Farewell speech of Michael Liebhardt
"Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends and colleagues,
This is my last event, after 23 years as CEO General Secretary, 18 organized CEO-Congresses and 34 years in the tool industry, which is almost half of one’s life. It was clear that the day will come, but not clear by the time that it will end up in the same industry. Such a moment as it is today, it is always an occasion to look back.
When I started in 1987, people and members were much scared about the future of the European tool industry, in view of the tough challenges of cheap imports from Southeast Asia starting at that time. Some members felt it as a big thread coming up. However, at the end of the day, we overcame this thread in a remarkable way. In these days when I started, Michel Blanc, father of Olivier was the President of CEO, Klaus Börsch CEO of Hazet, Noel Tallagrand the leader of Facom, showing-up with more than 10 people from management at each CEO-Congress. This was the time of big challenges, which have inspired us to do better, to increase quality and to put more efforts in streamlining production and administration. As such, it was also the beginning of a permanent process of “skin shedding” of the tool industry, which made it easier for us to manage the impacts and consequences of the starting European Single Market, with presumed severe competition among us.
During this process of market harmonisation, the European Tool Association CEO stood firmly at members side, helping to make regulations and directives, issued by the EU, transparent and understandable. More challenges were following in the coming years, which our industry had to confront and so CEO as well. A great benefit that time was using the competences of FWI, the largest national tool association in Europe, providing infrastructure, personnel and excellent experience in association work.
1999 I took over the CEO General Secretariat after it moved from Paris to Remscheid. The times during the 90s were by no means so harmonious within the European tool industry. Struggles and disputes were carried out not only in the General Assembly, but also in the section meetings.
But it was soon noticed - also with the help of the CEO - that it was better to work closely together, in order to cope with these challenges from many sides. In these days, competition used to be our enemy, today rules and regulations are our enemies. Meanwhile, I think it is not exaggerated to say: we became a great big CEO family.
Finally, we have achieved a lot: we were involved in getting the measuring instruments directive on the way, in the interests of our members, we prevented the obligatory origin labeling or deleted the nickel alloy in hand tools from the REACH regulation. Also, we are playing a major role in the design and later the revision of the Construction Products Regulation, to name just a few.
The relation with HTI has solidified over the years. Good participation as guests at the CEO-Congresses from the US are regular and close co-operation between CEO and HTI members have grown over the last decades, up to successful acquisitions.
And thus, it was not always easy to combine the different member structures and expectations to uniform approaches. As a matter of fact, this will be another challenge for the coming CEO generation, as, when we look forward, major projects and core questions are ahead of us:
What effects does the advancing electromobility have on the sales of our hand tools?
How will our operational and production processes be prepared on the advancing digitalization?
How will China develop in its global role as a rising world power?
And above all: How can our industry help achieve the climate targets that have been set?
You will see, there will be enough to do for a European sector association like CEO. As such, we realise a change from sector related challenges of the past, to more global challenges that will haunting us in the coming years.
Therefore, we must ask ourselves: “Quo vadis” our tool industry in this global game?
One answer could be to keep on “walking” towards a closer co-operation among us European tool makers. And that also and above all, applies to the European sector associations as well. I know, there are much more ways to go, in order to overcome the hurdles of time. I believe, key words for future success will be “networking” and “exchange of best practices”, in order to learn from each other. The necessary trust to deal openly with one another has grown over the past few years and is now definitive. And I think that is the best pre-condition for our industry for enduring in the next at least 34 years. The European Tool Days, the exchange of statistics and benchmarking, will be an instrument to achieve this goal and will attract potential members.
For these challenging tasks, I personally wish the coming CEO team, my successor and his deputy, the greatest success. I know, CEO is on a good way into the future.
And I thank my old companions, colleagues, members and professional partners for the many years of trust. I say it simple and sincere: “It was at any time a pleasure for me, to work with you as your General Secretary.