Germany's industrial giants have drawn fire from politicians and labor leaders for failing to create jobs at home and shifting production overseas. At first glance, Rosenberger Hochfrequenztechnik, a thriving member of Germany's Mittelstand, seems to be part of that trend. Headquartered in the same tradition-steeped corner of Bavaria that produced Pope Benedict XVI, this family-owned maker of coaxial and fiber-optic connectors employs some 1,300 people -- more than half its total workforce -- outside of Germany, up from just 60 in 1995.
Yet in a surprising twist, Rosenberger has been moving high-volume production back to Germany over the course of the past two years, where its plants are highly automated. "The advantage is that we have a much better handle of quality," says Hans Rosenberger Jr., one of three brothers who, together with their father, own the company.
FORTUITOUS MOMENT. Rosenberger stands out for its combination of top-flight engineering and attention to quality -- traits for which German companies are world-renowned -- and a willingness to chase customers wherever they go. Over the past four decades it has evolved from a modest metalworking business into a top global supplier of coaxial connectors for automotive entertainment systems, and of the coaxial surface-mount technology used in telecommunications and testing and measurement.
Its customers include mobile telecom-equipment makers Nokia () and Ericsson (), along with auto makers BMW and DaimlerChrysler (). Sales have grown fourfold in the last 10 years, to 188 million last year, and are on course to climb some 7% this year, to 202 million.
The Rosenberger clan credits their success to a willingness to take risks. Without this, Hans Sr. might today be a retired metal-parts supplier rather than the founder of a high-tech company. Hans Sr., now 83, opened a metalworking shop in 1958 and over time began machining metal parts for companies producing commercial vehicles. The turning point came in 1967, when Rosenberger stepped forward to take a contract from a telecom-equipment company that had been left in the lurch by the collapse of one of its suppliers.
PRICE SQUEEZE. Luckily for Hans Sr., his three sons got degrees in precisely the areas needed to help Rosenberger keep growing in its new field. Hans Jr., 53, who heads administration and sales, has an MBA from Union University in Schenectady, while his brothers Bernhard, 51, and Peter, 49, earned degrees in engineering, enabling them to take charge of research and production.
Today, Rosenberger's fastest-growing market is -- you guessed it -- Asia. Last year, sales to Asian customers accounted for 18% of the company's total. Rosenberger founded one of the first wholly owned foreign companies in China, Rosenberger Asia Pacific, in 1998, and opened a production facility in Beijing in 2001. For Rosenberger, the flip side of the Asia boom is fierce price competition from producers there. "We are expected to maintain our level of service and top quality at Asian prices," says Hans Jr.
You would think the pressure would drive the family to sell out. Instead, they're optimizing production lines in Asia, the Americas, and Europe to better serve customers -- and continuing to invest heavily in training their German employees. That's one factor, says Hans Jr., that sets Rosenberger apart from the competition. "We offer continuity and dependability to our employees and customers." He adds: "At many companies, this doesn't count for much anymore. If we give you our word, it will still hold the day after tomorrow, and five years from now."