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Celebrating the 100th birthday of Dr. Georg Schaeffler

Dr.-Ing. E. h. Georg Schaeffler would have been 100 years old on January 4, 2017. He passed away on August 2, 1996 at the age of 79.

It is an example of German economic history and entrepreneurial achievements in post-war Germany: With courage, creativity and vision, Dr.-Ing. E. h. Georg Schaeffler, who would have been 100 years old on January 4, his brother and a handful of loyal employees laid the foundation for a unique success story that continues to this day. Entrepreneurial efficiency, business skills and forward-looking ideas are what characterized Dr. Georg Schaeffler. This is the biography of an extraordinary entrepreneur.

One hundred years ago, on January 4, 1917, Dr. Georg Schaeffler, who died in 1996, was born in Marimont/Lorraine. His family worked a 1,200-acre farm there and moved to the Saar region in Germany in 1921, after World War I. Following forced labor and military service, Georg Schaeffler began studying business in Cologne in 1938. After World War II broke out, he was drafted in January 1940. While staying in a field hospital in 1944, he completed his degree in business administration. His plan to pursue another degree, this time in engineering, failed due to the turmoil of war and the post-war period.

A company with modest beginnings

In 1940 Dr. Wilhelm Schaeffler acquired a crimmer and carpet factory in Katscher in Upper Silesia. Family members also invested to help him cover the cost, including Dr. Georg Schaeffler. As part of the wartime economy plans, the business had to change its production to goods that were important for the war. In 1943, needle roller bearing production began. When the advancing Soviet Army reached German territory in early 1945, production first had to be moved to Meerane in Saxony, then to a former china factory in Schwarzenhammer in Upper Franconia. This is where products such as convertible hand carts were manufactured that were urgently needed for transportation and became a bestseller. Their search for a property with a railroad connection for their business brought the Schaeffler brothers to Herzogenaurach in 1946. The town sold them a suitable property after obtaining the brothers’ promise to create 120 jobs within one year. A year later, the newly founded Industrie GmbH already employed 193, initially producing wooden everyday items such as ladders, children’s scooters, belt buckles and buttons. Metal products were soon added, including threading dies, universal joint bearings and needle roller bearings as replacement parts. This is also the time when the INA brand name was created as an abbreviation for “Industrie-Nadellager” (industrial needle roller bearings) that Dr. Georg Schaeffler later liked to translate as “Immer neue Aufgaben” (always new things to do) when asked about the meaning by his employees.

A lateral thinker with the heart of an engineer

Dr. Georg Schaeffler had been thinking about improving conventional needle roller bearings for a while. In 1949, he came up with the idea of the cage-guided needle roller bearing. Compared to conventional needle roller bearings, the new design was more compact, more reliable and allowed higher speeds. The invention of the cage-guided needle roller bearing is what started the rapid rise of the company. Schaeffler manufactured large quantities of the product, especially for the German automotive industry. From 1953, not a single car built in the Federal Republic was without bearings made by Schaeffler.

This groundbreaking invention was followed by many more – mainly products in the engine components field such as bucket tappets, needle roller bearings and cylindrical roller bearings. During the course of his career, Dr. Georg Schaeffler filed a total of 70 patent applications. His last application was filed in July 1996 and was entitled “bucket-shaped valve tappet.”

Besides continuous product improvement and the development of new products, the development of manufacturing technologies and the optimization of manufacturing processes were very important to Dr. Georg Schaeffler.

He walked through the plants on a regular basis and talked to employees to achieve continuous improvements in production processes.

A man with a strong sense of responsibility

His intensive work in his company and his employees‘ concerns determined his life. For his employees, Dr. Georg Schaeffler was not only a personal role model with regard to the scope of and dedication to his work, but also and especially a man with great charisma and the ability to motivate others. His employees’ well-being was highly important to him, which showed in employee benefits provided, in plant parties, trips, an in-house kindergarten and the construction of apartments. By 1966, 739 apartment units had been constructed in Herzogenaurach alone. Dr. Georg Schaeffler was also active as a patron of social issues, culture and business.

Dr. Georg Schaeffler received numerous awards for his outstanding and commendable achievements. These included the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the State Medal for outstanding services for the Bavarian economy, the Bavarian Order of Merit and honorary citizenship of the city of Herzogenaurach.

In 1963, Dr. Georg Schaeffler married Maria-Elisabeth Kurssa who was attending medical school in Vienna at the time. The couple had two sons, Georg Friedrich Wilhelm and Christian Johannes, who died in an accident shortly before Christmas in 1975. On August 2, 1996, Dr. Schaeffler passed away at the age of 79, leaving a business with around 20,000 employees to his wife and son.

Continuing his life’s work
Since his death, his wife Maria-Elisabeth Schaeffler-Thumann and his son Georg F. W. Schaeffler have successfully carried on the business as family shareholders, together with the company’s management. “Germany’s ability to compete internationally seemed to decline increasingly in the 1990s, and there were concerns that this might be the end of Germany as an industrial manufacturing location. And it was during this difficult development phase, that our company’s founder Georg Schaeffler died,” Maria-Elisabeth Schaeffler-Thumann says about the situation at the time. “I had promised my husband to lead the company into the future, which was his greatest wish. It wasn’t easy. There were many who advised us back then to sell the company, but that was out of the question for my son and me. I was determined to continue Georg Schaeffler’s life’s work and to use the opportunities for development that materialized as a result of global, dynamic changes.”

Present and future: Mobility for tomorrow

Today, the Schaeffler Group is a leading global integrated automotive and industrial supplier with around 85,000 employees worldwide. With approximately 170 locations in over 50 countries, Schaeffler has a worldwide network of 75 manufacturing locations, 17 research and development centers, as well as sales companies. Its “Mobility for tomorrow” strategy sets the course for future sustainable and profitable growth. The basis for this strategic orientation is the Schaeffler Group’s goal of actively shaping mobility for tomorrow as a technology leader with innovation and the best quality.