In 1999, Martin Schwalm takes on the direction of Schwalm in its third generation. Over the years, the robotics business is constantly gaining more importance. In 2008, the 50-year-old separated the robotics from Schwalm Kanalsanierung and founded Schwalm Robotic GmbH. Both companies – Schwalm Kanalsanierung and Schwalm Robotic – currently employ around 40 highly qualified specialists.
At the beginning of March 2018, his oldest son, Sebastian Schwalm (25), returned to his home of Bad Hersfeld and joined Schwalm Kanalsanierung after his metalworking apprenticeship specializing in utility vehicles at WIEDEMANN enviro tec GmbH & Co. KG in Altenmünster, in southern Germany.
In an interview, Sebastian and Martin Schwalm explain why, unlike in many other family companies, there has never been a succession problem, and how the successor and “junior boss” is now positioned.
Question: Mr. Schwalm, you are bringing both Schwalm companies into their third generation. Have you ever doubted whether your children will continue the business?
Martin Schwalm: My wife and I have never seen it as inevitable that our children will follow in our footsteps. Instead, we have allowed both sons complete freedom, and always indicated that they can choose their profession themselves. But, of course, both companies belong to the family. As a child, I sat on my father's knee in the sewer renovation workshop and he said to me: One day, you will be the junior boss. And my children also grew up in the company, so to speak, and heard over dinner how my wife and I talk about it.
Question: Of his own wishes, your son, Sebastian, joined Schwalm Kanalsanierung in March 2018 for a start. As “junior boss” does this also transfer management responsibility to him?
Martin Schwalm: No, that is not the case and it was also not Sebastian’s wishes either. Rather, we were pleased that he came back after his sound 3 ½-year apprenticeship and wanted to make use of the knowledge he gained in his parents’ organization.
Sebastian Schwalm: I consciously chose sewer renovation. I have always been interested in cars, messing about with them, and I loved driving around with the tractor on the farm of my maternal grandfather. This passion also led to me completing the metalworking apprenticeship with a specialization in utility vehicles – at my chosen apprenticeship company WIEDEMANN enviro tec GmbH & Co. KG in southern Germany with lots of fun. I can also recommend turning your back on your parent’s company, even if just for a limited time. Moving out, finding your own apartment, settling down in a strange environment and proving yourself. I would like to thank my parents for giving me the opportunity to do this. This taught me how to stand on my own two feet and decide which path to strike out on, professionally. In April 2019, I joined the company as an employee in sewer renovation. Even if I run into my parents every day here, and my colleagues already jokingly call me “junior boss”, I am happy to have been able to try things out myself first, and to be able to apply the knowledge I gained in the vehicle fleet and on the sewer renovation construction sites. I feel quite at home here, whether I’m driving the flushing or renovation vehicle, or with my colleagues.
Question: Where are you working at the moment?
Sebastian Schwalm: Since RO-KA-TECH in April 2019, I have been working together with Thomas Ackermann on the renovation vehicle. Here, two generations come into contact, and things are extremely good between them. Thanks to Thomas’ decades of experience and calm, there is absolutely no stress. We work together, paying attention to the quality, I benefit from his knowledge and we can rely on each other 100%.
Question: How do you see the next steps?
Sebastian Schwalm: I will stay where I am for the time being. The lack of workers in sewer renovation and the high order volume are currently preventing a renovation vehicle without a second person. I would also like to gain some more impressions first, in particular testing out the practical use of our robots on the construction sites and experiencing myself how we can continue to optimize our vehicles. Only once I have completed the practical usage phase and gained a complete overview will I want to go to Schwalm Robotic to gather experience there too. First, however, I will travel to America and see SCHWALM USA which sells a vast number of Schwalm products each year which are produced by us in Asbach.
Question: So does this mean that the fourth Schwalm generation is in the starting blocks with you?
Sebastian Schwalm: Yes, you could put it like that. For me, it was clear at a relatively early stage that I would like to continue the direction of both Schwalm companies in the fourth generation at some point, when the time comes. But not today, tomorrow, or the day after. I would like to learn many more things first, before I follow in my father’s footsteps. Thankfully, he is still a long way off from retirement and is still able to teach me many things. I am really looking forward to this common journey with my parents at Schwalm Kanalsanierung and Robotic.