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Martin Herrenknecht turns 70 / 35 Years of the Herrenknecht Company

Reflections by a long-time Friend

It must have been sometime in the 1970s when a likeable, spirited young man crossed my (professional) path. He was in the process of constructing tunnelling machines of his own accord and wished to join the STUVA, which I was then in charge of. The man was called Martin Herrenknecht and shortly before he had “steered” a 12 m diameter tunnelling machine over several kilometres through the Seelisberg in Switzerland, overcoming all associated problems and difficulties before successfully concluding the task. This resulted in him becoming fascinated by this emerging “branch for tunnellers”, which led him subsequently to setting up his own firm to make tunnelling machines. He borrowed some money from his mother. Caution prompted him to have it booked as “lost investment aid”. Who could have imagined at the time what was going to become of this starting capital?

From such modest beginnings the name Herrenknecht has become a brand name known throughout the world in mechanised tunnelling. Machines and installations produced by Herrenknecht are used everywhere where tunnels are built regardless of whether small drives of less than 1 m or major drives of 15 to 19 m diameter are concerned. At the time Martin Herrenknecht undoubtedly possessed the right feeling for a corner of the market with a gigantic growth potential. In the meantime his company is engaged in horizontal and vertical boring – regardless of for which purpose: sewage or water supply; rail or road; energy generation or energy transportation and for a range of other purposes. It is a fact that nowadays the Herrenknecht AG employs 3,200 members of staff worldwide (without including the minister he pays to maintain Schwanau as a viable seat of worship or involvement in numerous other social activities). His firm now has an annual turnover of just under 1 billion euros and embraces 68 subsidiary or associated companies, many of which are abroad – including blossoming markets such as China. The latter seem to have a magic attraction for Martin Herrenknecht. Thus it comes as no surprise that – as happened recently – the Chinese premier and the German federal chancellor visited his factory in China and praised it as a shining example for investing in the country’s future. It is hard to imagine someone’s life achievement being described in such glowing terms politically. But recognition of this kind is only one of many distinctions accorded Martin Herrenknecht, of which the honorary doctorate from Brunswick’s Carole Wilhelmina University in 1998 and the 2005 STUVA Prize (The Tunnellers’ Oscar”) deserve particular mention.

Anyone who believes that such a success story would prompt Martin Herrenknecht to change is barking up the wrong tree. He has remained the same down-to-earth, sympathetic and humorous person he was when I first got to know him 35 years ago. He never turns down a meeting or a lecture if I make the request – even though he certainly might have more important things to do. If you visit his factory in Schwanau, even today he takes the trouble – if at all possible – to show you around with justifiable pride what has become a giant facility with numerous production halls. If you accompany him on a business trip you had better get used to the idea of getting little sleep: looking after customers is something he finds very important (and a secret of his success) but is also unusually “intensive”. However it is really fun to be in his company, to become familiar with his entrepreneurial grit and his seemingly endless future-oriented ideas or simply to listen to his abundant treasure chest of “stories”. He can transfer his enthusiasm to others thus creating confidence in himself and his products. I have come across very few people, who project such strength and dynamism.

It is difficult to imagine that Martin Herrenknecht turned 70 on June 24, 2012. Weren’t such people regarded at one time as being old? It almost seems that such a restless life with ever changing professional challenges quite apart from travelling all over the world on the side so to speak, has managed to keep him young. Apart from registering this fact with pleasure it is also essential for the world of tunnelling as well as his company and his family (his wife Paulina and two daughters and a son) still urgently need him. And last not least we need his sense of humour regardless of all the ability, responsibility and seriousness that constitute the necessary components of our line of business on a daily basis. This is something which makes is a bit easier to surmount the inevitable difficulties and rub shoulders with one another for after all it enables you to stand above things. Obviously you see everything somewhat more comprehensively from such an elevated position so you are able to identify the overall correlations in a clearer way. Martin Herrenknecht succeeds in overcoming “tunnel vision” in exemplary fashion and I trust he continues to do so for a very long time.

In summing up: best wishes to Martin Herrenknecht on the occasion of his 70th birthday and the company jubilee from the entire STUVA and STUVAtec team as well as special thanks for some great mutual years and the manifold support of STUVA activities.

Ad Multos Annos!

Günter Girnau

Honorary Board Member

Research Association for Underground Transportation Facilities – STUVA

100 Years of the Hamburger Hochbahn

In 1912 the Hamburg metro system started rolling. After only 6 years of construction the circular line, the current U3, offered the good citizens of Hamburg a completely novel and future-oriented form of urban mobility. At the same time the metro acted as the springboard for what was at the time the Hamburger Hoch- und Untergrundbahn Aktiengesellschaft, today’s HOCHBAHN. In the interim the company carries in excess of 1.2 million passengers on 3 metro lines and more than 110 bus routes.

The jubilee was celebrated by 250 invited guests from politics, industry and federations in the HafenCity Universität metro station, one of the 2 new stops for the U4, which will be commissioned at the end of the year. Board members Dr. Karl Morgen, WTM Engineers GmbH, Prof. Günter Girnau and CEO Dr.-Ing. Roland Leucker took part in the event of behalf of the STUVA.

A great deal of entrepreneurial skill and certainly often perseverance as well are required to operate such a large network safety and with vision. The STUVA is thus particularly delighted to be able to number the Hamburger Hochbahn among its long-standing members and would like to wish it loads of success for the future and the ability to implement innovations for public transport services and for underground construction in particular – as has just been displayed in the case of the U4.


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