Just when you think you have achieved a lot, it is time to take the next step.
The Bettermanns from Menden were farmers a hundred years ago and also long before that. Anything else would have been most unusual, even in 1911. Because, apart from farmers and ploughboys, there was scarcely any other profession here. Little had changed since 1659, when, eleven years after the end of the Thirty Years' War, the Bettermanns appear for the first time in documents relating to the farming village of Hingsen, near Menden, in Sauerland.
It would take two and half centuries for a Bettermann to become known beyond Menden. Franz Bettermann was one of the farmers of Menden. Down-to-earth and vigorous, a Westphalian from top to toe - these were the hallmarks of our company founder, who was born in 1879. However, something made him change course. What began slowly and carefully in 1911 was the start of Franz Bettermann's journey away from the life his forefathers had led.
When Franz Bettermann passed away in 1964, the departure from agriculture and animal husbandry was long past and, in OBO Bettermann, a key electrical engineering company had been born.
The company headquarters is still in the place where Franz Bettermann started things rolling a hundred years ago: In Lendringsen/Hingsen, today part of the town of Menden, with its 56,000 inhabitants. The town is in the Mrkischer Kreis district, on the border between northern Sauerland and the eastern part of the Ruhr.
After school, Franz Bettermann trained to be a metal caster in Hemer, located close by. Even though he still worked part-time as a farmer, he could not forget the new trade he had learnt. Very soon he was completely absent from the work familiar to his ancestors, in the stable and in the fields.
He explored new paths and, in 1911, founded a small company in Hingsen together with two work colleagues from his old training company. It produced brass goods, shoe hooks and eyelets, but also electrical products. Bettermann became a supplier to local lamp producers.
Somehow, it didn't work. In 1918, Franz Bettermann left the company he had founded and became sole proprietor of a punching works and produced fastening materials for electrical and sanitary installation. A major fire, which completely destroyed the Bettermann's farm, may also have given sufficient incentive to include the manufacture of lightning protection components in his product range.
The product portfolio of OBO Bettermann was defined from the very beginning. Those years were not foundation years similar to those after Bismarck's founding of the German Empire in 1871. When Franz Bettermann really got going, Germany had just lost the First World War and the Emperor had fled into exile in the Netherlands. The people were hungry. A civil war-like state prevailed on the streets and utter despair could be felt in many homes. Inflation followed in 1923 which has remained in the historical recollection of the German people to this day.
The Weimar Republic only experienced a couple of "golden years" in the mid-1920s. After this, the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the global depression and mass unemployment of 1933 all led its downfall and the assumption of power of Hitler's National Socialists. In 1932, when the economic problems and political instability in Germany were at their height, Franz Bettermann took a decisive step forward.
If he had previously only worked with metal, artificial resins such as Bakelite and Duroplast were now added as new materials, which could be shaped through heating. This was the breakthrough into the new Bettermann era of combined metal and plastic production for modern installation and fastening technology. The factory received new injection moulding systems.
Back then, Bettermann produced spacer clips, cast pipe clips and cast pipe hooks. Even today, junction boxes and grip ISO clips exist in many buildings.
Franz Bettermann received the patent for his invention of a series clip in 1936 and the certificate from the Patent Office of the German Empire. Even the founder was a friend and promoter of innovations.
During this time, the number of employees, originally 20, rises to around 250. In the mid-1930s, Franz Bettermann buys back his original company, founded in 1911, and integrates it into his factory. He is considered a strict but fair boss, who also understands the private worries of his employees and their families and offers practical help.
The general misery and widespread hardship at the end of the Weimar Republic no longer characterise the image of Germany, which welcomes the world to the Olympic Games in 1936. Few foresee the doom and catastrophe looming for Hitler and the National Socialists. Franz Bettermann does not like the Nazis and he has no time for the party.
In 1940, now 61, Franz Bettermann turns his company into an open trading company and brings his sons Franz, Johann, Ernst and Hubert, four of his 13 children, on board the company ship.
The second generation of management was brought in before the end of the Second World War in 1945. By now, there had long been an economy of scarcity. The war draws ever more employees away from the factory and there is also a lack of necessary production material. By the end of the war, 75% of the Bettermann works have been bombed.
Three sons of the company founder survive the war. They begin reconstruction immediately with the remaining factory employees or those who returned from the war.
Luckily, the majority of the machine parts had been moved away in time, so that there was no need to begin from the start again. Nonetheless, the number of employees fell back to the foundation level of 20 but rose rapidly to 80 in the currency reform year of 1948, before returning to 250 by 1952.
This year is a particularly special one for the company. That was when the name was created. It still exists today: OBO Bettermann. OBO stands for "Without drilling, chiselling, plastering, cementing, etc. It means: Saving time, costs and annoyance" and company adverts of the time said "our OBO anchors can be knocked into concrete and masonry without any trouble simply using the corresponding flattener."
At that time, OBO was able to do something which still stands for easy mounting of its electrical productions on construction sites around the world: OBO created products and solutions which can be routed quickly, cheaply and with just a few actions, offering a basis and grip for installations conducting electricity, routing data and controlling energy.
In the mid-1950s, Germany's borders became a little tight for OBO Bettermann. In the years during the beginning of the economic boom, the company expands and begins delivering to other countries initially, not on a great scale, but at least to the neighbouring countries of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
OBO Bettermann took a further major step in 1957, when it took over the Neuwalzwerk (New Rolling Mill), which had been founded in 1827, in Menden-Bösperde. Strategically, this was a significant decision, as OBO thus strengthened a company sector of importance even today cable support systems.
The increasing power requirements of dynamically growing industrial companies, colleges, hospitals, airports and other major projects required pre-installed cable routes. The driving force behind the purchase was Ernst Bettermann, who, like after his father, the founder Franz Bettermann, slipped ever more into the role of a pioneer to secure the future of the company.
A small but characteristic example that represents the continuing long-term perspective of Bettermann's company "world" is a special kind of colleague. He joined the company in 1959 and is now the longest-serving employee of over five decades.
We're talking about the OBO Man, whose "golden anniversary" was celebrated in 2009 with 300 customers, friends and guests from the world of politics and business. Quiet and friendly, the honourable fellow has been spreading the word on construction sites around the world: "It's easier with OBO."
When the founder Franz Bettermann died in 1964, the position of the company can no longer be compared with its beginnings in 1911. OBO Bettermann survived two world wars and inflation and mastered reconstruction after 1945.
In the mid-1960s, the still relatively young Federal Republic of Germany could say: We are someone (again)! But peace is only permitted in heaven. A company sitting on its laurels is not wearing them in the correct place.
Ulrich Bettermann rapidly became one of these necessary areas of unrest in the company. After grammar school and training in a bank, the 22-year-old son of Ernst Bettermann joins the company in 1968. He soon noticed that, despite all the performance and successes, it needed a new kick forwards. After the years of the economic wonder, a certain amount of market saturation was noticeable in West Germany.
The dynamic growth of the reconstruction years cannot be maintained. In this situation, Ulrich Bettermann sets his sights beyond the national market. He wants to take OBO on a journey to Europe and the world.
However, the old shareholders of the other branches of the family want nothing to do with any internationalisation. When his father Ernst becomes ill at the end of the 1970s, Ulrich Bettermann risks full-on conflict. After hefty fights, he buys out the elders with borrowed money and takes over sole responsibility. At the top of the then largest open trading company in Germany, the 36-year-old sole owner is liable down to the clothes he stands in.
Today, OBO Bettermann earns over half of its turnover abroad and has more than 40 subsidiary companies in more than 60 countries around the world.
In many family-run companies, changes of owner have been shown to be a frequent cause of trouble. From such disputes, Ulrich Bettermann learned to remain open to new developments, to hand over responsibility to the next generation early on and to integrate them into the company's management without conflict.
He himself was only in his early 50s and one of his sons was not even 18 when he transferred 48 per cent of his capital to him in 1999. Ulrich Bettermann remains CEO but, as chair of the four-person advisory council, uses his legal and business knowledge to manage strategy.