This Start-Up has been around for 222 Years and is Still Going Strong

In a rapidly changing environment, how does a company that’s around for over two centuries ensure to stay on top of the game? How does an old unicorn work in symbiosis with a bubbling start-up ecosystem? How does it apprehend new tidal waves such as the lithium and EV revolution? Let’s find out:

(Also check my entire Lithium deep dive!)

with 🎙️ Andreas Müller – CEO at GF

💧 GF is a sustainability and innovation leader aiming to provide superior customer value across three Divisions enabling the safe transport of liquids and gases, lightweight casting components, and high-precision manufacturing technologies.

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Slider – the 222 Years Start-Up


Full Video – The 222 Years Start-Up

Teaser 1 – Can GF be the perfect partner for Start Ups?

Teaser 2 – Sustainability can only be sustainable if it makes economical sense

What we covered:

🔍 How a 222-Year-Old Company Innovates: the secrets of GF and its three divisions

🚗 Why Lithium Production Needs a Leap Frog, How GF is Helping and which solution comes with the best odds

🌎 What Sustainability Means for Lithium Production and EVs, and GF’s perspective to that challenge

💡 How Old Unicorns Interact with Cool Kids: GF’s Approach to Startup Collaboration, and what it Takes to Lead a two-century old corporation

🤝 Why the Future of Lithium Production Hinges on Symbiotic Relationships between the various actors in the value chain

🌟 How GF’s Strategy Aims to Balance Profitability and Environmental Impact and Why People are at the Heart of GF’s Success

💼 Why a ‘Startup Spirit’ is Crucial in Large Corporations and what lessons from GF you can apply in your own business

🎯 What the Key Success Factors in Direct Lithium Extraction Projects are and how one can influence those

💥 How you can Tackle the Challenge of ‘Cultural Clash’ with Startups by copying some of GF’s tactics

🎢 Why ‘Stopping’ can be as Important as ‘Starting’ in a Business Journey – and how that’s maybe the best business advice you will ever get

🌳 How we need to reinvent Sustainability in the industrial sector and how GF and others are leading the pack and showing the way

🔬 Why Ultra-Precision is the New Gold Standard in e-Mobility

🔄 How GF is Closing the Loop: From Water Reclamation to Non-Revenue Water

🚀 Why GF Believes Profitability and Sustainability are Two Sides of the Same Coin and how that translate in very concrete terms

🌍 Why Going Global is Essential in Today’s Business Environment to have a substantial impact and how GF’s experience and support can be game changers

📊 Why GF is Targeting Non-Revenue Water: A Look at the Future of Water Management and how GF’s Clean Water Foundation is Changing Lives Across the Globe

🚀 The EV Revolution from a GF Piping Systems, Casting Solutions & Machining Solutions perspective, the Water Sector trends GF is watching out for, building a cool place to work, water scarcity as a powerful shaping for the Water Sector, what GF does to solve the pressing need for clean water in remote areas… and more!

🔥 … and of course, we concluded with the 𝙧𝙖𝙥𝙞𝙙 𝙛𝙞𝙧𝙚 𝙦𝙪𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙨 🔥 

Teaser 3 – Why you should always invest in sustainability

Teaser 4 – The Business Advice you shall apply Straight Away (from a $5 Billion Company CEO)

Teaser: The 222 Year Old Unicorn


🔗 Come say hi to Andreas on LinkedIn

🔗 Check GF’s website

(don't) Waste Water Logo

is on Linkedin ➡️

Teaser: The 222 Year Old Start Up

Table of contents

Editorial: The 222-Year Old Start Up that supports Lithium’s Leap Frog

If you’ve listened to this Season 9 of the podcast, you’ve noticed how we covered the lithium and water nexus topic from a wide variety of angles. We’ve had the helicopter view with Tony Strobbe, the project developers’ inputs with Robert Mintak, Christopher Brown, Cris Moreno, and Andy Robinson, and the technology stories with Teague Egan, Devesh Sharma, Ben Sparrow, Chris Wyres, and Jim Rieke.

Spoiler alert, given the success of this season and the topics we covered, we will continue the exploration as one of the topics of the next ones, so stay tuned; I’m currently interviewing more fascinating companies, and as I’m writing this, I’m about to take off to Argentina partially for that.

Still, there’s one aspect we had not covered so far, despite regular hints across all the episodes. Direct Lithium Extraction is a high-flow/high-stakes application. Evaporation Ponds involve a lot of water as well, and when it comes to lithium refining, be it from hard rock or evaporation ponds, you’ve got a sizeable bunch of waterish processes, which require to convey fluids, water, and chemicals.

As a process person, that’s the boring part. I know it; I’m a process person.

Piping Systems: Boring, yet vital

Because what can a piping system do, right? Work smoothly, and then it gets zero praise; it just exists, and nobody cares. Or not work, being blocked, leaking, becoming a hazard, and a net loss, and then everybody’s aware, and everybody is pissed.

So I thought it might be worth looking into a piping system company’s view on that lithium green field. To discuss how they’re in to help, how, at what stage, and what they have to propose. Of course, I’m a little bit biased in that story, as I am working for a piping system company.

But there’s more than just pipes, fittings, valves, sensors, engineering, prefabrication and process automation in today’s episode, as I reached out to the CEO of GF to come discuss all of that on my microphone, which means not only GF Piping Systems, but also Casting Solutions and Machining Solutions, which offers an interesting glimpse into the new Electric Vehicle vertical.

Full Transcript:

These are computer-generated, so expect some typos 🙂

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Antoine Walter: Hi Andreas, welcome to the show! 

Andreas Muller: Hello, Antoine.

Antoine Walter: I’m super excited to have that conversation with you. I’m saying that quite often on the microphone because I’m super excited quite often to speak with people, but here, It’s quite of a special constellation. You’re the boss of the boss of my boss! So I have to make sure I don’t say anything too weird.

A postcard from Schaffhausen

We’re sitting together in Schaffhausen, and I have that tradition to open every interview with a postcard. So what can you tell me about Schaffhausen I might ignore by now?

Andreas Muller: It’s just a beautiful city! We also have the pleasure of having the biggest waterfalls in Europe. It’s not in height, but it’s in volume of water.

So you can also say that we have the «Niagara falls» here. I know, obviously, it’s the Rhine Falls, but I think this makes this place very livable. It’s obviously also the birth city of GF.

Antoine Walter: I counted before starting that interview, and it might be episode 181 of that Podcast. All of this episode start with this sentence: «This podcast is brought to you by GF Piping Systems.»

Introducing: GF – a 222 year old unicorn

Antoine Walter: I think we never officially defined what a GF piping system is and what the «GF» part in the «GF piping system» is. So maybe you can give me an elevator pitch to the company in general and then your touch to it?

Andreas Muller: GF is an industrial pioneer in Switzerland. Today, GF has three divisions, and one of the divisions is piping systems.

The other divisions are machining solutions, producing machine tools for all sorts of applications, milling, electronic discharging, laser taxing, and so on and so forth.

And last but not least, we have casting solutions. A group which provides lightweight components to the car/automotive industry.

GF is an amazing company with great people with a lot of potential to become better every day and deliver to its customers superior value.

Antoine Walter: Talking of value, what’s the size of the company?

Andreas Muller: GF is approximately 4 billion in terms of sales, and we have 15,000 people, we are present in 40 countries with 80 production companies and overall 150 companies across the world.

Andreas Müller leads GF for four and a half year

Antoine Walter: So you’re leading GF for three years now?

Andreas Muller: No, Four and a half years.

Antoine Walter: I hope you don’t hold that against me…

Andreas Muller: Absolutely, I Will!

Andreas Müller climbed the entire GF corporate ladder

Antoine Walter: But you’ve been with the company for 28 years, right?

Andreas Muller:  Exactly.

Antoine Walter: Can you still remember your first day at GF?

Andreas Muller: That would be a little bit too much asking. 28 years is quite a time! But I can tell I definitely left my first-day understanding that I didn’t know anything.

Antoine Walter: And how did that evolve over 28 years? When did you start to get a feeling that you understood something?

Andreas Muller: That didn’t take that long! But obviously, when you start as a youngster in a company, you first have a view only on the department you have been employed in, and suddenly you’re gonna start to learn more.

But hey, there is a company behind, there is a corporation behind, there are even other divisions behind. And I think that is something which evolves over time.

And I think it didn’t take me that long because I was always curious. I wanted to learn! What is this company for?

But also, I may have to say, my father-in-law was actually 45 years with this company, so I did understand that GF has its headquarters in Schaffhausen, which was obviously very important when I applied for this first job.

By the way, I was a product manager for polypropylene and polyethylene. That was my first job.

A groundbreaking experience in Australia

Antoine Walter: Across your path, you had several positions. If you have to just take one story or one experience you had over these 28 years, which is the one you would pick?

Andreas Muller: This is really hard because I have done so many things, and I really enjoyed so many things…

But I have to say, one of the challenges I really had, when I just was freshly married and we had a son, I was asked whether I would actually embark to Australia and gonna support building up and integrating an acquired company there.

I think that was really cool because it was back in these days when you had a 24-hour journey to get to Australia. So you’re really gonna leave behind what you have established here. You have to socially, newly embed yourself and integrate yourself. The task was really very challenging but very interesting.

It was a combination of finance, operations, logistics, and customer service in the internal sales organization. So it was quite a big jump for me.

How Andreas became interested in Lithium as GF’s CEO

Antoine Walter: You’re offering me a very smooth transition because, actually, Australia, right now, as we speak, is the biggest place for lithium worldwide, where a lot of lithium is mined.

By the time you were in Australia, was it already a thing?

Andreas Muller: It was not so much a thing back then. We have been in the north part, we have been in mines. We have been supplying our sensor technologies or our ball valves. It was a good business, but it was not so much about lithium back then.

Antoine Walter: When do you get interested in lithium? What’s your driver? What’s the starting point?

Andreas Muller: When e-mobility became much more present to us as a corporation. I think everyone started to look into it. How does this battery technology evolve, and how can you actually make battery technology sustainable and ensure that an EV is sustainable?

It needs sustainable battery technology and components to turn an EV sustainable

You obviously need sustainable battery technology. That’s where you learn that lithium is one of the key ingredients. That was the moment when I started to look into it.

I obviously also learned about these evaporation pond processes by talking to my piping systems colleagues. Which also led me to learn about the refining processes and hard-rock mines.

So yes, it really drew my attention because it is something that human beings need to convert themself from fossil-based propulsion systems to more sustainable propulsion systems. That was the moment when I was really triggered, and I’m always technically interested. So I also engaged with the Fraunhofer Institute.

So we invited them when I was at Casting Solutions to give us presentations. This is quite a few years ago. In a nutshell: that was always on my agenda, at least, to be somehow informed.

How important is Lithium for GF?

Antoine Walter: You mentioned all the workshops in the world, and how GF is quite a large corporation. I guess you must be excited by many topics all year long!

Is Lithium just one of those, or is it really one topic you particularly invested time to try to wrap your head around it and understand it?

Andreas Muller: I think it is not the only one, obviously, but it is one of the few where we have, as a corporation, a really great potential. You’re absolutely right: with all our technologies, we are present in so many exciting industries.

We’re at the forefront; when Apple is developing its new gadgets at the same time, we might gonna supply one of our milling machines, or IDM machines, to SpaceX. So we are part of this mission.

This really gives us a lot of excitement, and I think sustainability overall is driving a lot of new business opportunities.

A lithium revolution needs to happen: GF intends to support it

Coming back to lithium extraction or direct lithium extraction. Let’s get that straight: we might need six times more lithium in the next 6-10 years than what we produce today.

This will require some new technologies, and new processes to service or supply these new needs.

Looking then at the direct extraction of lithium, this is really a process that can overcome these bottlenecks because evaporation processes, or hard rock mining, all have their downsides. 

Direct Lithium Extraction will be a game changer

Direct lithium extraction has the beauty that it can be a byproduct of another process. We have seen it combined with geothermal applications, but also other applications like producing other chemicals, taking the slurry, or taking the brine and «just» extracting a new material next to another material already being extracted.

This will make this process, going forward, a very attractive and very efficient field.

It also has huge advantages if compared to traditional technologies that produce or process lithium.

It reduces CO2 emissions by up to 90% – this is also by itself already a reason to look into it.

So I give it quite a lot of credit, and obviously, with GF Piping Systems, we are perfectly placed and perfectly geared to support this industry, developing their processes.

How will GF support DLE players?

Antoine Walter: If I get you right, there’s mining, which might have been an opportunity for GF in the past.

There are evaporation ponds, which you have supported as well, but the big focus is direct lithium extraction. How do you intend to support it at GF? 

Andreas Muller: We are always good to look into a market segment, to dedicate resources for a special market segment, to learn the language of this industry, of this segment. And then ultimately support, which is also part of our vision with intelligent solutions.

We have resources available, we have a pool of engineers. We have a deep knowledge of chemical processes. So combining this into these new technologies can be supportive of this industrialization process of direct lithium extraction.

GF can play a pivotal role

I think here, GF can play a pivotal role. We have prefabrication centers around the world. These centers can also support our customers to convert their ideas into Skids, which can then be used in the production process.

So I think the expertise handling chemicals or even ultra-pure chemicals, sometimes you’re going to need in the refinery process. Remember: a lithium being used in a battery needs to be super pure.

Antoine Walter: In this mini-series, I’ve been talking with companies like Veolia, who underlined how:

Jim Rieke: Some of these players in the battery markets, for example, are smaller companies. Being able to get those projects financed is a lot more feasible when you have someone like Veolia providing the process design!

Antoine Walter: When a company like Veolia is involved in a project, they also bring their credibility.

Because they’re well established, a large conglomerate with a broad history and with a track record of technology working.

How GF can enhance a lithium extraction project’s credibility

It makes me think that maybe GF as a player can have kind of a similar role if you have a process which requires to have water flowing all the time. 24 7, 365 days a year, and you say: “look, we engage our reputation, we engage our engineers, fabrication, everything you listed.»

That may sound like a good asset for a junior company which is trying to develop a project and needs to secure some financing and gain trust from the markets to invest the one, two, or three billion dollars of CapEx you need to take a project off the ground. Does stats make sense to you?

Andreas Muller: It definitely makes sense, and in many aspects, this process relies on very reliable piping systems.

If you’re gonna convey acid, if you’re gonna convey media, chemicals, whatever sorts of fluids. I think you’re gonna rely on that you have a leak-free installation.

Successful Lithium Extraction depends on reliable piping systems

Antoine Walter: That’s something we heard from Robert Mintak, the CEO of Standard Lithium.

Robert Mintak: What’s overlooked by analysts and commentators is it has to be a completely integrated process. You’re doing it 24 hours a day, every minute of every hour of the day. At a commercial scale, thousands of gallons per minute need to come into your facility, and it needs to operate in a way that at two o’clock in the morning, an operator is gonna make sure that the plant is running and that if there is an issue, that it’s addressable. 

Removing novelty from that as best you can and using industrial processes that you have confidence in that’s critical.

Andreas Muller: On the DLE side, the reputation of GF is that we can provide this leak-free installation with broad knowledge and also be one of the pioneers when it comes to plastic piping systems. I think you know our name.

Our brand is recognized as one of the industrial leaders when it comes to piping systems. We’re sourcing our credibility out of the experience we have accumulated in so many other projects and going to combine this now and bring it to an industrialization of direct lithium extraction.

GF’s support starts in the pilot phase and continues all the way to the commercial scale

We’re happy to support the pilot steps, not only in the pilot but then also coming ultimately to the first installed industrialized direct lithium extraction process.

Yes, it reinforces the credibility of the ones who are gonna have to invest in such production because, obviously, you don’t want to have this production unit failing, and you also want to have a sustainable solution.

Plastic Piping is a way for Lithium Miners to double down on Sustainability

I think in many aspects, yes, you could go for stainless steel, but you shall probably go for plastics.

Think about it. You may have a much higher longevity of your piping systems if you select and choose the right plastic piping systems.

It’s not too much of a secret. You also have to pick the right plastic material according to the chemicals you’re gonna convey.

But what’s sometimes overlooked is that the design of plastic piping systems is of utmost importance to make it last much longer. We have seen that with our installations, replacing other solutions, you can increase the longevity of that kind of installation by a couple of years.

Sometimes you’re actually gonna take it from six months only to five years, or even 10 years!

I think this adds value not only to the company which is extracting or producing the lithium, but it also adds value to the people because we have a much more sustainable solution.

GF is already quite active in the lithium extraction field

Antoine Walter: You mentioned experience in that field. Do you have some projects you can talk about?

Andreas Muller: Yes. We have projects like the one you discussed on your podcast: we’re suppliers to Vulcan Energy.

We are working together with several companies that are quite new in this field. I think that, as we speak, we’re piloting with five companies. It makes a lot of fun, and I think it is a business development where piping systems are really putting resources in.

Antoine Walter: Now, shameless plug. I am actually that resource GF Piping Systems is putting in right now.

So if you’d like to discuss your project and how we can support it, just reach out to me! 

Lithium production needs a leap frog – GF is willing to help!

Andreas Muller: We see going forward, there is huge potential. If you read the most conservative figures, they speak of some 20 billion that need to be invested in that kind of production technologies over the next 10 years. The lithium production needs to be increased by six times, as we already discussed.

That is quite a lot if you consider how much is already installed. Again, hard rock mining has its limits, such as transportation or the refining process that shall sit next to the hard rock mines. And sure, evaporation ponds can see an increase in their efficiency with better installations, as you’ve touched on your podcast as well, right?

Antoine Walter: Absolutely, that’s something Teague Egan, the CEO of EnergyX, underlined; there’s quite some potential left in those incumbent producers: 

Teague Egan: This massive evaporation takes about 18 months to yield lithium; they can be 15 square miles in footprint, and most importantly, they only recover about 30 to 40% of the available lithium that enters into the system. For us, there’s a lot of inefficiency in all three of those metrics.

We want something that is a lot smaller in a footprint that doesn’t harm the natural environment. We want something that takes a lot shorter time than the 18 months. And we want something that can recover hopefully near a hundred or at least over 90% of the lithium that enters the system. So you need to actually optimize these kind of sets.

Andreas Muller: But are you endlessly going to build these evaporation processes? I don’t think so. So Direct Lithium Extraction seems to be one of the most sustainable concepts to produce lithium, which also would then solve one of the topics that you keep going with this battery technology. This is the current most evident way you know that you propel cars with lithium polymer cells or lithium battery-based energy sources.

How does a 222 year old company successfully interact with the “Cool Kids”?

Antoine Walter: You mentioned a lot of times the sustainability word, so I’m gonna come to that. It’s a very important topic, but right before that, I have a devil’s advocate question. Sorry for that one. You mentioned Vulcan. Vulcan was my guest in that series. Cris Moreno, their CEO, was sharing a lot of insights on that microphone. We’ve also looked into Standard Lithium’s path with Robert Mintak, their CEO, and Andy Robinson, their President, and explored their direct lithium extraction path.

We’ve talked of new companies like EnergyX, HeliosX… Where I’m heading with that is that you mentioned also five pilots with junior companies. Here’s my devil’s advocate question. GF is a 222 years old company.

How do you avoid having a cultural clash when you’re working with a very junior company, a very agile startup company?

Andreas Muller: Now, this is a very good question, Antoine.

It’s a cultural exercise for a large group to keep a start-up spirit

But since you are also one of the GF employees, you have seen that we have put a lot of emphasis on our culture development. One of these culture elements is that we would like to have a very open mind.

We have a value, which we call: «learning is about having an open mind, and what will you change?»

And we inspire our people that they’re gonna take this kind of opportunities, being curious and learn and going to collaborate and cooperate with startup companies. But is it always the best to embed a startup company in an organization? I don’t think so, but that’s not necessarily only a GF issue.

I think it is more about that the people are inspired and motivated to take the opportunity and to develop their own approach and engage with startup companies, and we want to have this kind of modern style or this openness within our organization. It’s one of the reasons why we have put culture as one of the key pillars in our strategy for 2025.

We are actively working on this culture. 10,000 people underwent these experiments to experience our values, and this is actually something where we also foster the teamwork on the one end side. But also being open, and therefore, we should somehow be a sound base for startup companies.

How Andreas Müller, GF’s CEP, gives some of his time to the Start-Up Ecosystem

I just came, by the way, back from Venture. Venture is a Swiss-based startup accelerator incubator.

We have been discussing about 300 startup companies being on the list to be nominated when we are gonna engage with them. When I talk to these people, I think we can talk the same language. I talk about experience in a business, what makes a business successful, and what makes a startup successful to be in a business.

It’s not a cultural glitch. You can really smoothly intertwine these kind of things. And yes, I want us to have a little bit of this startup spirit.

After all, GF is a (very) successful start-up itself

If you consider our founder – it sounds odd, right, that you still quote a founder, which is, by the way, turning 250 years this year – but he was a maniac. He was passionate about innovation.

GF was always about innovations. Now you could actually even say, if you’re gonna look at the market cap today, we are a pretty old unicorn, right? If you think about that one.

And I think this kind of DNA is still within our organization. And I think this curiosity about new technologies, about innovations, is a very good nudge to collaborate with startup companies. And as you may have seen, all our three divisions have engaged with startup accelerators.

Defining a win-win relationship with the Start-Up Ecosystem

We look into that one, we wanna be part of this community, but we also have to be careful that we gonna make this process digestible for both sides, right? I don’t wanna have to startup companies always being on the hook just to print their best idea, to gonna find the investors. 

A customer-supplier relation for a startup company is, in many aspects, the better solution to have a smooth and seamless integration because, as you already mentioned, you know to me in an earlier discussion, if you can secure volumes from a startup company, when they are able to deliver a product, they get financing.

Look, there’s already a customer, a traditional company. We can sometimes provide resources much easier for them. We can enable them, or we can give them access to institutions because we have it. We have laboratories. We can tell ’em, look, we co-host you. We are just currently gonna do something like that in our casting solutions divisions in Germany.

A very amazing concept to produce special alloys, such as in Cornell, in a super-efficient way, which is only a fifth of the CO2 emissions compared to the legacy technologies. And we have given them in one of our factories, the facility, the space where they can now actually install their pilot installations with obviously all oral help they can use our procurement department.

I think this. Gives much more of a support. We are dynamic and young enough to do so.

Antoine Walter: What you describe sounds like a symbiotic relationship. You explained how lithium production needs to be multiplied by six towards the end of the decades and by a multiple, depends who you believe, 15, 20, 30 by 2050.

This is the typical growth rate of the unicorns you mentioned. When I spoke on that microphone with Chris Wyres, the CEO of Evove, he mentioned how:

Chris Wyres: Growth is limited by three things, really, capital, obviously you’ve gotta be funded well enough. And the second aspect you’ve gotta consider outside of capital and the attractiveness of the business to its end customers is really how quickly you can scale your manufacturing. Because if you can’t supply products, then you can’t make sales!

Antoine Walter: And there I could see a fit. Because you mentioned 80 production sites worldwide for GF, right. So the infrastructure is existing. What GF doesn’t do is GF doesn’t have processes or doesn’t have that end of the equation, but the startups do.

So it sounds like the yin and yang coming together. I acknowledge I might be subjective on that! 

Andreas Muller: It’s a fair judgment because what we also see very often, when you have new technologies, if you can combine it, then with traditional companies which have a sound footprint across the world, you obviously can scale it much faster.

That would be one of our perks, to really take the experience, which we have won, for example, in the project in Germany, but also in the US, that we can actually use that kind of knowhow and going to bring it to other places.

But even so, when one of these companies wanna build up their facilities across the world, GF is ready to fit and suit their demands across the world.

With our 17 fabrication centers at Piping Systems, I think we can really provide anywhere on this planet a standardized, high-level, quality solution. We can actually build the skids to their drawings, but we can also help them to engineer their skids as long as we understand their processes. This is really something where yes, we can help to scale.

GF’s involvement with the EV Revolution doesn’t stop at GF Piping Systems

Antoine Walter: You mentioned the link to GF Piping Systems, which is pretty natural, I would say, in the Direct Lithium Extraction. How about Casting Solutions? Casting solutions is pretty involved in the EV revolution. What’s the opportunity there, and is there a link to that lithium wave?

Andreas Muller: One of the links is obviously the propulsion concept. Having an e-car today, the most common battery technology is based on lithium and lithium-ion.

Ultimately, this battery pack comes with some weight. Weight is something that you don’t want to have when you have mobility, particularly individual mobility. Take a body mass of 80 to 100 kilograms, and you have a car of 2.5 tons.

The inefficiency is given by itself, and therefore it is of utmost importance to make cars light. And our casting solutions enable sustainable mobility by providing lightweight components into a car build.

GF Casting Solutions takes it to the next level

So, for example, you take a shock tower, you can build a shock tower out of sheet metals, bend them, weld them.

Maybe the shock tower is eight kilograms. A shock tower is something where the suspension is connected to your car. So you have two in the front. You have two in the back. Now you can actually produce then out of aluminum in a one-shot concept, which obviously streamlines already the production process, and it has only half the weight.

So you reduce the weight by making a car lighter with the technology GF can provide into a car. Compared to a conventional car, that car can be up to 200 grams lighter, which obviously helps a lot in terms of sustainability and e-cards by its nature because of the battery I have here. So you’re gonna have that one.

But nevertheless, we also look into the propulsion technology itself. So, for example, we are in battery rehousing. We are producing battery rehousing where you can host then all the cells in it, so to make a lightweight concept or the cooling processes. So we have one company which looks into this cooling process.

GF Machining Solutions also has its say!

Last but not least, we are also producing the e-engine housing. But let me also tell you one story that I’m always very passionate about it, so our machining solutions divisions with it. High precision machine tools are also al when it comes to making e mobility very energy efficient. An e-engine consists of a stator and a rotor.

A stator is some 300 sheets piled on each other with an insulation in between, and the rotor is the same. And now the precision of the gap between the rotor and the stator needs to be super accurate because as more accurate it is in a smaller, the gap is as more energy efficiency you have. You don’t want to have a short circuit because that would ultimately destroy a part of your e-engine.

And now our machine tool solutions come into play. A STEM to produce these sheets is approximately five meters, sometimes four meters, and two meters in size. So you have eight processes to make one sheet. And that needs to be within the tolerance of one to two microns only, and our machine tools can produce the stamps with an accuracy of one to two microns to produce ultimately this entire stamp being used to produce this sheet, which is piled up.

And nowadays, they need to be so accurate and sustainability in terms of. Many aspects always comes along with ultra-precision when you think about fuel cells and other things and applications. And here, our ultra-precise machine tools enable the industry.

Antoine Walter: If you look at a group like Volkswagen, which is currently turning its strategy on its heads and going almost full electric, they’ve invested from the car manufacturing down to the battery production down now to lithium extraction. There are major stakeholders in many projects we see around the world. That means that potentially they would be dealing with all the divisions of GF at different stages of the process. So it’s a vertical speaking to another vertical.

Andreas Muller: You are perfectly right. You’re absolutely perfectly right. We’re gonna talk exactly on all these various levels with our customers, which makes this corporation so, Super interesting being an enabler for sustainability, not only in a single business field but in multiple business fields.

Sustainability is a North Star for GF’s Strategy

Antoine Walter: You mentioned sustainability, which I do get, is one of the key drivers of GF’s strategy.

I think last year, for the first time, you reported your ESG and financial results together. What’s the reason behind that?

Andreas Muller: This is just a logical consequence that you’re gonna combine your financial and sustainability reporting. It’s also partially obviously driven, going forward, by regulations.

So you anyway gonna have to do it. And since the business itself is so much intertwined, our vision is to be a sustainability and innovation leader. So, therefore, it’s a logical consequence that a business which is intertwined with sustainability, is also being reported that way. But I would like to say something which is super important.

Sustainability can only be sustainable if it is making commercial sense. If you think that sustainable solutions can be inferior in terms of the economical benefit being provided to your customers, I think that would be the wrong narrative.

Our sustainable solutions are even more economical, and this is something that GF has to look into!

The sustainability rule in GF Piping System’s product development

Then since you are also a part of piping systems, you know exactly that anything that we are newly developing needs to have a sustainable benefit. 

We will not bring any product to the market which doesn’t address the sustainability needs of our customers. And this is also valid for direct lithium extraction!

It is about that we can actually have the flow control automized or done more efficiently. Or for example, we have recently now in investigated into a new PVDF material. Because as you may know, PVDF is a fluor polymer, so it’s not so easy in terms of recycling, but we have found solutions where we can actually produce a recycled PVDF system, which we can provide exactly in that kind of application.

We can even give a second life to certain piping systems. But this is always important to look into it, and this is creating a benefit for both sides. For gf, on the one hand side, being able to use a re-grain and the customer may benefit from availability, but maybe also some advantages in terms of the properties, and he can use the PVDF piping systems instead to maybe go through a downgrade to a PP system.

Antoine Walter: You mentioned Vulcan, and I think Vulcan’s tagline is Zero Carbon Lithium. Indeed, remember what Chris Moreno told us: 

Cris Moreno: Vulcan is a unique company. We’re aiming to become the world’s first integrated lithium chemicals company and renewable energy producer, and we’re doing all this with net zero greenhouse emissions. And not using any fossil fuels in our process.

Antoine Walter: There are some companies like Vulcan, which really take that at the heart of what they do, and some others do their best to do as sustainable as they can, but they’re also looking at the spot price of lithium thinking: I need to push it out of the door right now because that spot price might go down anytime soon.

Does Sustainability always come with the best reward?

And I better take the profit. That’s a tricky question I’m asking you because I know you have a financial background. If you had to choose finance or sustainability, profitability, or environmental impact?

Andreas Muller: To me, that’s a question of motivation, which can be instilled by the profitability of such a product.

What do I mean? If the profit is gigantic, you might lose your track on optimizing your process. But in general terms, if you insist on a very sustainable process, normally, it comes along with a very efficient production process. If you wanna avoid energy waste in a process, that comes along, that you have less CO2 emitted in a process.

So, if you don’t need energy, you have less cost. In my opinion, sustainability is never contradicting improving a process’ efficiency.

Now, if I would have insanely high margins, would I dedicate a portion of that one to become more sustainable? Absolutely. I would. Absolutely, I would. I think this is my conviction, but as I said, it needs to be commercially sound.

When I look at our own corporation, whenever we are able to reduce CO2 emissions, it comes along with a process optimization. It’s less thermal heat required in a process. It’s less material in a fitting itself. It’s a much more efficient injection molding process. It always comes a lung, with an optimization, which is also having an economical benefit.

You should not actually decouple them. If you start to decouple, I think that will be the end because you will not be successful going forward, in my opinion. So it needs to be always intertwined. You have to focus on both things, but you’re absolutely right. If the profits you make are too huge, you might gotta lose a little bit of track of sustainability.

Therefore, I really like the slogan of Vulcan Energy, that they’re gonna go on the CO2 neutral with them, which in my opinion is super important. Because the battery pack is still quite a substantial portion of the CO2 emissions in an e-car.

The importance of people to turn GF’s Strategy into actual Impact

Antoine Walter: It’s actually in line with what you said about what’s the driver of a successful lithium project.

The way Vulcan goes to zero carbon is that they colocate with geothermal energy and geothermal heat. So when you combine the three together, then you get a better picture. And that’s also what Standard Lithium was sharing with their El Dorado project, where they colocate a carbon capture pilot because, at the same time, you’re extracting water from the grounds.

You have the opportunity when you’re circulating that water back to capture some carbon and also potentially produce some chemicals, which then you use in your process. So you’re really closing that loop. You covered very thoroughly the economical and environmental aspects of sustainability.

What about the people’s aspect? So the human interaction, is it something you’re looking into as GF?

Andreas Muller: GF was already, with his entire history, very much on the people on the social aspects. So we have been one of the first in our sector to launch a healthcare insurance.

We have been one of the first to introduce pension systems for our people. We always looked into how to improve the working conditions for our people. I think people play the biggest role in a corporation with all the assets. Without having people, you will not actually turn anything into good.

GF’s ESG commitments and more

And I think, therefore, the focus on people within GF has always been high, as you may have seen. We have ESG targets, we wanna reduce accident rates. We look into that one. But we also want to have, let me say, equal treatment in various aspects. We want to have diversity, not only in gender, but also in terms of ethics, but also in terms of age.

I think we very much focus on that one. And since GF has been doing that for many, many decades, It is also quite easy for us to promote it, and it has become very genuine. So people really believe when we talk about sustainability, and yes, it is attractive, and I think nowadays we hear a lot from young employees that they have been appealed by the ESG or sustainability pathway GF is promoting.

And actually also showing! And I think, since it is not only makeup, it is really genuine, it is also so easy to talk about.

Antoine Walter: I can relate, but I want to be objective as much as possible, so I won’t double down here. To close that deep dive, you mentioned how you are leading GF for four and a half years.

I have a crystal ball question for you. You can see the Andres Müller of 2030 or whenever you want to put yourself in the future. What will tell you that that person had an impact?

Andreas Muller: This is a tough question now. I think first of all, if we can actually improve and become a little bit better every day in these next 10 years, I think this is already quite a big achievement.

The current vision we have. If we gonna turn that into reality and we gonna keep that path going forward. I think GF has become very attractive and very interesting, as it is already today an industrial player. And I think this is something, which I believe you should all work together on it, and I think it should also be a place and be recognized where people like to work for.

It should be an inevitable place. If the people are gonna say, this is a cool corporation solving the needs of humanity. I think that is something which is making us all proud going forward.

Antoine Walter: And do you have a personal KPI?

Andreas Muller: I want to see our corporation to be balanced over cycles so that we can deliver a decent return so that we have the freedom to invest into things, new opportunities, becoming an attractive solution provider to our customers.

Antoine Walter: Well, thanks for everything you shared in that deep dive; I am rounding these interviews with rapid-fire questions, so if that’s fine for you, I will switch to that last section!

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Rapid Fire Questions

Antoine Walter: So the rule is: I have short questions which aim for short answers, and usually I’m the one side tracking, so don’t worry. My first question is, what is the thing you’ve learned the hard way?

Andreas Muller: Sometimes the hard way is really that you’re gonna have to have a signpost and then really gonna make a bold decision at one point of time because you cannot leave it endlessly.

And I think that fits very nicely in a new culture. We wanna be bold on new opportunities, but we also have to accept if new opportunities don’t turn into success? Stop it. I think stopping it is a very important statement. What we all gonna have to learn. It’s much easier to keep things going on, but you have to stop it because then you have the resources to go into something new, which might gonna turn out more successful.

Antoine Walter: If you had to define your leadership style in three words?

Andreas Muller: Collaborative, communicative, but also decision driven.

Antoine Walter: Is there something in your job you’re doing today that you will for sure not be doing in 10 years?

Andreas Muller: The question is whether I wish or not wish, but I think, if we could reduce a little bit, the meetings.That wouldn’t be the worst! 

Antoine Walter: The top three on that microphone are reducing meetings, reducing travels, and reducing emails. So you’re, you’re good.

Andreas Muller: I would never reduce travel, to be honest, Antoine, because I think that is one of the most inspiring parts of your life, right? If you can travel, if you can talk to people, I think it’s not only being able to go onsite, but it’s also the exchange with all sorts of people across this world.

I think I would not give up on that one. If I could actually free time of meetings to travel. I would travel, so I would never give up on traveling.

Antoine Walter: I mentioned that I would be the one sidetracking. So let me open a sidetrack here. I’ve been following you on LinkedIn. You’ve been sharing some of these travel encounters you made with people working for GF.

How important is that to you? We are in, in a brand new building, which is absolutely nice. You have a nice office, a nice floor with lots of people working around you. You could be staying here and seeing nobody, and probably you could be running that company that way. But you do it differently. You go out, and you meet with people in the sales companies. Listen to their stories. How important is that to you?

Andreas Muller: First of all, let me address your statement. I strongly disagree!

You cannot run a company not being out in the markets. I think it is super important, because normally what are gonna do when I meet our people, first of all, you get such great stories back, right?

The people feel inspired. But I am also feeling inspired. So I think it’s a win-win, right? Meeting people across the world and meeting with these people then with our customers. I think that’s even more inspirational. And so, therefore, I don’t think that you could run a corporation and not be in the markets, not being with the people.

You’re gonna have to feel somehow the pulse of your organization. And by the way, as I said, this is one of the fun parts of my job, if you don’t like that… I like people, and I like talking to people, and I think this is something, which you might gonna have to bring along. Otherwise, it gets a bit cumbersome running such a company.

Antoine Walter: What is the trend to watch out for in the water sector?

Andreas Muller: One of the trends, I think we all talk about non-revenue water. So we do know that we lose a lot of water, on the way, to consumption. This is one of the trends that may gonna lead ultimately that we are gonna need to reclaim much more water, whether it’s regionalized, whether it’s even, much more localized.

What we are doing today, we all have to understand conveying water is also some energy intense process, so it’s not coming for free. That water flushes all over our households, our cities, and I think. Therefore, I believe reclaiming water may be one of the trends. We have seen it in San Francisco.

We might wanna see it much more across Europe, for instance, with the water scarcity we faced just a year ago… 

Antoine Walter: I have the funny sidetrack and then the serious sidetrack here. The funny sidetrack is that we are in Schaffhausen. Whenever I meet someone in Rotterdam, I say to them, you’re reclaiming water because whatever we flush in Schaffhausen is their drinking water resource down the Rhine River.

Sometimes they don’t appreciate that transparency, but it’s true. Now the serious sidetrack is you mentioned non-revenue water, and I mentioned that we are in a brand new building, and in the entry of that building, you have the opportunity to put three products you choose to highlight one product, which is going after this non-revenue water.

So I guess that’s kind of the testimony of walking the talk?

Andreas Muller: I think you’re absolutely right. Then I got heard again. I think we are here to address one of the most pressing needs of today’s population. And I think, therefore it was just one reason why we actually put that product up there.

It’s also a very innovative part. It’s a product which has been co-developed or which is based on the development of a startup company coming out from Oxford. It’s called Oxford Flow, and I think GF has collaborated with them, and we are now industrializing it because managing the pressure in urban infrastructures is one of the best means to avoid water loss.

Antoine Walter: Last question for me. Would you have someone to recommend me that I should definitely invite on that microphone as soon as possible?

Andreas Muller: I met someone you know, which I really liked, is a company called a startup company called Open Version. They have a concept developed a very simple concept to purify water in remote areas.

So giving me some 2 billion people the opportunity to have drinking water on site. And might gonna reduce these long distance walks and therefore gonna have, let me say, a better life. I was very inspired by that young lady who’s running together with obviously her colleagues.

This company, it’s a biodegradable fil filtration system. I, I really liked it. I think it’s a concept. You mentioned before that we also have a clean water foundation where we are gonna bring clean water to remote areas. And I think this is something in which It’s a, maybe, a slightly different topic, but it’s a very good purpose.

What this young company is trying to do, and I was really very convinced about the simplicity of this solution. It is the simplicity of the solution which makes it sustainable in this kind of remote area.

Antoine Walter: Well, it’s a topic extensively covered on that microphone; these 2.2 billion people who still don’t have access to water.

And probably the solution will come from companies bringing innovation, simple, sturdy, proven, to the field. So really excited to look into that. I don’t know that specific company, but I, I’m gonna look into it. So thanks for the recommendation. If people want to follow up with you after that conversation, where shall I redirect them?

Andreas Muller: The best? Very easy, knock on my door, go to my assistant, go get an appointment, send me mail, and I will try my best to make time available!

Antoine Walter: Andreas, thanks a lot for your time. I’m the testimony that you made some time available, so thanks for that, and I will talk to you soon.

Andreas Muller: Thank you very much, Antoine.

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