Longtime expat charts growth course for trading, manufacturing enterprise

BACK in 1968 current chairman of HAMBURG Trading Corporation  Horst Kessler von Sprengeisen received an assignment for just a limited time in the firm’s parent company in the Philippines.

But his stay was to be extended at length in the country, which he now considers his second home. What was initially a 90-day stint lasted for about 600 months—or 50 years, to be exact.

HAMBURG was established locally when K.D. Feddersen Ueberseegesellschaft mbH, a Hamburg-based worldwide global trading and distribution company, sent Kessler here to set up their liaison office in Manila.

With literally just a suitcase in hand, strong will and relentless determination, he founded what is now the present-day HAMBURG.

The company recently celebrated two milestones: the inauguration of its new multipurpose facility in Laguna, and its 50th anniversary on August 2018.

“That already explains why I am here. I was successful in business. I managed to open [one] for my employees and liked the country, the people and everything [in and about it],” the 78-year-old Kessler told Envoys&Expats in a recent interview held in their new headquarters in Santa Rosa City, Laguna.

‘Walk the talk’

WHILE on his eighth year in the country, the Hamburg native realized the Philippines would be his new home. He decided to stay in the country for good since then.

Naturally, Kessler knew he had to adjust to the new environment and culture of the Philippines. He said one had to master the art of compromise to be able to thrive in his new home.

“I still think, live and act like a German. I try to maintain [my country’s brand of] discipline while, at the same time, imbibe the laid-back attitude of the Filipinos,” HAMBURG’s chairman pointed out.

“Now, 50 years after, I swim in the Philippines like a fish swims in the water,” he jokingly retorted.

Kessler recalled teaching the much-vaunted German efficiency to his Filipino workers. The task was like unleashing a turbo-prop sports car on the autobahn, because they learned fast and followed his instructions quite well.

Moreover, the executive “walks the talk” by coming in early to work and showing enthusiasm in doing his tasks.

“We are a German-managed Philippine company,” he pointed out. “If you are a good leader, then people will follow you. I think the compromise we made with the workers [was very effective] here.”

World-class facilities unveiled

KESSLER said the company’s new facility is a notable breakthrough for HAMBURG because it has a warehouse, an administration complex and a demo kitchen—all housed under one roof.

The new warehouse is temperature- and humidity-controlled, whereas the administration building is designed to look like a modern coworking space.

He described the modern, state-of-the-art studio kitchen as “the first of its kind in Laguna,” with a 60-seating capacity amphitheater equipped with appliances imported from Europe and the United States, primarily to serve as a demo kitchen to introduce HAMBURG’s products to its clients.

Later this year, it will also be introduced as a commercial studio kitchen that can be leased for TV shows, seminars, trainings and other big-ticket gatherings.

HAMBURG President Lenie Bermudez, a 20-year industry veteran who spearheaded HAMBURG’s Food Business Unit in 2002, currently oversees its operations.

“Meanwhile, Kessler’s daughter Gianna is the company’s vice president for marketing and PR. She oversees the marketing needs of the different business units of HAMBURG and creating its new brands which will be launched this year.

Secret of success

THE German national said the secret to his success is just plain hard work, as he used to clock in 15 hours a day personally managing the company.

He owes his excellent business acumen and work ethic to his roots from his native Hamburg.

“We practice fair play, and we [adhere to our] word of honor in our business transactions,” Kessler emphasized.

“Our business is to [cater] to the satisfaction of the customer. This is the German discipline that I have imparted to the company.”

He went on to say, “We also have to be efficient, because our customers in the Philippines are very demanding.”

HAMBURG’s major clients include a leading Filipino fast-food chain, the country’s biggest brewery and a global grocery manufacturing and processing conglomerate.

Just like any enterprise, HAMBURG also experienced rough sailing in its operations, but had managed to turn the tide and become sufficient in the long run. Starting small, it is now thriving as a medium-sized company.

On to new horizons

NEVERTHELESS, Kessler cautions HAMBURG about resting on its laurels. He wants the firm to pursue greater heights and chart new territories.

On his vision, the executive shared, “The inauguration of the new facility is the start of our expansion. We plan to enlarge our footprint in the Visayas and Mindanao by establishing operations in those regions.”

For HAMBURG’s next phase, he had this to say: “We also plan to acquire more suppliers to sell our products, achieve more growth this year and strive for new achievements toward the near future.”

And Kessler hopes it encompasses, or even surpasses, the story of his stay in the Philippines—one that was actually destined for the long haul.

Image Credits: Jimbo Albano

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Rizal Raoul Reyes

Rizal Raoul S. Reyes has covered technology, science, business, property and special reports. He had working stints with the Business Star, Manila Bulletin and Independent Daily News.
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