Brandes, a 40-year-old MBA, started at Noell in 1992, and was appointed manager of the operation when it was bought by KCI Konecranes in 2000. He then moved up the ladder to control port crane business units and mergers and acquisitions activity.

“I first came into the picture in late summer. That was when real discussions started,” Brandes says of Stahl buy-out talks.

“Stahl remains untouched more or less in its functions and activities,” Brandes says. “KCI acquired the business and is running it as a separate group which is managed from this office in Kuenzelsau. We will not have the exchange of people, nor any plan to do so. The only thing is that I have been added.”

Although KCI Konecranes is a new entrant into the German market, Brandes says that it has high hopes – and that is what makes it a better parent for Stahl than its old parent, R Stahl AG.

“KCI did not really establish itself in the German market until 2000. The KCI brand is not so well known in Germany – but it is doing something about it. It has analysed the market well, and works with a different approach [than Stahl]. That does not mean that the KCI brand will vanish from the German market.

“KCI is strong, also financially,” Brandes says. “The group is much more focussed on material handling. Six percent of its revenue is invested in new products. That was something never granted to the material handling division, even though it had good products. The future of the material handling division is very clear. The Stahl group did not want to invest.

“If you take a pragmatic approach, this was the best way for both parties. One wanted to sell, another wanted to get into the market,” Brandes says. Stahl sells about 45% of its products to German companies through a domestic sales network, and 55% to those outside of Germany.

“KCI Konecranes will support it not only with money, but with the specific culture of the company – some of these elements which the corporate headquarters brings – even people.”


Stahl employs 360 people at its Kuenzelsau, Germany factory, its new worldwide headquarters, making wire rope hoists, chain hoists, winch components and crane components. About half of components are sourced from outside. The factory has a few core specialties in certain machining processes: drilling and gear cutting and drum cutting. In addition, 80 people make steel structures, build cranes and assemble winches and other specialty products at an Ettlingen, Germany factory. At last count, the company employed 750 people in total, in 2004.

“The plan is to maintain the existing product and production platforms,” Brandes says. “The Stahl product now will be the Stahl product in the future. Of course one reason why KCI Konecranes bought Stahl was because there are certain features and criteria related to products that make it different, not only in explosion proof. This is what we want to maintain.

He played down the importance of clashing of product lines, and said that Stahl was not planning to discontinue any product lines. “There is overlap between Stahl and KCI Konecranes products, but there is only limited overlap,” Brandes says. “It exists, but it doesn’t mean anything evil or bad. The market is very fragmented, and there are different sales channels. There is potential for a lot of growth even in overlapping markets.

“What we will do, given that there are 50% of components outsourced, is that we have found we have a lot of suppliers who will sell products to KCI and to Stahl. As far as that is concerned, we will use the bigger purchasing power to get better prices for components. We will not put KCI-labelled components into Stahl products. That wouldn’t work. We have our own platform. Why would we destroy it?

“If there is something, like a drum, a non-identity part which would make sense to include, I wouldn’t say totally no to buying it from KCI Konecranes in the long term,” Brandes says. He adds that KCI Konecranes will not badge Stahl products, and Stahl will not badge KCI products. KCI will not extend its existing line of CXT wire rope, chain hoists and belt hoists.

Although Brandes would not be drawn on how exactly the new owners were planning to organise product development, he did say that Stahl CraneSystems would work together with KCI Konecranes’ head office. “We will seek cooperation with Finland but keep the R&D department in workable condition and maybe grow it, I don’t know,” Brandes says. “There will be some joint work, there will be some development work only from here, and undoubtedly there will be some development tasks put down by KCI.

“Stahl is looking at an interesting period of growth. Its order book is at a record level, its intake is at a record level. The short term main goal is to reorganise internally, to cope with the higher order intakes. That will keep us busy.”