Mrs. Viktoria Garten, CEO of VGH Viktoria Garten Hüttenindustriebedarf GmbH
1989-1992: EKO Stahl AG, Eisenhüttenstadt, East Germany
1993- till now: VGH Viktoria Garten Hüttenindustriebedarf GmbH
Refwin: Dear Mrs. Viktoria Garten, Would you please introduce what has driven you to found VGH? And what are the biggest challenges during the start-up of the company?
Mrs. Garten: Back at the beginning of the 1990s – when I moved to West Germany after I had gained work experience for a couple of years at EKO Stahl in East Germany – I was seen as extremely exotic: My university degree in Metallurgy was unusual, being a woman in the field of refractories and metallurgy and on top a mother of a kindergartener! After I had submitted more than 200 applications to various industrial companies, the only way I saw was to get self-employed and to start my own business.
Of course, also on this path I encountered numerous challenges. Besides the challenge every new business faces of establishing yourself as a new player, the main challenge was to gain acceptance as a business-woman in a strongly male-dominated area. Also in regard to work-life-balance, it was challenging to find sufficient time to build up a new business all by myself while raising a small child.
Refwin: Would you please introduce the current situation of VGH?
Mrs. Garten: Since the founding of VGH as an engineering office in 1993 and changing to a GmbH form (company with limited liability) and starting to conduct comprehensive projects with our clients, VGH has developed to a multinational group with overall of 100 employees at the head office as well as in the production plant and laboratory in Hattingen, Germany, and at the subsidiaries and representative offices in Italy, Ukraine, Russia and China.
Today, VGH is a full-service refractory provider with a continuously expanding product and service portfolio: From technical concept designing, consulting, over manufacturing, delivery, installation, as well as maintenance and after sales services, our customers can rely on excellent service from one source with reliable contact persons. Nowadays, we regularly conduct large-scale projects, like complete design, delivery and installation for BF-Shops and Steel Making Shops, especially: BF-Runners, Taphole clays, BOF linings, EAF and steel ladles, etc.
VGH stands for innovation, high quality and individual solutions for our customers: Since many years VGH has been certified according to DIN EN ISO 9001, which guarantees highest process quality, compliance and reliability for our customers and partners, as well as DIN EN ISO 14001, attesting that VGH, and especially our production site, acts sustainably and environmentally friendly.
Refwin: What has supported the development of VGH over the past decades?
Mrs. Garten: I think our success is mainly based on our very strong customer focus: Alongside with the more various demands from our customers, VGH also became more versatile by meeting the customer’s requirements. We are looking for the best solution, keeping in mind technological, economic and ecological specifications and are continuously improving our products and services. VGH always offers holistic solutions by accounting for the complete project and guaranteeing performance measures.
Of course, only with the trust our customers put in us, we have received and are still receiving the chance to develop us further. We are proud to be considered strategic suppliers for some of the biggest steel corporations world-wide and get the opportunity to develop new technologies and processes hand-in-hand with our customers. Definitely our customers’ openness for innovation and new technology, e.g. VGH was the first refractory company to introduce monolithic lining for steel ladles in Italy, is also a significant driver.
Refwin: During Pandemics, how does VGH keep its development momentum and right direction?
Mrs. Garten: Our approach has always been – even before the pandemic, that our VGH representatives and technical experts live close to our customers. Consequently, during the pandemic and unforeseeable travel restrictions, this has been a major advantage in terms of customer relationship as our customers could still – almost as usual - hold contact with their regular VGH-representatives. And of course, me and my colleagues from the headquarters in Germany and at our other subsidiaries world-wide have been more than ever on the phone and in video-conferences. We managed to adapt quickly to the new working conditions, e.g. by enhancing our IT-infrastructure and in terms of logistics by establishing new routes to deliver our products. Luckily, all of VGH staff have ever since been used to work across the globe by different means of state-of-the-art technology, e.g. cloud solutions, video-conferences. Thanks to our innovative IT we had already prepared and launched MS-Teams to facilitate cross-border collaboration before the pandemic hit.
Regarding our development, we have always had a long-term strategic focus. Therefore, we continued our long-planned trials and in terms of deliveries being a system supplier adhered to our delivery plans as agreed upon with the customers before the pandemic.
Refwin: How do you strengthen VGH to provide products as “the very best performance at all times”?
Mrs. Garten: Meeting or even excelling our performance guarantees is our key value. To maintain and advance the quality of our products, we constantly drive data analyses across all our projects, customers and aggregates. Our engineering team works strongly interconnected and everyone brings in their unique knowledge, technical expertise and practical experience. This might also include long and passionate discussions among us in order to find the best solution for each specific project. We never get tired of improving! Our Theramer Research & Development Centre plays a vital role: Not only does it reliably analyze our incoming raw material, but it also permanently develops our products based on the customer-specific requirements and even in close collaboration with our customers.
When we think about quality management in our production process, we are proud that for many years our production site adheres to the ISO9001 quality standards. That means that every step in the order processing is well documented and that quality control of every single batch is required before it is delivered to our customers. Since the beginning of this year with launching a new ERP system, we can easily monitor which raw material batches are found in our theramer batches. This allows us to analyze in a very detailed way, where improvements of our products might be useful.
Refwin: What will be the future development direction of steel refractories industry? What has VGH done for this?
Mrs. Garten: Sustainability, environmental protection and waste reduction have always been very important topics for me personally, hence VGH has already been focusing on these issues. Back in 2015, our German production site was one the first to get ISO 14001 certification. In our production, we attach great value to sustainability and develop in our theramer Quality & Development Centre modern and environmentally friendly products. VGH was the first refractory supplier to introduce monolithic linings in steel ladles in Italy. Replacing bricks with castables, contributes in many ways to the protection of the environment. Castables are more economical on account of the lower mass and produce less waste and are more environmentally friendly as less energy is consumed. We also help our customers with proper disposal, for instance thanks to cooperations with recycling and waste processing companies. Our Research and Development center also tests the possibilities to recycle material and develop even more sustainable products.
Another approach we take is to go with dry setting mixes instead of gunning material as only the residual heat from the distributor is needed, i.e. lower energy consumption. In this way we also ensure fewer non-metallic inclusions are formed and consequently a better steel quality is guaranteed.
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