How did a global player from Japan find a home away from home in Hessen? Dexerials Europe’s time in Frankfurt dates back to April 1, 2017. What sounds like an April Fool’s joke was in fact the day on which the Japanese manufacturer of advanced materials, whose European headquarters is in Lijnden in the Netherlands, launched its automotive business unit in Frankfurt. Donald Schaffer, Director Sales & Marketing Europe and Head of Dexerials’ Automotive Solution Business Unit Europe, talks to us about his experiences at the international group’s first German location. From searching for the right site through how to survive in the shark tank that is the automotive industry down to mastering the coronavirus pandemic.
Love at first sight
Dexerials’ road to Hessen started at its headquarters in Japan. The country’s Ministry of Culture recommended that the group contact Germany Trade and Invest (GTAI), which provided it with initial information. The result of this first round was a shortlist of three potential locations for the group’s first German office: Munich, Stuttgart, and Frankfurt (Hessen). It quickly became clear that Frankfurt “is really the ideal place for us,” says Donald Schaffer. “We are right in the middle of Germany, and benefit from the city’s excellent international access. And our customers are either on our doorstep or can be reached within a few hours by car.”
In Hessen, Dexerials was able to rely on Hessen Trade and Invest and its broad-based network of contacts. “They provided a great deal of support and the liaison process went incredibly smoothly,” comments Donald Schaffer. The first site visits quickly followed. “We chose the last building we visited in Frankfurt. I remember it as if it were yesterday. I looked at my boss. He was smiling and so was I. It was clear that we would take it,” he says, breaking into a broad grin.
More than three years have passed since then, but Donald Schaffer is still just as keen: “We are only a stone's throw away from Frankfurt Airport. That’s ideal for our business customers and for colleagues flying in from Japan and America. It keeps distances to a minimum and means we don’t lose any time,” he enthuses. “That’s simply perfect for us.”
How has the group’s first German office performed since then? “I had very high expectations,” admits Donald Schaffer. “But they were exceeded. That’s partly due to the strong support that we received here right from the start. What I’m most pleased about is that we have succeeded in establishing ourselves as a materials and process technology supplier. Especially since there are so many companies swimming in this shark tank.”
Donald Schaffer says that the biggest challenge in getting there was understanding clients’ precise needs and individual wishes, and then adapting the group’s products in line with this. “That was a real learning curve,” he says, looking back. “Thanks to our office in Frankfurt we were able to get even the smallest details from our clients – and it’s these details that help make our products perfect. This presence on the ground was crucial.” His practical tip for other international investors wanting to continue their success stories in Hessen is therefore to “integrate local staff.” These could be the crucial bridge to clients.
Donald Schaffer is still making concrete plans for the future despite the coronavirus crisis: “We are aiming to expand our presence here and establish a small German HQ. My role is to define the strategy for the next five years. And what I’d like to do is to bring as many of our new technologies as I can from Japan to Germany. Germany is definitely Europe’s number one technology hub in my opinion.” Here, too, Dexerials is relying on Hessen Trade & Invest’s range of services, among other things. The agency’s Technologieland Hessen program lets the group access both networks and information.
Dexerials is at home on three continents, with branches in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, the USA, the Netherlands, and now Germany, too. This international approach is also reflected in the team in Hessen. “Our workforce is truly multicultural,” says Donald Schaffer, adding that his Japanese colleagues feel very much at home here in the state. “They appreciate Frankfurt’s good infrastructure and enjoy the Japanese restaurants here. And they can even see the positive side to German bureaucracy,” he adds with a smile.
As a global group, Dexerials is also feeling the impact of the pandemic. The company is taking great care to ensure its staff are safe. “We all need to get through this together,” says Donald Schaffer. At the same time, though, the group is profiting from the crisis: Dexerials’ products are used in laptops and tablet computers, among other things. Sales are rocketing and production facilities are running at full capacity.
When he needs a break in these turbulent times, Donald Schaffer visits the Lohrberg. This hill in “Frankfurt’s back yard” also boasts the sole vineyard within the city limits. The oasis of green offers an opportunity to relax completely, not to mention a panoramic view of the skyline. Donald Schaffer’s tip: Cycle up to the top of the Lohrberg and then stop for refreshments at the MainÄppelHaus orchard and cider center. “You can both work well and live well here in Frankfurt,” is his satisfied conclusion.
Dexerials’ advanced materials are used in medical devices, consumer electronics, and automobiles, among other things. Originally part of the Sony Group, the Japanese group is listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Its Frankfurt office focuses on products for the automotive industry. These include anti-reflection films, optical adhesives, electrically conductive tapes, and thermal conductive sheets. These innovative materials are used for interactive cockpit displays, and for cameras and sensors in driver assist systems. The portfolio also includes specially developed products for electric vehicles. As a result, Dexerials offers key components for the future of automobility – and Hessen is an excellent location for this. Hessen Trade & Invest supported the global group in establishing its German presence.