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Techniques & Tools Technology, Liquid Chromatography

We Are Family

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Alexander Buenz, Alexandra Knauer

How has Knauer changed over the last 50 years and since you both took senior positions?

Alexandra Knauer: My parents founded the company in 1962. My father built the instruments – osmometers back then – in the kitchen while my mother used a typewriter to create the manuals.

Nowadays, we must look at things much more thoroughly. Innovation and corporate social responsibility (CSR) are a much stronger focus. And the activities we engage in are more structured so that we are able to better measure progress.

Alexander Buenz: I can speak of the last seven years: yes, we have increased the size of the company but we have also changed the way we do business. It takes much longer to develop new products – or rather solutions – compared with the early days, when Alexandra’s father could do the whole job on his own.

What keeps you both motivated?

AK: I started working when we were not doing so well, so my first motivation was to preserve the company. I realized it was the right thing for me and now cannot imagine doing anything else.

AB: My main driving force is to change things and to help people grow. I enjoy working with people who are as enthusiastic as the two of us – people who want to bring real value to our customers.

AK: And we enjoy working together. We’ve been working together for almost seven years now. We share lots of ideas to make progress because we both know that things cannot stay the same. It’s a very good fit – we are both pulling on the same rope!

And how does that partnership work?

AB: I don’t believe we had it figured out at the beginning, it developed over time. Maybe I’m more focused on technology and development, but Alexandra is very active in those areas too and we both meet regularly with colleagues from each department. Sharing our points of view always leads to a better solution, maybe because we are of different genders.

My parents did manufacturing, packing, selling – everything – in the family home. We always felt that the company was the first child!

Knauer seems to be a very family-oriented business…

AK: Yes, it’s like a big family. I think it is important to care not only that projects are finished well but also that everyone is okay in their personal life. I am convinced that work is more fun when you really know the people and understand how everyone’s feeling.

Alexandra, what was your experience of growing up with the company?

AK: I was the third child, born four years after the company was founded. My parents did manufacturing, packing, selling – everything – in the family home. We always felt that the company was the first child! Our grandmother took good care of us, but children prefer to spend time with their parents and that was something we missed at times. I did not always strive to be the leader of this company because I saw from an early age what hard work it was.

The two of you decide to host a dinner party for four others – who would you invite from the field of analytical science and why?

AK: Jean Pierre Chervet from Antec. He’s a very vivid personality. We’ve had a very long relationship but we don’t see him very often. Also, Ira Cohen – our American distributor and representative. He has worked with Knauer for many years but he’s seldom in Germany.

AB: Rainer Blair, CEO of AB Sciex. I like the way he does things business-wise but I also like his way of approaching individuals with a very human touch. Of course, there’s also the intention of getting him as a customer! I’d also invite an excellent lab scientist who can give us solid insights into new applications.

Which developments or trends have caught your eye recently?

AK: Looking at the worldwide HPLC market, nutrition is a focus in many countries.

AB: The open software environment that enables integration of instruments from multiple vendors is a great development. One day, customers will be able to make an instrument choice without regard to the software.

What lies ahead for Knauer?

AK: We are quite small but still have ambitions to be known throughout the world. One clear goal is high quality, eco-friendly systems; another is continuous chromatography, where we have many new products.

You have won many awards – why?

AB: Juries have admired the unique things that only Knauer offers, for instance, the concept of cooking with each other to build better working relationships or our active involvement in child education. Also, Alexandra has proved that being successful is about more than just profit. She has a very personal approach and really takes care of her employees like a family. We all enjoy working with her.

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About the Authors
Alexander Buenz

Alexandra Knauer
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