The Czech MGG subsidiary Metfer Trading was founded in 1991. The plant in Plzeň developed slowly before Radek Mašek took the reins as managing director almost six years ago. In a detailed interview, the 43-year-old looks back on his beginnings as an accountant, the challenges and, of course, the future of the company.
Mr. Mašek, you worked for RWE for eight years. Why did you decide to switch to MGG Metfer in 2008?
Radek Mašek: I set up the controlling department at the RWE branch in Plzeň. But then I realized that at some point I needed a change. I wanted to work as an accountant again anyway, which I already did during my studies for some smaller companies. That was always fun for me. That’s why I finally responded to an ad from Metfer, because they were looking for an accountant. However, I didn’t know exactly what to expect there.
Were the first few days a culture shock for you?
Mašek: Of course it was clear to me that Metfer cannot be compared to a large corporation like RWE. Nevertheless, the first day was a surprise. At RWE I had a typical office on the 6th floor, at Metfer I actually stood at the scrap yard. The first days I had to take inventory and I walked across the area with my suit. That was something completely different and I have to admit honestly that I was wondering whether it was a good decision.
What then convinced you of MGG Metfer?
Mašek: After the first few weeks, the picture quickly became very positive – I completely forgot that I was working at a scrap yard. On the contrary, it made me realize that we were doing something positive for nature. That was a subject I hadn’t thought about so much myself before. But when I then saw which materials we recycled again, it was a good feeling and the culture shock was quickly digested. I also got to know the Müller-Guttenbrunn family very soon. This improved my picture once again, as I noticed that the managing directors see their employees as equal partners. Of course, this is very different from a large corporation!
So what happened to you personally?
Mašek: After the first few months, I understood how our company works. After all, there was a growing need in me to do more than just bookkeeping – I also wanted to establish controlling here and develop management skills myself. Until then, you had only done what was necessary in this area. There was no top-down view of Metfer’s costs and development.
What is the reason why the company did not flourish at that time?
Mašek: Our company was really in great turbulence at the time. While other MGG subsidiaries developed because they invested, our results were not positive. We were constantly panting behind because we didn’t develop any new ideas and didn’t invest anything. In addition, there was a general crisis in those years, which increased the effect of the lack of investment. At Metfer we worked almost exclusively with iron and only a few non-ferrous metals. So we were only an insignificant player on the market. I realized then that we could only be successful if we changed fundamentally. That’s why I began to analyse the situation in detail: What are the reasons for the lack of success? Why doesn’t the company have good results? I not only examined the bare figures, but also other aspects such as the customer or purchasing portfolio.
After all, this process has ultimately led you, as Managing Director, to steer the fortunes of MGG Metfer Trading since 1 January 2014. Were you surprised by this step?
Mašek: No, not really. I was appointed authorized signatory relatively soon and was thus able to influence the development of the company a little. Since my predecessor was about to retire, that was a logical development somewhere.
What were your beginnings as Metfer managing director like?
Mašek: The beginning was complicated due to the mentioned prehistory. The market only knew MGG Metfer Trading as a company that buys and sells iron and perhaps makes small demolitions. As a partner for the recycling of non-ferrous metals, nobody had us on the bill. My colleagues were convinced that it was already too late to gain a foothold here. So the beginning was quite complicated.
Then how did you succeed?
Mašek: Fortunately, we also had help from colleagues from the Müller-Guttenbrunn Group – such as Martin Kriegl, Gunther Panowitz and Günther Höggerl. With them, we were able to realize a large deal with an incineration plant near Prague. At that time, we more or less only took over the logistics for the slag, and the material was finally processed in the MGG Metran plant. That made a few things clear to me: Firstly, I realized that it really is a great advantage to belong to a real recycling family like the Müller-Guttenbrunn Group, where you have the most diverse technologies at your disposal and where you also help each other. Secondly, I have noticed that although many companies in the Czech Republic trade in iron, no one can process such slag, for example. It was therefore clear to me that we had to venture into new areas if we wanted to write positive figures.
Which area did you venture into with MGG Metfer?
Mašek: As so often in life, chance has come to our aid here. We have a new neighbour: a large company that recycles PET bottles. Since we have a truck scale that the company wanted to use, we got into conversation. We learned that the pressed waste packages from Germany will also contain foil and aluminium cans in addition to the PET bottles. Since our neighbouring company only produces PET flakes, it was clear that the cans containing the remains of the PET bottles and the films would remain. I thundered the big chance and said: Okay, we buy this waste and separate it in order to be able to sell the aluminium cans sorted by type afterwards. Up to this moment we had absolutely no experience with cans.
So how did the project become a success?
Mašek: First of all, I puzzled with my people at the factory how it could work. We really had no idea how to separate it. At first we did the separation manually with leasing employees, but at some point the quantity of material seemed to explode. I was on holiday in Italy when I suddenly got a photo of our course master on my mobile phone. A huge mountain of unsorted material and our five leasing employees. Of course I started to think about it, but here again help came from our recycling family in Amstetten. We were able to rent an old separation machine from MGG Metran and put it into operation quickly – and this plant still works with small changes today.
What volume can you currently handle with it?
Mašek: We currently produce around 100 to 140 tons of cans a month. We have now also invested in our own press so that we can press the material and transport it in a space-saving manner. In addition to the aluminium cans, we have also been separating special iron cans since this year thanks to our own separation plant, of which we also produce 100 tons per month.
Have you made any other investments?
Mašek: For me, it was very important that we renovated and refastened a large part of our factory premises. We also built new boxes for the individual fractions. We have invested a lot of money in new technology such as our shredding plant with over-magnet, but of course these basic conditions must also be right at the base, after all we also process car wrecks. It is therefore particularly important that the subsoil is really in order.
Speaking of car wrecks and car recycling, the laws in the Czech Republic have changed in recent years. How did you perceive these changes?
Mašek: The changes came into force pretty much at the time I became Metfer’s managing director. Until 2014, every small scrap company could process car wrecks – often under very bad conditions. The new regulations have radically changed that. Now the whole car has to be handed over to a certified company so that parts don’t end up somewhere in a wild dump. For companies, this means keeping accurate records of how much of the cars are recycled and what happens to each fraction. The storage of the wrecks is also closely monitored. This means that car wrecks are now being recycled in a much more organised way. Another change was that scrap can no longer be paid for in cash. Many people said at the time that this was a bad decision, but I think the exact opposite is the case: so much is immediately comprehensible and we do not have to worry about cash every day. That is very gratifying.
The development of recent years at MGG Metfer Trading has also been encouraging. How do you see the current situation?
Mašek: Of course it was important for us to make a profit in recent years and be in the black. We have invested a lot and expanded our portfolio and services for our customers. We can now even prepare e-waste. We currently produce around 2,000 tons of recycling material per month – 300 tons of which are non-ferrous metals. The new facilities we need to do this naturally bring with them new challenges and new obligations. In the meantime, we employ 25 permanent employees plus our jobbers at Plzeň when we have to cover peaks. It is therefore important to remain open to new ideas in the future, otherwise our competitors will overtake us.
A question about our employees: Full employment prevails in the Czech Republic. Can you find suitable employees on the job market?
Mašek: We’re lucky that we don’t have a large fluctuation rate. Some employees have been with us for many, many years. It is important to me – as in the Müller-Guttenbrunn Group in general – that employees identify with the company. Some of our employees asked me when I took over the management if I would dismiss the team. Of course, leasing employees would seem cheaper at first glance, but they have no relationship to the company, to the machines, to the colleagues. That’s why they don’t pay much attention to the equipment and don’t bring in their own initiative. That’s why my own employees are already worth their weight in gold and that’s why I never even thought about dismissing employees – especially where many have been with the company for longer and have much more experience in this business. But it is true that there is practically no unemployment at the moment and it is almost impossible to find new employees. However, due to the growing supply and new facilities, it will be important to find new employees in the near future.
You have already mentioned the cohesion within the Müller-Guttenbrunn Group several times. What is the cooperation like with the owners and the MGG colleagues in Austria?
Mašek: Of course I am in daily contact with the MGG headquarters in Amstetten. We also regularly explore business opportunities together. There are times when we do a lot of business together, and there are times when there are only a few. I really enjoy a lot of autonomy there. This is another big advantage for me, because there are many large corporations where a lot is dictated to the subsidiary from above. I can make my own decisions and still have a recycling family behind me that supports me when I need it.
Do you notice any differences between the Czechs and the Austrians?
Mašek: I think many of the differences are due to history. Through the time of communism, we Czechs certainly still have a different view of many things in some areas than the people in the West. So it is much more important to the people in the West that they have enough free time or live in a clean environment. Values such as environmental protection are not yet so firmly anchored here, but the younger generation is already much closer to the West. But I also notice other differences: In Austria, a dissenting opinion is more readily expressed to superiors. It is often the case here that you say to your superiors what they want to hear, even if you yourself have a completely different opinion. You notice that we don’t yet have as much experience with freedom as the people in the West.
Let’s get back to MGG Metfer Trading. Where will the company develop into in the next few years?
Mašek: We definitely have to grow – we need more space to store the many different materials and sort them accordingly. As all the neighbouring plots have already been allocated, the situation around the existing plant site looks bad. However, there are already plans to develop a new site not too far away. I also see an opportunity for new separation plants, because in Plzeň, for example, there is no shredder for electrical waste. As I have already mentioned, we definitely have to enlarge our team in order to cope with the new quantities. My team is already often working beyond its borders, but in the long term we have to change that. I would also like to focus more on types of scrap that are of no interest to other companies – such as more complex compositions of waste streams. Here MGG Metfer is to play a pioneering role in the Czech Republic that is my vision for our company.
We wish you and your team every success in the coming years. Thank you very much for the detailed discussion!
Radek Mašek – Managing Director at MGG Metfer Trading since 2014
Residence: Rokycany (about 10 km east of Plzeň)
Marital status: married, one son (5)
Hobbies: music (synthesizer, drums, own small recording studio), jazz choir and travelling