A chemical plant stands in the way

Prepare for Landing > A chemical plant stands in the way

Security experts had raised concerns. The third runway of Frankfurt Airport was planned and urgently needed, but an entire chemical plant in Kelsterbach was unfortunately located directly in the runway approach path. For several hundred million euros, the Ticona plant had to be dismantled and rebuilt.

But where to?

Industriepark Höchst IPH was very close by, and the parent company of the Kelsterbach plant already had chemical plants in operation there. A logical decision? Far from it. A political issue and an interest game poker began.

More than 50 potential locations had applied for new production sites for the Ticona plants. In March 2007, three months before the final decision, four of them were still in the running, including the IPH.

The preference of the employees and the works council was clear. Because a decision for a location outside the Rhine-Main area would have meant a loss of jobs for many.

Then another complication arose. The working time models were different. The Kelsterbach plant worked one hour more than the IPH.

And this is where I was suddenly involved as plant manager of the parent company operations at IPH. The company management brought a solidarity performance into the discussion. In return for a possible decision in favour of IPH, it was expected an adjustment to the higher working hours without wage compensation – for the colleagues in Höchst!

“Immoral” – was the headline of the local newspaper’s report. And I confess that I could understand this opinion. Nevertheless, I decided for myself to fight for the harmonization of working hours upwards, because I was convinced that this would significantly increase the chances for the reconstruction of the Kelsterbach plant in the IPH.

The works council gave me the chance by agreeing to a vote within the production staff in my plant. A simple majority, 50% +1 vote, should suffice.

A first test survey, though, showed me how far behind I was, 90% of the production workforce was against it. What to do? Giving up was not an option.

I started by visiting the operators in the common rooms of my production facilities
✳ at all four shifts,
✳ at any of the seven production plants,
✳ at night.

I was on tour for four nights and had the opportunity to talk to almost all of the almost 300 production employees present. On the subject of plant relocation and other topics.

Honestly, these nights became an experience for me. Very exhausting but also very fulfilling. Word had gotten around about my order within the facilities and the last of them was already waiting for me around half past four with a freshly brewed coffee, for breakfast, so to speak.

However, a remark from a plant operator from the control room made me very contemplative:

“Mr. Scharbert, if you lose the vote and the management nevertheless decides to relocate to our plant, then you would have to leave, don’t you?”

How did it all end?

I lost the vote, 47.3% to 51.7%. I was proud to have caught up so much, but unfortunately, I still had lost it. And three months later, the decision was nevertheless made to relocate to IPH, towards my plant responsibility.

I had made a mistake in that poker game, I thought, when my office support gave me the hint about a waiting caller from the control room of one of my production plants. Such a call was rather unusual.

“May I put it through, Mr. Scharbert?”

“Yes, of course!”

It was precisely the employee on the call who had asked me the above-quoted question regarding the potential leave need.

“Mr. Scharbert, I know what I said then. But please do me the favour and stay.”

Even though my nightly shift visits had not led me to the actual goal, they had still made a big difference. The different sides of the same coin were seen. Understanding for both sides has been developed. A dialogue at eye level. And that was so important – also with regard to the upcoming integration issues.

➡ Do you know an example of a dialogue at eye level from your environment?

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