115 years Emil Otto—A story of German industry

Emil Otto, Magdeburg_smallEmil Otto Flux- u. Oberflächentechnik GmbH will be celebrating its 115th anniversary in 2016. The Rheingau flux manufacturer can look back on an eventful company history, which reflects German history in all its facets.

‘Likely just a few mid-sized companies have a history so closely connected with the political changes of the past 100 years in Germany as Emil Otto GmbH does’, summarizes Markus Geßner, authorized signatory of Emil Otto, while leafing through the company’s chronology. The company can in fact look back on an eventful past.

The firm of Emil Otto was founded in Magdeburg in the year 1901. Magdeburg had developed into the centre of Germany’s heavy machinery and plant engineering at the turn of the century. Companies such as Krupp-Gruson and Buckau Wolf needed chemical additives for industrial metalworking. Drilling oils, and pickling and polishing agents as well as flux for soldering and brazing ferrous materials along with copper and brass came in to use. Chemical additives as process support for the metalworking industry became ever more important in order to produce quickly and efficiently. The firm of Emil Otto devoted itself to manufacturing these consumables, developing and producing a variety of chemicals. The emphasis was on flux here.

The company continued to steadily develop, surviving the turmoil of the First and Second World Wars. The production building was heavily damaged in a bomb attack on January 16, 1945 so that production had to be temporarily continued in the cellar rooms. The manufacturing plants were rebuilt after the war so that production could be quickly resumed.

The company was transformed by law into a parastatal limited partnership in 1957, a move which affected nearly all of the companies in the former GDR. In the course of this, executive management decided to found a branch office in Hamburg. The company’s division was cemented in 1961 with construction of the wall. The company’s private partners coming from the founding family finally abandoned the former GDR before this happened and went to Hamburg.

The partners acquired the present site in Erbach (Eltville) in the year 1961 and rebuild the premises formerly used as a tinning factory into a chemical production facility. The Emil Otto company had thus found its new site and supplied the German market with chemical products. In the GDR, Emil Otto KG continued to work in Magdeburg with 50% private and 50% state capital.

In 1972 the conversion of medium-sized industries into state-owned enterprises (SOEs) had been decided by law in the GDR. Private shareholders were bought out and lost their shares. Emil Otto KG became Löt- und Poliermittelwerk SOE. A second site was established in the Berliner Chaussee in addition to the main site in Magdeburg’s Maxim-Gorki Street. Löt- und Poliermittelwerk SOE was entrusted with a few central tasks such as application research, quality assurance, central library, among other things, by the specialist group flagship operation, Härtol SOE.

With the fall of the Wall in 1989 and the subsequent reunification of the two German states, the company’s management unbundled the Härtol Combine and the privatization agency offered to transfer the formerly independent companies to the former shareholders. The owning families took over the firm of Emil Otto as a retransfer community with the respective shares of the earlier shareholder structure retroactive to 1 Jan. 1991. The retransfer community as a landowner organized itself as a GbR.

EMOPOL Flux- und Oberflächentechnik GmbH was founded at the site in Magdeburg. The new company was under the management of Mr Leitreuter, the managing director of Emil Otto GmbH, and shareholder Dr Herzog. After Dr Herzog’s death, Mr Leitreuter began to unbundle the commercial unit run as a community of heirs and transfer it completely into his possession. The GmbH was liquidated and Emil Otto e.K. assigned as a plant section. The firm of Emil Otto lead by Mr Leitreuter with its headquarters in Eltville/OT Erbach and the branch in Magdeburg emerged once again for the first time as a unit.

During the course of development, the emphasis of development and production increasingly shifted from the traditional assortment of polish and solder technology toward fluxes for the electronics industry. Beginning in the 1970s, Emil Otto GmbH continued to steadily develop the products in order to follow ongoing development in the electronics industry. The wave-soldering process was supported right from the beginning; the conversion to lead-free soldering processes, new environmental trends such as water-based fluxes, and the development of selective soldering processes in larger scope were not just supported but actively influenced.

In the final years, Mr Leitreuter was no longer able to pursue the full scope of his activities due to a serious illness. He reorganized the company and created the possibility of leading the business operation out of the partnership with the founding of Emil Otto GmbH. The married couple Geßner took over the company in 2014 after his death. Investments in the development of product sales now became urgently necessary due to the many restructurings of the last 20 years.

 

‘We took over Emil Otto in an extremely difficult situation’, says Barbara Geßner, managing director of Emil Otto GmbH, in retrospect. In addition to rebuilding the marketing and sales structures, the entire product range was purged and adjusted to the electronics industry’s present-day needs. The first trade fair activities were conducted in 2015. Emil Otto GmbH was liberated from its sleeping-beauty slumber and returned to the limelight of the professional public. New products such as cleaning media and SMD adhesive were integrated into the product portfolio. Partnerships with KiWo and other manufacturers were also entered into in order to place the company on a broader foundation.

‘And this path should continue to be trod’, confirmed Markus Geßner. ‘We will also continue to actively follow this path and align ourselves with the customers’ needs. That’s how we’re going to continue to work on optimizing our product range. We will already be presenting additional innovative products at the SMT in April 2016. The sales network will continue to be actively expanded and optimized. Discussions with potential distribution and cooperation partners are being conducted so that the market may expect many novelties from Emil Otto in the near future’, says Geßner in summary.

But Emil Otto is also going to venture new steps in an additional area. ‘In addition to the electronics industry, we also have products for tool and machine construction, for hard and soft soldering, as well as in cooler construction and strip tinning. These lines of business were not being tended and here too we wanted to move more forcefully into the users’ focus. These high-quality products were previously known only to a small group of the professional public and hardly a customer is familiar with Emil Otto’s entire product range. This is going to change beginning in 2016. The product groups will also be made known and actively presented to a broad public in future’, says Geßner.

The story of Emil Otto GmbH continues to write itself. ‘I think that the company has participated quite a lot in recent decades. But what always endured was the awareness to deliver the highest quality. As the new executive management, we have also prescribed this awareness for ourselves, because tradition is not resting on history. Tradition must be lived and pursued. We’re convinced that Emil Otto GmbH is heading for successful times’, says Barbara Geßner looking optimistically into the future.

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