We young people also have to show responsibility – Interview with Holger Hummel

Holger Hummel has been part of the verope team since 2016 and has been "Head of verope Mining" for a year, where he finds partners and customers for verope special wire ropes all over the world with his friendly, communicative and courageous manner! We asked Holger Hummel how he sees the topic of sustainability in connection with verope and the steel wire rope industry and what his views and attitudes are in his private and professional life.

What is your professional background at verope – when did you join verope and what exactly do you do there?

After finishing my studies as a mechanical engineer, I was looking for a company to help me with my master’s thesis. At my university in Kaiserslautern, I came across an advertisement from verope, applied and wrote my thesis there. That was in April 2016 and then, six months later, I was taken on as a customer service employee. I worked there until 2020 – just under four years. I traveled the world a lot and supported customers in technical matters, gave training courses and took care of everything to do with technology. At the same time, I supported the production of ropes internally. And since the end of 2020, I have been both technical and sales manager for the underground and surface area.

It should continue – more forward than sideways, and definitely not backward. That’s the goal.

What are your further goals at verope?

The nice thing about the verope mining brand is that we are a very unique and still young division. We’re just starting out, so all doors are open in all directions at the moment. I can build my own team, recruit new staff. At the moment, we’re just getting the whole thing up. With everything we’ve already achieved, we’ve laid a strong foundation. You always want to move forward. I definitely want to have responsibility and contribute my ideas – that’s the most important thing – and move the company forward.

And you’re on the right track, from what I’ve heard.

Well, it’s better than I expected, that’s for sure. I’m very happy about that. But I’m more of a humble person with both feet on the ground. I give what I can and keep going.

Let’s get into the topic: Sustainability consists of social, ecological and economic aspects, even if it has become a synonym for environmental protection today. When you think of sustainability, what comes to mind? What does sustainability mean to you?

To me, sustainability means creating a solid foundation on which to build, and something that steadily improves over time. There are so many different aspects to that. Be it financial sustainability – a soccer player who simply earns millions between the ages of 18 and 25 invests his money sustainably and manages his assets wisely to secure his future. But sustainability also means reducing or, at best, eliminating waste. A coffee to go cup, the production of new plastic for a garbage bag would be some examples. But also the short-livedness of employment relationships is part of it.

For me, reducing short-livedness in general is sustainable. Taking a closer look at existing structures, questioning them and even changing them. Maybe that’s also my way of thinking – as an engineer – I’ve never been a fan of backstep, i.e. doing away with something. A big topic in recent years has been the debate about coal-fired power plants or nuclear power plants. Or the internal combustion engine? I’m never in favor of a change, but always in favor of progress. How can I make something more sustainable, how can I develop technologies in such a way that they are less harmful to the environment? And all that always under the aspects: It has to be social so that everyone can afford it, economic and ecological, it must not pollute the environment. To sum it up: Avoid short-livedness or at least reduce it, and progress instead of regression. Start instead of getting upset about bans and develop new technologies.

What do you think verope is already doing well in terms of sustainability?

It’s very important that you critically question yourself: what is verope® doing right in terms of sustainability?

For me, it starts with the family business. This constant passing on and further development.

That’s a good thing when I think about how much the verope® service center (VSC) has developed in recent years. Since I started there, so much has been done in terms of employee protection, certain standards have been set and developed in occupational safety, and these are all topics for social sustainability in the company. Of course, I can only speak for myself, but for me, social sustainability as far as the staff is concerned is really very good at verope. Whenever I asked for something, it was always granted – be it salary increases, special arrangements for the moment, whatever, I was always listened to and it was always done. And unfortunately, that’s not a given at all. But sustainability is also a difficult topic in general. Should you now save water and reduce your paper consumption? I see my task in development. And that’s where verope intuitively already lives sustainability, in economic, ecological and social aspects. We are a dirty industry, that’s just the way it is, and there’s no need to sugarcoat it. Steel and coal are simply bad products in terms of their environmental footprint. That makes people like Marco Elig and his team, who develop sustainable lubricants at KV R&D, all the more important. I recently had a nice encounter with them when it came to ISO 14001 certification, where the certifier clearly said to us: “You’re already doing so much so well, you just need to put it on paper.”

But you can always do more, and I think that should also be verope’s aspiration. We start at a good level, but we can always evolve.

I also remember the discussion about what verope has control over.. And if I remember correctly, verope only has leeway in transporting from the ropes?

Everything simply has to be considered in relation. We can’t influence our value chain very well, but in our industry we can make sure that we do it well. And we can do even better.

That’s correct. We have our production facility located in Korea. You can’t just change that quickly. And it’s also no use saying: “We always wait until the container is full and only then send the ship off!”. Even if we tell the production plant this, they would either send the ship off anyway or the customer would complain because after three months the rope is still not there. Then the order is canceled, which in turn is not economically sustainable. It’s a lot about balance that has to be created. A relationship between all the aspects of sustainability. As you said so well in your introduction, for most people sustainability is environmental protection. But that’s not the full story, it’s about much more. What is the point of a wooden chair that is perhaps more sustainable than a plastic chair that gives me back pain after six weeks, and then possibly causes me to fall out and break my back?

Kiswire seems like great company in terms of sustainability.

It’s also a brand new factory with the latest machines. Of course, they’re much more efficient than the old machines. They’re really working on the issue – everything to a certain extent, of course, and taking into account all the sustainability options.

You are also on the road a lot and have direct contact with your customers – do you have the feeling that sustainability is already being paid more attention to or doesn’t play a big role in the industry?

That’s a very difficult question, because there are so many different countries with very different cultures. In Central Europe, countries like Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Scandinavia, … it looks very good. The country I travel to the most is South Africa. I feel very comfortable there, I like the country, the culture, but they have very different problems there. They burn rubber tires to get a warm house. And of course you have to look at that critically. First of all, it’s about social justice and fighting corruption. If you look at a company like Glencore, for example. It’s the largest mineral producer in the world, they make billions in sales. And they have a really bad reputation, comparable to Nestlé. Only Glencore is ten times worse, they take pristine land and dig up everything, billions of cubic kilometers of earth are dug up just to give us jewelry on our hands and ears. In terms of environmental damage, they’re number one. But when it comes to social sustainability and the economic aspect, they are pioneers. They build hospitals, schools, take care of education, medical care and everything. When you look at that, you think, wow, a super company! But what they’re doing to the environment is really quite fatal to climate change. And that’s an impossible question to answer: do you say, ok, people are better off now, they have education and medical care – and that’s just the price that’s being paid? Or do you say stop and accept that 150,000 – 200,000 people will lose their jobs and just not build more hospitals and schools? It’s really super hard. I would like everyone who is involved to see all aspects of it. I’m absolutely a proponent of climate action, but it’s super hard for the people who are deciding things. And of course, I’m just getting that since I’ve been on the ground here.

Yeah, it’s certainly harder for some industries to live sustainability.

On the other hand, one also just has to start. That is also important. But I notice myself how so many groupings are emerging within Germany. It would be much more commendable if everyone pulled together instead of judging each other. I’m a cyclist, I eat healthy, I don’t use my car, I don’t want plastic and unnecessary packaging, but I personally don’t think you win by sticking chemical glue on the street and having people pry it open. That’s not sustainable in my eyes.

That also brings me to my last question: Do you think a sustainability team could emerge at verope?

Now we young people also have to show responsibility and take action.

Yes, I think we will get that in the future. It’s just a matter of time. 70 years ago – no one had heard of an equal opportunity officer. Or of a confidant in the school. That all came with time. And that’s exactly what will happen with sustainability. Hopefully, it will soon be normal to have a sustainability officer in the company. Maybe it will even become mandatory above a certain size. I think that’s a good thing. We are also now in a generation, that’s very aware about sustainability. I don’t need a plastic bag for my apples. That still looks very different with my father’s generation, for example. Maybe that’s also a task for a sustainability officer: bringing the generations together. When I look at my daughter, who has been a vegetarian since she was four years old and only goes to unpackaged stores, I think that’s super great. And that’s totally in the generation, too. The next generation will probably be able to do this even better than us, they’ll already be gendering properly and will all have a sustainability officer. verope will get that, too, because verope always wants to be one step ahead in things like that. And if you look at the size of our company, we already do a lot of things very well.

Yes, absolutely, that’s right. The conversation with you was really great, it’s nice to hear how much thought you put into it!

But it’s also a difficult subject for the industry, and it’s not always easy for all people. Especially for the older generation. There was also a lot of headwind for the verope mining initiative, many people would not have dared to do what we dared to do. And I can only say: the risk was worth it! We get so much positive feedback from retailers, from customers, they think it’s cool and refreshing for an industry that sometimes seems old and dusty. Every person in the company who objected, I gave them two minutes to explain their objections to me. I gave it a constructive nod and we continued on our way. And that was all the right thing to do.

I have nothing more to add. Thank you very much for the great interview!

I’m glad. Sometimes worlds collide here, even between your team and mine. so I’m even more pleased that we’re often on the same page, see things the same way and support each other. Thank you!

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