Interview with Thomas Bierlich
Wuppertal, 08. September 2022
May we introduce?
Thomas Bierlich has been our new Head of Technical Investment Management since 1 September this year. We would like to take this opportunity to briefly introduce him in an interview.
Who is Thomas Bierlich? Let’s take a look behind the facade.
First of all, Thomas Bierlich is a real Cologne boy. I come from the Rhineland and spent more or less my entire childhood there. I am a latecomer and the third child, my siblings are 14 and 18 years older. This constellation has had a strong influence on me. In addition, sport has always played a big role for me. Values like team spirit and discipline are important to me. Above all, football was and is my passion, and I always earned some extra money here during my studies.
After the early death of my father, my older brother played a decisive role for me. He also advised me against studying maths and sports and recommended a technical degree instead: mechanical engineering. I got married during my studies and am the proud father of 3 children: a son aged 28 and 2 girls who are twins aged 26 each. So you can imagine that there was always a lot of hustle and bustle in my house and still is.
What kind of education did you do?
I did my intermediate diploma in mechanical engineering in Bochum and then went to RWTH Aachen for my diploma. My brother, who was very active there, convinced me to do so. Besides, Aachen is a real flagship for mechanical engineering. The university has an enormous range of technical expertise and enjoys a great international reputation. During my studies, I worked as a student assistant. This job brings you into contact with exciting and innovative industrial projects. For example, if a manufacturer wants to test a new prototype, he goes to the University of Aachen. Through this work, I gained my first practical experience in the fields of mechanical engineering, series production and automotive. That broadened my horizons considerably and gave me access to exciting networks.
That means you went straight into professional life after graduating?
Since I also took up business management content in my studies, I went to Brankamp, a technical management consultancy in Düsseldorf, after my diploma. That was a good way to get a first insight into different industries – and to make further valuable contacts. I got to know Christoph Borges here and was allowed, among other things, to take over concept development for large groups in mechanical and plant engineering as well as the automotive industry.
And what was your next station? To get new impulses, five years later I went to IKB Beteiligungsgesellschaft as a project manager. I was the first engineer to work in a bank and had the task of evaluating companies with regard to a potential investment. To do this, I analysed how well the company was positioned technically and how “robust” the business model was. I did that for five years and got to know a lot of industries – also from the shareholder’s point of view. This gave me my first experience on the stock exchange, but unfortunately I also had to accompany companies through insolvency.
What happened next with all this new know-how?
After the IKB period, I started as Technical Managing Director of LISI AUTOMOTIVE Knipping Verbindungstechnik GmbH. There I took on a variety of tasks for eight years, often focusing on personnel development, for example, developing young people and getting employees into the right place. Otherwise, I concentrated on purchasing, logistics, production and assembly. In the process, I gained important experience: If you put your trust in someone, you usually get it back a thousandfold. But you also have to set clear limits. So sometimes I give a yellow or even a red card – I am and will remain a footballer.
And what came next?
I then joined CS Schmalmöbel GmbH & Co. KG, a company of the Nolte Group. That was something completely new for me, because it was a family-run company. Because the company had already missed the boat to some extent, there was a lot to do. So it was a real restructuring case where I could bring in all my experience and strengths. In the process, I learned that you have to remove faulty components from a system, which unfortunately sometimes means job cuts.
Did you remain loyal to the family business afterwards?
Unfortunately, I had to leave Schmalmöbel for personal reasons. But I was lucky and through a professional contact from my IKB days I was able to put out feelers in the direction of GESCO AG (Wuppertal). That was ideal, because I wanted to get back into an investment company and GESCO was looking for someone for acquisitions. After a short time, however, I was increasingly deployed in rather challenging corporate investments to get the respective companies back on track. Because I was successful in one particularly tricky case, GESCO realised how useful it could be to deploy someone very intensively and hands-on to look after a company. That’s how a technically oriented company participation came about. However, this left the position in acquisition vacant. That’s why I brought Christoph Borges to GESCO. We then went together to the companies that came into question for an investment in order to analyse them and evaluate them from a commercial and technical point of view.
You will be 60 years old this year. What was your motivation to make a new professional start now?
I simply felt a bit constrained and wanted to act more freely and independently again. At MIB we have two great situations in this context. On the one hand, it is a young company that first has to establish itself in the market, but with a tried and tested business model. Secondly, the people involved know each other. This provides the basis of trust to be able to act freely. This opens up great perspectives and it is simply fun to bring the portfolio companies forward. I had enough stock market-oriented companies – that was nice, but it limited me in my decisions. Now I have a young, fresh environment at MIB. That is very motivating.
Based on your experience, how do you assess the situation on the investment market?
Buyers have invested a lot of money for a long time because of low interest rates. We have to wait and see whether this will continue. In addition, the question plays a role in which field you move as a buyer. In the smaller SME sector, competition among investment companies is not so fierce, so you don’t have to invest very large sums. The market for MIBs is highly interesting, because it is precisely these companies that nevertheless offer a lot of potential. In addition, you have fewer legal aspects to consider than if you were to spin off a company from a large corporation.
What are your responsibilities at MIB?
As Head of Technical Investment Management, I advise the companies on technical and operational challenges. For example, when a new hall or plant is to be put into operation. I also support new and young managing directors in growing into their unaccustomed position. You could call me a personal coach for management tasks and appealing customer and market situations. For this purpose, it may also be that I work in the company on a daily basis and support directly on site as a manager.
What are your professional strengths?
I have a broad horizon of experience across many industries and activities. I also know how to consistently put theoretical concepts into practice. In return, I also bring human strengths to the table. I can put myself in people’s shoes and have the right touch to motivate and lead employees. In doing so, I turn colleagues into a united team.
What do you love about the job?
I love working with people and special types. You get to know unique personalities and can also take away a lot of know-how for yourself. In addition, it always makes me happy to bring a company onto the road to success in the long term.
The interview was conducted by Mathias Hinseler.
Photography Daniel Schmitt
Wuppertal, September 2022