It is Sunday, June 20, 1948. On the preceding Friday, radio stations had announced that the Currency Reform would come into effect on that day. The Deutsche Mark will change everything, the days of bartering will come to an end, and the German economy will be rebuilt: from nothing. Georg Schaeffler has to start from scratch, too. He assembles his workforce made up of some 70 people. “Workers, I have exactly as much as you do,” Schaeffler says to them. “I’m getting 40 deutschmarks. So, what are we going to do? I’m back to square one, just like you. I expect your decision.” After discussing the question, the workers tell their boss: “We’ll carry on. Pay us when you have some money again. It’ll all sort itself out.”
Perhaps this is the day when the company becomes inspired by a special spirit. A spirit marked by willingness to take risks – and by huge confidence in the man standing in front of his workforce. The workers’ confidence will pay off, as just a day later, on June 21, 1948, a new company is founded, Industriewerk Schaeffler oHG, and the success story begins, driven by untiring faith in change and the new things it will bring.
Ever-new things to do
Schaeffler’s life is not only defined by exceptional vigor. It also reflects German history of the 20th century. Georg Schaeffler was born on January 4, 1917 in Lothringia, where his family was running a farming business. After World War I, the family moves to the Saarland. In 1938, Georg Schaeffler starts studying business administration in Cologne and, following the outbreak of World War II, is drafted into the military. During a stay at a field hospital in 1944, he finishes his “Diploma” degree program. His plan to subsequently study engineering is frustrated by the turmoil of war.
Previously, in 1939, the family had acquired a textile company that also produced needle bearings during the war and relocated its headquarters several times. In 1946, their search for a lot with direct railroad siding takes brothers Wilhelm and Georg Schaeffler to Herzogenaurach. The company produces wooden articles like ladders and buttons, soon adding metal products such as universal joint bearings and needle bearings to its range. The acronym INA for “Industrie-Nadellager” (industrial needle bearings) dates back to those days. When employees later ask him what the acronym stands for, Georg Schaeffler answers: “Immer neue Aufgaben“ (roughly translated: “Ever-new things to do”).
A flash of genius behind the wheel
Schaeffler is a man with a propensity for perfecting things. As early as in 1949 he has already long been thinking about how to improve the conventional needle bearing. While on the road in his car, he has the decisive idea: The needles have to individually run parallel to the axis in a cage. In later years, Schaeffler himself will tell the story: “We produced the first needle cage on a day that was followed by our company’s carnival celebration the same night. That afternoon, I was still testing the cage with a stethoscope.” The design engineers of Mercedes-Benz and Adler-Motorradbau are thrilled and immediately agree to install the new product in their vehicles. These two large orders are received on the same day in February 1951, followed by orders from Borgward and Auto-Union.
And business continues to pick up. Until 1953, he and his older brother Wilhelm (1908–1981) take turns touring West Germany every week. The heads of development and engineering departments need to be personally sold on the benefits of the new products. Schaeffler: “I traveled the whole country in an old Mercedes – with ten spare tires in the trunk because you constantly had punctures due to the poor road conditions. I knew Germany like the back of my hand.”
The breakthrough invention of the INA needle cage is followed by many others, for instance in the field of engine components. In between – following the founding of LuK – the development and production of clutches and transmission systems are added. In the course of his productive life, Dr. Georg Schaeffler files a total of 70 patent applications for his inventions, the last one in July 1996. Its title: “Cup-shaped valve tappet.”
“The company was his life, his calling and his hobby on 365 days of the year,” Maria-Elisabeth Schaeffler-Thumann said in her speech on the occasion of her husband’s 100th birthday. The couple was married for 33 years – “challenging” is the word she uses to describe life as the spouse of this untiring man.
Technical genius and social commitment
In the years between 1960 and 1970 alone, the number of employees doubles around the globe from 5,700 to 10,700 while in Herzogenaurach the workforce increases by nearly 50 percent from 2,325 to 3,400. In the 1950s to the 1960s, Schaeffler takes care of his workers’ housing needs, provides pensions and a company supermarket. A company child care facility is established, as well as vacation homes, insurance policies with low rates and company sports teams. The opportunity to have a brief chat with “Georg” in passing no longer presents itself to everyone like it used to, as the busy CEO now hardly has any time for this anymore.
The company was his life, his calling and his hobby on 365 days of the yearMaria-Elisabeth Schaeffler-Thumann
On August 2, 1996, Dr. Schaeffler passes away at the age 79, bequeathing to his wife and son a prospering company with some 20,000 employees, their number since having grown to about 87,000. On the occasion of the memorial service, Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Schaeffler says this about his father: “There is one thing we all have in common. The memory of his technical genius, his ability to see new opportunities, to see the bigger picture, in a nutshell – to use his own words – to think outside the box. I am sure that we will remember his ability to motivate people, not only to contribute their capacity for work but their capacity to think and to use their brains or, as he would put it, their biocomputers.”