Jakob Ammann wanted to open his own millwright business, but he needed a location. Not surprisingly he turned to family – in this instance his brother Andreas.
That business, established in Andreas’ home in 1869, has evolved into what today is the Ammann Group. Generations of Jakob’s ancestors have continued to run the business during times of prosperity, economic depression, world wars and newfound freedoms around the world.
What has been consistent through all these successes and struggles is the importance of family. Ammann has been a family business from the time it operated out of Andreas’ home in Madiswil, Switzerland, to the current enterprise that reaches across borders and oceans.
To this day, several key characteristics of the company can be traced all the way back to Jakob. Among them:
- Including family in the business
- Passing the top leadership position to a family member
- Having the strength to make difficult decisions and seize opportunities
- Having the vision to make the right decisions
Jakob faced one of those difficult choices in 1878 when evaluating whether to leave the comfort of his start-up space. He decided to make the move and built a mechanical workshop – with a water wheel that was powered by the village stream in Madiswil.
Jakob also started the family succession process that same year, though it likely didn’t cross his mind when he brought his brother Ulrich on board as a first apprentice.
Ulrich soon set out across Switzerland and Germany to further his training. He became a certified millwright in Holzminden, Germany, and returned to his brother’s business, which he took over in 1886. For the first time, Ammann had been successfully transferred from one family member to another.
In 1896 Ulrich moved the company to Langenthal to gain access to the Central Railway. To this day the business remains on the land Ulrich selected.
In the subsequent years under Ulrich, Ammann transitioned from mill construction to road construction. That included acquiring a patent in 1908 for macadam machines – essentially the asphalt mixing plant of that time – and launching the first motorised Ammann rollers in 1911.
Also in 1911, Ulrich’s son Arthur joined the family business. Arthur was educated and trained in Geneva, Munich and the U.S. and had received a diploma.
He learned at the arm of his father, but his on-the-job education was interrupted when the first World War arrived, and both Ulrich and Arthur were called to duty.
Shortly after the war, in 1920, the company became more legally structured, yet as focused on the family as ever, with the creation of what was called “Family Company.”
By 1924 Arthur ran the organization. His tenure saw considerable exporting of products to the East as well as France, Belgium and Holland. Swiss infrastructure also was being developed at this time and provided additional opportunities.
Arthur saw that efficiencies could be gained by opening an office and workshop in France, and he did so by 1930. Crisis soon engulfed Europe and World War II arrived, a challenging time for the business to navigate.
But survive Ammann did, and growth accelerated at the conclusion of the war. Pent-up demand drove business as did infrastructure work. New Ammann machines were developed, and the future looked bright.
In 1946, shortly after World War II, Arthur’s son Ulrich Ammann came on board and was responsible for products and organization.
The post-war swing continued into the late 1950s. The company was thriving in 1958 when Arthur died of a heart attack. A grief-stricken Ulrich, now with 12 years of company experience, took over for his father.
There was much internal support during the unexpected transition. Still, tough times were ahead as the global and local economies suffered dips. Then, in 1972, the oil crisis and a recession struck.
That same year, the holding company Ammann-Enterprises was established to create a board and ensure continuity between generations and that all appropriate business opportunities were pursued.
Also at this time, a new generation was coming of age. They arrived with crucial experience gained at multi-national businesses. Andreas Ulrich Ammann, Ulrich’s son, joined the company in 1972. Johann Niklaus Schneider, Ulrich’s son-in-law, came on board in 1981. Both successfully ran Ammann subsidiaries.
The next leadership transition occurred in 1988 when Johann Niklaus took over as head of the Group Executive Board, replacing his father-in-law, Ulrich.
Johann Niklaus’ tenure was marked by an emphasis on international expansion, including the acquisition of Rammax in Metzingen, Germany, in 1995, and Stavostroj in Nové Město, Czech Republic, in 2005.
Business opportunities in China were pursued, including the opening of a manufacturing facility in Shanghai. In addition, many international dealers and distributors signed on at this time.
Johann Niklaus also continued to build the Langenthal facility, with the Technology Centre for Asphalt opening under his leadership.
Johann Niklaus’ son, Hans-Christian Schneider, joined the company in 2009 as an assistant to group management. Hans-Christian had earned a degree in micro-engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland, and an MBA from INSEAD in Singapore and Fontainebleau, France.
In 2010 Johann Niklaus was elected to the Swiss Federal Council. He resigned as head of Ammann at that time.
Ulrich Meyer, a former division head, took over to bridge the gap until Hans-Christian was fully prepared. The focus continued to be on international development, with several more international dealers coming on board.
Hans-Christian became deputy CEO in January 2012 and CEO in January 2013. His tenure has already been marked by significant growth and an even stronger global presence.
Three significant mergers and acquisitions took place during his first two years as CEO: The opening of a manufacturing facility in Gravatai, Brazíl; entering a joint venture with Apollo in Ahmedabad, India; and the acquisition of Elba-Werk in Ettlingen, Germany.
The decisions already have benefitted Ammann and show yet another family leader is poised to seize opportunities to ensure the company’s continued success.