By Chris Kelsey – This is Part 2 of 2 of a profile. Part 1, based on an interview with HUESKER North America’s first president, Tom Collins, looks at the founding of the North and Central American operations. Part 2 is an interview with current HUESKER North and Central America CEO Sven Schröer. The discussion focuses on the current wave of growth with the company, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary. This two-part story is part of an ongoing project from Geosynthetica to document the historical development of the geosynthetics field and how those earlier investments are tied to current innovations and forthcoming opportunities.
GEOSYNTHETICA: How has the international HUESKER company changed in the 25 years in which it has also had a major polymeric materials presence in the US?
SCHRÖER: The HUESKER Group developed into a true global player after the US subsidiary was established. This was actually the starting point of our major development around the world. Since the US subsidiary emerged, we have successfully grown our presence on all continents. We had a strong focus on Europe in the 1990s, of course; but, South America has also proven to be a very important market. The technical know-how of our colleagues from Brazil is a recognized and welcomed resource for our clients. Furthermore, our subsidiaries in the Middle East, Asia, and Russia have become an integral part of our global presence. Our network is based on sustainable long-term partnerships, and that speaks volumes. Many of our associates have worked with us for more than 20 years and have known us to be a reliable and progressive partner.
GEOSYNTHETICA: Which markets have most influenced how the North and Central American businesses have developed out of the Charlotte, North Carolina subsidiary?
SCHRÖER: We started off as a supplier of polyester geogrids and high-strength fabrics in North America, and I believe we are still known best for these. Obviously, our geogrid and woven ranges have evolved and we are taking these products to markets in a variety of polymers nowadays.
Historically, the applications were very much in the transportation sector as well as other infrastructure projects, such as levees and dikes. However, this is not the whole HUESKER story, and frankly it has never been—especially after our acquisition of a geocomposites manufacturing facility. We have gone into areas such as irrigation canal rehabilitation, sediment capping, and other environmental applications.
These trends certainly continue. The latest additions to our product range in North America have been our Soiltain® geosynthetic tubes and the geotextile-encased column (GEC) system called Ringtrac®. Our activities in mining and coal ash deposits are becoming more and more significant to us as well.
GEOSYNTHETICA: Sven, you came to lead the US-based operation after years of service in Germany. Does experience in geosynthetics on both sides of the Atlantic change the way you approach the business of infrastructure development and response, either in the marketplace or within your company?
SCHRÖER: The US market is very different to other parts of the world. Mainly due to its maturity and size, I’d like to add. I have been a proponent of innovation and project-based solutions, and I am well aware of the danger that these traits can get lost in the day-to-day routine. At HUESKER, we are trying to keep our minds open for improvements and offer new solutions to existing challenges—on the applications—as well as the manufacturing side of things. It is a thin line to walk by trying to be a cost-effective supplier to the market while at the same time trying to develop new technical solutions. We are proud to have people on board who are not afraid to show this kind of imagination—always keeping an eye on cost-effectiveness, of course.
GEOSYNTHETICA: HUESKER has made a number of investments in staff and facilities in North Carolina in the past two years. Can you summarize these moves and the markets to which they are most closely linked?
SCHRÖER: That is correct. We have invested heavily into our infrastructure by moving into new corporate North American offices and expanding our manufacturing capabilities drastically. In addition to this, we have been able to add new members to our team, people who understand the values of our company. All this would not be possible without our owners, who support our vision to expand the HUESKER footprint in North America. The HUESKER Group is in agreement with us, that we are currently not fully utilizing our potential. Also, we have not manufactured our core products domestically but we will have a significant capacity to do so.
GEOSYNTHETICA: What might the next quarter century of geosynthetics look like?
SCHRÖER: On the product side, we will see a greater acceptance in the engineering community. The efforts we put in, and the efforts of other major players in the industry, including the Geosynthetic Materials Association in the US, are geared towards this goal. All the advantages of geosynthetics in terms of more sustainable construction techniques, quality control and cost, and time savings will be acknowledged by the clients and designers.
We will also see further consolidation of major players. HUESKER is a traditional family-owned company and will remain like this. We intend to grow and are not afraid of the future. We are embracing it and will work hard to shape it according to our values.
GEOSYNTHETICA: How is HUESKER marking the American company’s 25th anniversary?
SCHRÖER: The main event took place during the GeoAmericas 2016 conference in Miami. Our marketing activities also display the 25 year anniversary regularly to mark this milestone in our North American history.
Also, our team will have a chance to celebrate this achievement throughout the year as well. Without them, we would not be able to achieve the successes we have to date and the successes we are heading towards.