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Insights into the founding night: How HELDECO came into being 30 years ago

HELDECO was launched 30 years ago. The foundation stones for the success of the Styrian flagship company are based on a great vision of founder Helmut Dettenweitz Sen., genuine friendships and an explosive agreement on secrecy during the founding. A look back at the founding(snacht).

When Helmut Dettenweitz Sen. and Helmut Dettenweitz Jun. met with Othmar Aigner, the mood was somber – to say the least. “Together, we sat there for a few minutes at first. Neither of us said anything,” Aigner recalls today. The trio’s silence was preceded by turbulent days. In the leading regional company, the father and son team had developed into central specialists: While Dettenweitz Jun. was brought up as a company assistant to become the manager of tomorrow, Dettenweitz Sen. had worked his way up over decades to become a managerial personality and finally managed the company operationally – with an unforeseeable end: In a surprising maneuver, the owner appointed a regional politician as managing director – agreements that had been in place with the duo up to that point expired at a stroke.

The rift became inevitable: Dettenweitz Sen., then exactly 50 years old, and son Helmut had to leave. “After a few minutes, I told him that they would have to start their own business,” says Aigner, who at the time was himself an entrepreneur with a business and tax consulting firm in Kapfenberg. The purpose of the company was not even discussed. Aigner: “Heli lived and breathed metal processing. There were no ifs and buts about it.”

Founding Team

The mood of crisis gave way from minute to minute – and made room for new visions and big ideas: The frequency of meetings in the wine cellar increased, as did the number of participants in the mostly nightly exchange of ideas. Whether alcohol had been involved? “You have to assume that,” Aigner says.

Not without smiling. Nevertheless, there can be no talk of a snap idea: Dettenweitz’s visionary power in particular was contagious – when former colleagues and friends heard about the new ambitions, they spontaneously signed up. The result: the duo quickly became a founding sextet. Dettenweitz Sen. and Helmut Dettenweiz Jun. brought Clemens Pichler, Herbert Zettl, Hannes Schrittwieser and Fritz Neuherz into the founding team. Aigner remained loyal to tax and business consulting, but was heavily involved in the initial budgeted balance sheets and in the preparation of the business plan. “There were friends at the table at the time, not strangers,” Aigner explains.

Secrecy

The plans spun in Aigner’s wine cellar did not leave it. Secrecy was even agreed with wives and partners. “Otherwise, the project would have been doomed before it even began,” laughs Aigner. The families were not informed until the company was officially founded – not an easy undertaking, after all, “employees suddenly became entrepreneurs – and that was certainly one of the biggest hurdles. Because that takes an extreme amount of courage,” emphasizes Aigner. Demonstrating a great will to change was not the only hurdle: At that time, unlike today, venture capital for high-tech start-ups was nowhere to be found.

Therefore, the founders pooled to buy land, buildings and machinery. Each of the sextet raised 200,000 shillings – a total of around 87,000 euros. The basis for the purchase of the former premises of a regional sawmill, the rest was contributed by Raiffeisenlandesbank in Graz. Whether the current location was doubted? “Of course. There were intense discussions about whether we shouldn’t go somewhere else with the company. But we finally agreed to stay here. After all, we wanted our commitment to benefit the region,” explains Aigner.

First orders

The first hall was built on the greenfield site. Self-managed by the shareholders themselves. In addition to the unbridled ambition of the founders, the expertise of Dettenweitz Sen. in particular helped the company secure its first orders. “He had always been rooted in the industry and knew exactly what he was doing. All the others were also real experts in their field,” explains Aigner.

Just one year after its foundation, the HELDECO team had eleven employees, and in 1992 the company already had a turnover of around ten million shillings (726,000 euros). Again one year later HELDECO was awarded as “Young Company of the Year”. HELDECO’s run of success could no longer be slowed down: “What has been achieved is really something special,” emphasizes Aigner. Indeed: Since its foundation, HELDECO has grown to 60 employees, is undisputedly one of the innovation pioneers in Central European metal processing – and serves “global players” around the globe: material for the next historic company chapters.