Interview Worst case scenario: “I never thought we would go bankrupt”

From Melanie Fritsch/ Translated by Alexander Stark Reading Time: 3 min

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Johannes Brinkmann (51) was 40 years old when he had to file for the insolvency of the family-run tool and mould making company. In this interview, the current managing director of the form & function company from Hesse talks, among other things, about how this came about, how he assesses the current situation of the industry and why he would like to pass on his wealth of experience in good time.

Johannes Binrkmann is Managing Director of the form & function company.
Johannes Binrkmann is Managing Director of the form & function company.
(Source: Marktspiegel Werkzeugbau eG / form & function)

Mr. Brinkmann, what is your assessment of the current situation in our industry?

Johannes Brinkmann: It is very difficult. Depending on the economic situation, there are simply too many challenges facing a large number of tool, model and mould making companies at the moment. Lack of orders, cost explosion, delivery bottlenecks - I am very worried about the industry. And I believe that it's okay to be afraid.

In fact, some companies are losing the battle for their very existence ...

Johannes Brinkmann: ... which makes me very concerned. Especially in an industry that is so family-based, announcements of insolvency get under your skin. Probably more so for me than for others. After all, I had to go through it myself more than eleven years ago.

That means you have already had to file for insolvency?

Johannes Brinkmann: Yes, unfortunately. I ran our family business - the Brinkmann Group - as a junior in the fourth generation. We were 111 years old, employed 100 people, about 40 of them in tool and mould making. At the peak, our turnover was 15 million euros. We have survived two world wars. I never thought we would go bankrupt.

What brought this about?

Johannes Brinkmann: For historical reasons, we became increasingly involved in the automotive industry. We supplied this industry with very large moulds, where the order volume quickly ran into the millions. Producing such large-volume moulds by machine was not the problem. It was the financing that became more and more challenging. We then went through our first crisis in 2004 and 2005.

What happened?

Johannes Brinkmann: Our plant manager accepted orders for such moulds, more and more cheaply, until we could no longer cope with the price. The result was a loss of one million euros. Until then, we had always had a lot of equity capital. We lost that in 2005. This was the first time banks came into play.

But the company was able to recover from this crisis for the time being, right?

Johannes Brinkmann: It took a few years, but yes. Driven by the bank's requirements, I became the main shareholder of the Brinkmann Group as a junior in 2008. It combined three limited liability companies under one roof. At that time we had achieved the turnaround. We repositioned ourselves. In the meantime, we were generating business from the production of plastic parts in addition to mould making and were successful again. Then came the Lehman crisis ...

... where no more orders were placed ad hoc.

Johannes Brinkmann: Exactly. For me it was unimaginable at that time. Mould making, series production, subcontracting for Daimler and BMW - in all areas orders were cancelled for a year. The tricky thing is that as an entrepreneur it is still your job to pay the employees' wages. This is where the liquidity problems start. The bank pays you money. It's gone again immediately. No new money comes in because you have no orders. A vicious circle.

Which ultimately led to insolvency?

Johannes Brinkmann: That's right. I held on to the family business until the end. I always thought it had to work. Until the bank told me in 2011 that it was terminating my accounts. I was 40 years old at the time. In our case it was a planned insolvency, which cost me a lot of money privately and is still not completely concluded. So I am very familiar with the existential fears that are burdening many entrepreneurs at the moment.

Mr Brinkmann, I admire your openness. Thank you very much for that.

Johannes Brinkmann: (laughs) I had to work on this openness for more than eleven years. I was lucky enough to be able to make a fresh start as an entrepreneur with form & function GmbH. With the CIP system Time View, I am still linked to the tool and mould making industry. The current market situation is close to my heart. Only someone who has had to go through an insolvency knows what that means. I would like to share my experiences with others in good time. In my eyes, insolvency should always be the last course.

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