When Günter Hähn talks about building (literal) roads he could easily reference three decades in the road construction business. But he doesn't.
He could tell you about his more than 100 priority applications and more than 1,400 patents worldwide as they relate to the subject. But he won't.
He might even tell you about all the jobs he's held at the Wirtgen Group—from research and development to information technology to customer service, quality and more. But not just yet.
Instead, he chooses a more practical approach. A more systematic application.
"Building roads—that is the plot system of a society, that's something that adds value to the society," Hähn said. "And I still can identify myself with this task that we, as Wirtgen, serve the society. And the society changes. It motivates me, and I think also the team, that we can be part of something important."
What also separates Hähn, earning him the John Deere Road Construction Technology Fellow, is his rigorous application of systematic engineering to pretty much everything he encounters. The practice of stripping away the clutter to get to the answer matches almost everything he has incorporated at Wirtgen.
In a discussion about John Deere's Smart Industrial Operating Model and the value of understanding production systems Hähn provides a simple look into how he deconstructs nearly all he processes.
In the end our customer doesn’t care about the pretty machines we make or what they can do. All he wants to do is build a road. That’s it. Help him build a road.
Hähn played key roles in expanding Wirtgen into a global company, helping guide acquisitions that would turn the Germany-based manufacturer into a $3 billion-a-year business with 70 percent market share worldwide. And then helped sell that company to John Deere.
That exposure to every element of the business has allowed him to learn, shape and drive key outcomes through the product lines of Wirtgen, Hamm, Kleemann and Vögele—the companies that make up the Wirtgen Group.
Asked to pick a representative product that showcases all that is represented he doesn't hesitate.
"That's definitely the Cold In-Place Recycler," he said. "I mean imagine this, you have a damaged road and there's a Wirtgen recycler, a Vögele paver and Hamm roller. And they come there and fix that immediately, and they process 600-700 tons per hour. That product has eliminated 20-30 trucks per hour taking away used material and bringing in new material per hour. That's one every two-three minutes. And we do that. We avoid that. We avoid this traffic. We avoid this disposal of lots of material, and we do it onsite in a very short time. It just recycles the road. Makes a new one from the old one. What a beautiful product."
But he's quick to stress that none of that, not a single innovation or product, is possible without first getting everyone moving in the same direction. He considers that basic goal as one of his greatest accomplishments because if you've ever had his level of oversight you quickly understand it';s not basic at all.
Hähn said Wirtgen's philosophy on growth is about moving quickly and completing projects in a short amount of time.
It takes a solid culture to make that happen, one, Hähn said, that relies on "internal cooperation," everyone heading in the same direction with "the strong desire to be the best in what we do and to achieve as a team," and mentoring.
It's an accomplished career heightened even more by the Fellow Award, making Hähn the first Wirtgen employee to earn the honor. It's also a ride that shows no signs of slowing down, fueled in large part to global infrastructure demands and supported by a culture where teamwork focused on customer outcomes is ultimately the only measurement that matters.
"What is the value of a company," he asked. "You can take the balance sheet, you can take the factory, you can take the machine. That's nice and necessary, but basically, it's the people. It's the people that make a company and it's the people that make all this happen."