stark contrast to my experience in Asia, where European suppliers are received with open arms.
Even though your job sounds like a lot of work, hopefully you still find time for leisure activities?
I‘m still very much on the go for the company, I try to spend my free time mainly with my family.
At last a purely hypothetical question: Suppose you had the chance to step into a time machine. What year would you choose to travel to?
To the second half of the 19th century. At that time, the industrial revolution was in full swing and there were indispensable inventions like the light bulb, the telephone and the automobile. I imagine this time was very exciting. And being in that time, I would have passed by SCHLENK when the company was founded.
Interview by Monika Meyer