Last September, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Viega announced Markus Brettschneider as its new chief executive officer, replacing Dave Garlow. PM Engineer Chief Editor Nicole Krawcke had a chance to chat with the new CEO and discuss his vision and goals for the company, navigating through unprecedented times and the future of the plumbing market.
PM Engineer: Tell me a little about your background and how you got your start in the industry?
MB: Through my career, I’ve had the opportunity to be active in a few different industries, such as medical devices, FMCG, electrification, automation and robotics. I’ve worked in Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Japan, China, and now for the second time, in the U.S. I “joined” this industry through my role with Viega.
PM Engineer: When and why did you join Viega?
MB: I came to Viega in September 2020. I was attracted to the opportunity with this company because of Viega’s exciting portfolio, its wonderful team, the company’s great customers and the significant growth opportunity, given the U.S. market’s penetration of pressing. I was immediately impressed by the values and commitment of the Viegener family to the company, particularly for the North American business (Viega LLC). I could tell right away that Viega is a company with great purpose and strong values. This all combined for an appealing opportunity for a new venture in my career.
PM Engineer: What has been your greatest professional achievement to date?
MB: I am most proud that we, as a Viega team, managed to get through the COVID-19 pandemic safely. It was a huge challenge worldwide, and I know that many companies were not as lucky as Viega. I am proud to say that we came out stronger, with a lot of growth momentum in 2021. Even though we pivoted in several aspects (remote working, digitalization and a shift to many things done virtually), we kept the company running smoothly, and also kept our in-person employees safe during challenging times.
PM Engineer: What is the No. 1 thing you hope to accomplish as Viega’s CEO?
MB: We aim to grow the business significantly together with our partners. We know there is tremendous growth opportunity in the North American market for press technology, and we want to convert as many people as possible to press and/or to Viega. We want customers to see what makes Viega superior to its competitors, and to know how committed to quality and customer service we are.
PM Engineer: Why does Viega continue to succeed and thrive as a company?
MB: I think Viega continues to succeed because of multiple facets, partially mentioned before: We have great people and dedicated ownership. We have strong partnerships with our customers. Viega has an impressive commitment to the highest quality, plus an innovative portfolio and pipeline, and the company also has financial capabilities to invest in growth and conversion.
PM Engineer: What would you point to as the biggest change or shift in the company that has been made in the last year to further grow its business and best serve customers?
MB: Our biggest change, like so many other companies, was adjusting our teams and organization as a whole to virtual marketing, selling and training. We were lucky that before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, our company was already in the process of digitizing, so we were able to make the transition quickly. I’m proud of all of our colleagues for making such a big shift in a short time and being successful in this new work environment.
PM Engineer: Last year, Viega announced an expansion to its Kansas manufacturing operations. Are there any additional plans for expansion in the future?
MB: We have made significant investments in production and logistics over the past few years. In 2021, our growth is in the form of additional people and shifts to keep up with demand. In future years we will invest again in more footprint expansion.
PM Engineer: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the company, and what has Viega done to minimize its impact?
MB: First, we did everything possible to protect our people — particularly in operations — and have continued to spend significant amounts on continuous testing, etc. We knew that illness in the supply chain would have potentially a huge and detrimental effect on our ability to keep up with product demand, so we did everything in our power to keep people protected from infection. Second, we did not lay off people through the COVID-19 crisis, so therefore we could rebound fast in 2021. We also redirected funds from things such as physical events into virtual marketing, training and selling.
PM Engineer: How has the company combated and adapted to the supply chain disruption?
MB: There have been significant challenges, especially in transportation and raw material. With raw material, it was difficult to mitigate the different force majeures, but together with our suppliers, we always found solutions. We have invested in additional transportation capacity even though it came at significant higher costs.
PM Engineer: Viega was recently recognized as one of the 50 Sustainability and Climate Leaders by TBD Media Group. Why is this type of recognition important today?
MB: The recognition is not really important, but, of course, it is appreciated. What is important for us is that we can contribute to sustainability. This idea is at our core of what we do — for us, but also the generations to follow.
PM Engineer: Where do you see Viega’s biggest push forward over the next six months to a year, and what will your focus be on?
MB: Conversion will be our focus. We want to help our customers make the right choice for more efficient, safe and reliable technology. We will invest in our commercial organization and, as mentioned before, in our footprint via a larger workforce.
PM Engineer: What is your most unusual talent?
MB: As far as U.S. standards go, I was a pretty good (European) team handball player.
PM Engineer: What is one thing about you that most people don’t know?
MB: I am glad they do not know — therefore it is better that it stays that way.
PM Engineer: Where do you see the plumbing industry heading over the next five years?
MB: I believe we’ll see a lot of pre-manufacturing trends. With the constant labor shortage, anything that can be done to accelerate work on the jobsite is important. Digitalization in general is also big, and I think we’ll see things more and more connected in the future. There are a lot of smart technologies out there that will continue to grow. I also think there will be opportunities for contractors to do more with graywater plumbing (recycling water from the washing machine to flush a toilet, for example). And we hope there are more apprenticeships out there to help with the continued labor shortage.