Connections of Three Generations

Today, Family Business Are Rarely Passed Down and Managed By the Next Generation. Young Adults Dream of Becoming Rock Stars or Sports Legends

By Aaron Hand

Maybe I'm just getting old, but I don't recall so many of my companions when I was a kid banking their futures on success as rock stars or sports legends. But my kids and their friends seem to be doing just that. I have yet to hear one of them mention joining the family business or following in their parents' footsteps. It's particularly refreshing these days to celebrate a company that is not only standing up to the test of time, but bringing the next generation along for the ride.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting members of the Harting family when they flew out from their home base in Espelkamp, Germany, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the connector company's North American subsidiary.

At a press luncheon in St. Charles, Ill., family members put emphasis not only on the second and third generation of Hartings running the 66-year-old company — not to mention the fourth generation that will hopefully follow in their footsteps — but also the importance of the people throughout the organization, reminding attendees of the long history behind the connector giant. It's a colorful history including stories of pigs and jukeboxes, and their eye is on maintaining a leading position in the connectivity business, regardless of what technology that ultimately will entail.

Dietmar Harting, president and partner, told an interesting history of the company that his parents Wilhelm and Marie Harting began in 1945. Like his parents before him, Dietmar now runs the company along with his wife Margrit, who is senior vice president and partner for Harting. Their two children, Philip Harting and Maresa Harting-Hertz, are senior vice president of connectivity and networks and senior vice president of finance, controlling and tax, respectively.

The 66-year-old company has a colorful history that includes stories of pigs and jukeboxes, with a vision of connectivity leadership.

In the early days, Harting bartered for its business, trading sausage from the pigs that the Hartings raised for supplies of copper wire. They bought licenses from RCA and produced record players, jukeboxes and the like, investing the money they made from those sales in connectors. Other products the company dabbled in ranged from electric cookers to cigarette vending machines. Shortly before he died at the age of 52, Wilhelm Harting decided to concentrate only on connectors, throwing all other product lines out, Dietmar Harting said.

The company now produces a wide range of connectors, including industrial connectors, modular connectors, circular connectors, PCB connectors and adapters, fiberoptic data links, I/O cable assemblies and more. The North American team recently won an award for the Han-Yellock connector, with its improved functionality. Asked what the next 25 years might bring for North America, Philip Harting envisioned a migration to more active and value-added connectors and cable assemblies. Along with the increased intelligence, however, Dietmar Harting clarified, "We will stay in the connectivity business."

Harting established its first European subsidiary in France at the start of 1979, and now has locations in Belgium, the U.K., Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, the Czech Republic, Russia, Japan, Singapore, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Brazil and the U.S. The company has about 3,600 employees worldwide, some 1,600 of which are in Germany, and will have sales of about €471 million ($647 million) this year. Moving forward, Harting sees more potential in countries like Brazil, Russia, India, China and to some extent South Africa, Philip Harting said.

When Philip Harting joined the company in 2005, eager to travel, he had a choice of going to the U.S. or to Asia. Since U.S. management was going well, he went to Hong Kong, a gateway for new opportunities. Today Asia makes up about 23% of the company's sales, with a target of greater than 30% by 2014-15, he said. In China, challenges are focused on protecting intellectual property. Production there is for products at least 15 years old so that newer products cannot be copied, Dietmar Harting said.

In the U.S., which accounts for 8-9% of sales, the challenges are different. When Harting first came to the U.S. in 1968, they were struck by the sheer size of the country, Dietmar Harting said. "You have to know what you want to do there; what you can bring to the country," he said, adding that the competition is very strong here. 

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