Why sucks management career

Gondolas for the city

At the Vorarlberg cable car manufacturer Doppelmayr, business with ski lifts is stagnating. Gondolas as public transport in South America and Asia are the new growth opportunity for the world market leader.

Manual work: In the production hall, the worker grinds the weld seams on a pulley for the lift rope. Before that, a robot welded the parts together (Photo: Lisa Mathis, www.lisamathis.at)

Acrid smell, and metallic hammering permeates the air of the hall. At one of the workplaces, Emre H. * pulls off the round weld seam with his Flex. A bright sparkling trail sprays away to the side.
Short break. The worker in overalls raises his visor and takes a deep breath. While working, he sucks air through a hose through the filter on his back. Behind him is a quarter of a pulley, weighing around a ton. Later she will take care of the redirection of the rope in a valley or mountain station of a chair lift. H. reports visibly proud of his job: “I weld by hand where the robot cannot. Then I grind all the seams. ”Definitely not an activity for weak muscles. Before we can start welding, H. has to position the heavy components for the robot. In his life, H. had to deal with completely different metals. He used to be a goldsmith in Turkey, now he works for Doppelmayr in Wolfurt, Vorarlberg. It takes four hours for such a section of the pulley to be finished. Visor down, let's go.

Right next to the production halls, where around 300 workers work in shifts to launch girders for stations and roller batteries, things are more subdued. Black paneled walls, exposed concrete and generous glass elements. Managing Director Thomas Pichler resides on the top floor of the headquarters that was newly opened last year. The 48-year-old does not train his muscles with the welding machine, but rather twice a week in the in-house gym. Or with the fly rod in his spare time. And of course on skis in winter, as befits the boss of the cable car world market leader.

He describes the feeling of sitting on a lift from his own home as being divided into two parts. On the one hand, it makes him proud. On the other hand, it flashes through his head: “I hope he won't stop.” Because his friends would immediately say to him: “Go and fix it.” Rightly, because Pichler is not only familiar with business indicators, but also with them Technology. He started as an electrical engineer in the Italian branch almost 30 years ago. In 2015 he took over the management of Doppelmayr Seilbahnen GmbH from Michael Doppelmayr, great-grandson of the founder. He will remain as a board member of the holding company (see box "History of the cable car icon").

Winter business stagnates

Anyone who thinks of Doppelmayr as an Austrian usually remembers their last skiing holiday. No wonder, according to its own information, the traditional Vorarlberg company has a market share of 80 percent in this country and 60 percent worldwide. The largest competitor, Leitner in South Tyrol, has 35 percent globally and the Swiss BMF Group around five. There are also numerous small players, such as in Italy, which, however, do not play a role in the world market. The fact that Doppelmayr's lifts are also in great demand abroad can be discovered on holiday, for example in Las Vegas and Venice.

Of the 15,000 lifts built since it was founded in 1893, around three quarters are located abroad, spread across 92 countries. Did you know that Doppelmayr's “world record track” can be found in the south of Vietnam? The eight kilometer longest cable car in the world called "Hòn Thom" connects two islands. Want another record? Doppelmayr also built the ropeway with the highest support in Vietnam. It measures 188.88 meters because eight is a lucky number in Vietnam.

Is that a sign of megalomania? Possible. But much more about entrepreneurial necessity and skill. Because with chairlifts for Sölden, Kitzbühel & Co. you can no longer achieve growth. "Winter business is still the most important, but it is stagnating," reports Pichler, referring to a 60 percent share of sales. “We can only grow with projects in cities and in the summer tourist area in Asia and South America.” Non-winter projects account for 40 percent of sales, and the trend is rising. Railways on excursion mountains and to lookout points are the recipe for the winter doldrums.

According to Pichler, this has a lot to do with the 2008 economic crisis. Since then, operators of ski resorts have not been allowing lifts to be renewed so quickly and there are no new construction projects. Doppelmayr was able to compensate for the decline with increasing demand in Eastern Europe and Russia. The Olympic Winter Games are of course extremely welcome events for the cable car manufacturer. Especially when it comes to equipping a newly created ski area with lifts, as was the case in Sochi, Russia, in 2014.

Pichler is also looking forward to the Games in Beijing in 2022 with shining eyes: “We are expecting around 20 new systems.” This year, however, there were only four new orders in South Korea, as 18 Doppelmayr lifts have been running there since the 1980s.

The volumes of new systems are impressive. A typical six-seater chairlift costs the customer between six and eight million euros. Of course, the manager doesn't tell me how much the bottom line is, nothing to you. His diplomatic answer: "We generate between eight and ten percent free cash flow a year."

Gondolas as public transport

Back to the off-piste market of hope. “We are currently working intensively on introducing urban planners to gondolas as public transport,” reports Pichler. This has already been achieved in La Paz in Bolivia. Doppelmayr has been building a cable car network there since 2012, which is to include ten lines by the time it is completed next year.
The rapidly growing cities of South America with poor bus infrastructure are interesting terrain for Doppelmayr. In addition, gondolas as public transport have long been part of the cityscape in many places in South America, for example in Medellín.

Not so in Europe, especially in Austria. “We have a strong lobby for rail-bound vehicles,” complains Pichler. He does not see his systems as competition to the underground: "While an underground can transport up to 80,000 people per hour, we can manage 5,000." According to Pichler, there is also a great deal of skepticism about urban cable car projects, one thinks of them Idea to build a cable car on the Vienna Kahlenberg.

Premier class Disneyland

Not only skiers and city dwellers use Doppelmayr's lifts. Wizards and witches drive nine hours to Hogwarts Magic School. At least in the bestselling novel Harry Potter. It's faster at Universal Studios Florida. There is no real steam from the locomotive, but Doppelmayr's ropeway technology pulls it to its destination in four minutes. Other theme parks, such as Disneyland Orlando, are also considering cable cars as a means of transport.

"Theme parks are an interesting future market because, like cities, they have the need to get people from A to B," says Pichler, looking at this business area analytically. For Pichler, a Doppelmayr lift in the theme park is an invitation to the top league, because anyone who operates Rollercoaster & Co. requires the highest technical level. And he likes to play along there.

Delivery rate at the limit

A lot has happened since the single chairlifts from the 1960s. Eight-seated chairs transport winter sports enthusiasts up in the ski areas. “We have reached the limit of what is technically feasible in terms of delivery capacity,” Pichler notes. It won't play more than 5,000 people per hour in the near future. Because the human factor, who needs time to board, limits the capacity. But the traveling customer is crying out for more comfort: WiFi at the lift and heated seats are very popular.

The lunch break for around 450 employees in the "Hohe Brücke office" is also individual. Although the new house has now united the colleagues from the surrounding locations, but only to work. They swarm out again for lunch. There is no canteen in the 55 million euro property. But for Käsknöpfle, people like to take a little trip in the Ländle.