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Bollig & Kemper: a Franco-German family-owned company that ensures its growth through international development and innovation

Bérénice Kimpe - International cooperation

One of the R&D centres of Bollig & Kemper, paint specialist for the automotive industry, is located in an industrial area near Grenoble and has an incredible view over the mountains. Despite its relatively small size (400 employees, a sales volume of 75 Mio €), the company can compete with the big players: its clients are companies such as Mercedes, Volkswagen, BMW, Porsche, Peugeot and Renault; its competitors are Axalta or BASF.
Its strengths are its adaptability to the needs of the market and its clients, its innovation capacity, its proximity to the clients and its international strategy.
Its main weakness used to be its size: if being relatively small enables the company to be reactive to its clients’ changing needs, it also restricts the international development.

Bollig & Kemper is a Franco-German family-owned company that was created in 1919 and has become a European leader for automotive series and plastic paints through its structural development. The latter started in 2007 with the takeover of Vernis Soudée – at the time the biggest supplier of PSA group – and continued when Nippon paint, a large Japanese group, invested in the company. Since last April, Nippon paint has been the main shareholder. By joining a paint world specialist such as Nippon paint, the durability of Bollig & Kemper will be ensured thanks to two major orientations: its international development and the innovation closely linked to its R&D.

Strengthening its international presence

When working closely with automotive industries as it is for Bollig & Kemper, restricting its playground to the European market is not viable. Automotive industries are international players and need suppliers that are able to follow them on international markets. Moreover, there are less and less paint experts in automotive companies. That’s why Bollig & Kemper sends around 20 highly qualified and experimented employees to work directly in its client’s premises: they are there to manage the products stock and to ensure the quality control as well as the industrial tests.

Working directly in the client’s premises is a real added value for two reasons:
  • customer orientation: staff on the client’s site can identify their new needs and thus, the R&D centre of Bollig and Kemper can develop products accordingly to their industrial constraints.
  • reactivity on technical problem solving: staff on the client’s site do the first analysis and try to solve the problem without wasting time by returning the product to the R&D centre.

For Bollig & Kemper, an international positioning is a must to ensure good customer relationships and to amortize R&D expenditures. Indeed, an international development doesn’t require a technical development, whose costs are the highest in the R&D expenditures, but only to adjust the products to national laws.

Innovation, R&D, staff diversity: a winning strategy

Bollig and Kemper has two R&D centres, one in Grenoble (France) and one in Cologne (Germany) and only one innovation department for the whole company. The innovation department is integrated in the Grenoble centre and is staffed by two people, whose responsibility is to evaluate innovative concepts and to explore new directions after having monitored the scientific development in the paint field. They work on six innovative projects which are seen as promising, meaning that they can add new features to the paint (e.g. paint with photovoltaic elements, “easy to clean” paint…) but won’t necessarily come to production anytime soon. Some of them will go through the industrialization process, some others are still in the experimentation phase like a “green” paint made of natural raw materials.

Obviously, a team of two people can’t develop a huge number of innovative projects but this successful innovation process that takes into account the industrial requirements makes Bollig & Kemper an innovative company: it doesn’t only satisfy the market needs but anticipates them by being creative and by experimenting. That’s why the company decided to gather in its R&D team different profiles: engineers and PhDs.

If the proportion of engineers is the highest for the development and industrialization, the technical director of the R&D centre has no doubt about recruiting a doctorate holder for a position in research and innovation. These candidates have got the best education for such position and are passionate about doing research, something one can easily notice during the job interview. Among the other skills of PhDs, Dr. Roland mentions their maturity, their ability to understand current and future challenges to develop a strategy for innovation.

More on Bollig & Kemper: www.bolligkemper.de

Source: interview with Dr Jean-Fran?ois Roland, technical director at Bollig & Kemper

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