How to kill a great organisation?:
Living credibility in a clear value context
…is one of the „secrets of success“ of Josef Hochreiter.
In this episode of our podcast series „How to kill a great organization“ Elisabeth Leyser spoke with Josef Hochreiter, founder and co-owner of Next Generation Holding. Under the motto „Working for a better Future,“ Next Generation Holding has become a global technology provider that is successfully expanding the transformation from a linear to a circular economy in plastics. Next Generation is defined as a sustainability-focused company and has been successful as such for many years.
Lonely dream beaches – full of plastic waste.
For Hochreiter, environmental technology has been a key issue for many years to ensure the long-term development of our planet. A key experience for Hochreiter was a sailing trip around the Thai island in 2011, where the pollution of the beaches with plastic waste made him rethink:
„What can be done to prevent this? That ultimately led to us then working together to define our post-consumer strategy, the circular economy theme, this journey from a linear to a circular economy started in 2011.“
Plastic waste becomes food-grade again
Hochreiter then goes into how the company defined the topic of Post Consumer Strategy, Circular Economy, especially in the areas of, PET bottles, polyester reprocessing, recycling and covering polyester, starting a very interesting development. A new technology, Liquid State Polycondensation, allowed used plastics to be recycled at the end of the process on the one hand, but on the other hand to be upgraded and at the end of the process to be suitable for food use again.
Process technology, process know-how and, of course, innovation play a central role in the development of the company. Especially in today’s world, where the aim is to move away from fossil fuels such as gas and oil, the topic of plastics recycling is of central importance.
At NGH, it’s called „People & Culture“ and not „Human Resources“.
Hochreiter particularly emphasizes the importance of employees:
„In the meantime, it’s no longer called Human Resources at NGH, as it is in many companies, but at NGH it’s simply called People and Culture. To also emphasize the importance here once again, how important that is.“
In addition to talent and employees, a clear vision for development is of course necessary, to know where the journey is going.
In order to answer the question of how to improve the carbon footprint in CO2 emissions in order to better manage the effects on the climate accordingly, Hochreiter believes that people with curiosity and interest in the subject are needed:
„And then, of course, you need the ability to suffer and consistency on the one hand. But on the other hand, of course, you need to be happy to share visions and ideas with people so that you can achieve greater goals together. I think these are the essential issues.“
For Hochreiter, the most important thing is to have a clear vision and to inspire good people to achieve it:
„Of course, this requires that over the years, step by step, you create a basis of trust with your employees, in the company, with all your cooperation partners. That you are also ultimately authentic and predictable in the individual procedures and do not immediately abandon the principles when the wind blows. Instead, you radiate and live this credibility even in difficult situations.“
The full length interview:
This text was translated by a machine and clearly shows that we still have a long way to go before we are in danger of being rendered obsolete by A.I..
Elisabeth Leyser: Welcome to the MetaShift Transformations Podcast. In our podcast series, we look at what makes a company continue to develop value in the long term or fail prematurely. We talk to owners, experienced managers, but also experts and try to better understand what the criteria for success are. Today, Mr. Josef Hochreiter, founder and co-owner of Next Generation Holding and thus of the companies gathered in this holding, is my guest. Welcome, Mr Hochreiter! Mr Hochreiter has been active in New Generation Recycling for twelve years, managed it for many years and developed it into a leading company in the industry. Since 2020, he has concentrated on further development at the level of the holding company and, under the motto „Working for a better Future“, on building a global technology provider to support the transformation from a linear to a circular economy in the field of plastics. Next Generation is therefore already defined as a company with a sustainability focus and has been successful as such for many years. Mr Hochreiter, you have been working for this company since 2005. You joined the company and have managed it for many years. May I ask you to briefly introduce yourself as a person?
Josef Hochreiter: Yes, with pleasure. First of all. Greetings, Mrs Leyser. Thank you very much for inviting me to this podcast. My name is Josef Hochreiter. I am 62 years young, I have two grown-up daughters, I am married and in the last 40 years of my career, I can already say, I have been involved in various management functions, on the one hand and on the other. But I was also active in the field of management consultancy for a number of years, and then in 2005 I entered the plastics, the basic materials recycling world.
Elisabeth Leyser: Even that was actually clear to them very early on that they wanted to be active in this field and also that they wanted to run their own company in the field of environmental technology. And since then they have been pursuing this goal very, very consistently. And as I see it, you are really very, very far ahead in terms of technical developments, especially in the area of post-consumer recycling, namely PET bottles. One of the big problems, one of the big challenges of our time. How did you manage to follow this path so consistently? What led to this?
Josef Hochreiter: Well, maybe you have to go back in history a bit. In the mid-90s I was working for a medium-sized company, a mechanical engineering company. And this company was involved in the field of environmental technology, among other things. It was at that time that it became clear to me personally that environmental technology would become a central issue for the long-term development of our planet. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time, that was about ten years before I met the people, the shareholders of NGR. Yes, and how fate writes its stories. In 2004 I got to know the owners and shareholders of NGR, and yes, it became clear to me that this is now a possibility, a way, so to speak, to dock into this area of environmental technology. That also led to my joining the company in 2005. And over the years, we began to develop the company together, so to speak. 2011 was quite an exciting excursion, if you will. A sailing trip. Northern Malaysian, southern Thai island. And when you sail around a catamaran through the island world and then stop at places where there are no resorts, but simply…. Yes. You expect white beaches and blue lagoons and exactly at these places you find a lot of plastic rubbish, plastic, rubbish. Pet bottles and the like, then at first you are deeply depressed. And then, when you are active in that market segment, you start to think: What could be the task inside, what can we do to prevent this? And that ultimately led us to define our post-consumer strategy, the circular economy, this path from a linear to a circular economy in 2011.
Elisabeth Leyser: That means that it was actually a private key experience that made you realise how dramatic the situation is? And you already knew beforehand that you wanted to enter the field. And then once again you were more sure, obviously, what you wanted to focus on. And that is also my impression, when I look at how their companies have developed, that they have approached it very, very strategically, namely also in terms of acquisitions, which companies, which companies they have invested in, but also how much they work on research and development. Can you tell us how you have set the priorities in order to achieve where you are now?
Josef Hochreiter: If we now take up this milestone of 2011, then we simply have to say the following: On the one hand, we then defined the topic of post consumer strategy, circular economy for us, and in 2011 we also started to launch a very interesting development in the area of PET, PET bottles, polyester processing, recycling and covering of polyester, which today gives us a lot of pleasure in the business as a whole, because you simply also drive the further development of the company, of NGR, but also of the group accordingly. We started PET upcycling with a new technology that is state of the art, if you will, in this market segment, called liquid state polycondensation, which enables us to recycle used plastics at the end of the process on the one hand, of course, but on the other hand we can also revalue them and get to the point where we are, let’s say, food-grade again by the end of the process and can thus also go back into new bottles, into new bottle production with these recyclates. So that was one side of it. The second essential issue is, of course, the so-called problem cases.
We are essentially talking about very, very many packaging materials. And in 2013 we participated in a company, in the filter company. So in this post consumer, polyolefin segment was already on the way. And then we saw. This is a path where we also have to further develop exclusion, i.e. things. And we then also started to develop a pyrolysis system, which we call a T-tracker, in 2015. And this development is now becoming more and more apparent that, in addition to mechanical recycling, the area of chemical recycling is also gaining great importance in the global market and will simply play a considerable role in the future. And that is also, if you like, a central point. Process technology, process know-how and, of course, innovation. Innovative technology not with tu. We think that is simply the key to enabling companies to develop further. Especially if you have your company headquarters in Central Europe, especially in Austria or Germany.
Elisabeth Leyser: That is, you mean, especially if you work in a rather wage-intensive country and are also exposed to corresponding competition. That’s how I would understand it. Then it is even more important to really focus on innovation and to develop new ways. In principle, I think that is particularly important at the moment. All around, wherever I look, it is particularly important to break new ground and define new paths, because it is becoming more and more apparent that the old is no longer working and is proving to be harmful. And I think that you yourself as a person must or probably also have a sympathy for developing yourself further and recognising new things and also daring to go beyond new things. And I would be interested to know how you have fared in these years of development with the Next Generation.
Josef Hochreiter: Well, perhaps first to what you are saying here. Of course, of course. You are absolutely right. You have to drive the company and especially now the technologies in one direction and you can see that here. The dramatic situation in the Kleine has been translated. We have to get away from fossil fuels such as oil, gas and oil, and the European Union itself does not import any gas or oil, but essentially imports these things in the form of products or subsequently produces plastics. This means that the topic of plastic recycling is a central topic for him, if you will, also in view of the current situation. You are right, the whole thing is of course always ups and downs when you look at it from a personal point of view. It doesn’t always go forward in one direction, but there are always two steps in front of you, always two steps back. And that’s exactly what has happened in the last 15 or 20 years, and there have also been difficult times. In the end, of course, they drove you or encouraged me on the one hand that you must not lose your tenacity and courage, but at the same time, of course, when you are in phases where you don’t have enough orders for your people, where you are fighting for every employee. Then thoughts come in that you say okay, what do I have to change inside? And, of course, the image of values and certain topics such as employees always shifts a bit, so that people pay special attention to employees. These are issues that have particularly matured in recent years and decades, i.e. in such situations. And I think that is certainly this path, these ups and downs. It leaves traces, of course. And I do think that a lot of it flows into a personal experience. And when you are over 60, you can fall back on your own wealth of experience. Even sometimes when you’ve had a black eye or two.
Elisabeth Leyser: Yes, yes. And then probably also more relaxed, able to deal with a little less critical situations than those that have already been, if you have already survived a lot.
Josef Hochreiter: Not always right. Some situations are still as agitated as they might have been years ago. Yes, a certain composure and maybe sleeping an extra night over it one or two times before you then want important things?
Elisabeth Leyser: Yes. What I found particularly interesting was that you said that your understanding matured especially in difficult situations. How important the employees are for your company. And I find that very exciting, because it is not so rare that the reaction when things go wrong is to see employees primarily as a cost factor. And at the same time, I believe that it is a very important secret of success that human resources – I hesitate to use the word now because I see it a bit critically – but at least the people in the company are seen as something very important and not easily replaceable. However, I believe that there must be additional criteria why they have been able to develop so successfully. What has kept them on track? So to speak? Why did they not let it get them down and why did they stick with it, even in difficult phases?
Josef Hochreiter: Yes, you had a hard time with the word human resources. I understood. This is also an experience that you gain over the years. I’m right there with you. And now, for example, we no longer call it human resources, as it is called in many companies, but we simply call it people and culture. In order to emphasise the importance of this once again, how important it is. And I often think in such situations, why and how can one give an answer more easily in critical, difficult situations, one naturally looks at oneself, one naturally has to part with one or the other employee. Yes, but you look at yourself very critically: What is the significance of this? For the company, but also for the individual with his or her family, in his or her environment. And that is where this sensitivity arises. Now to your question or your point. What other criteria led to this? Apart from the talents and the employees, of course: you need a clear vision. You have to say: OK, where do you want to go? And that’s where we started very early, and that was in 2011. On the one hand, this topic of the circular economy in plastics simply defines this technology, to develop these technologies further.
That was long before the commitment to the circular economy was found in the plastics industry. And the second thing that emerged very early on. It was around 2015, when it was simple. That was, perhaps also the connection of this development of pyrolysis, the T-Tracker, simply the topic: How do we succeed in improving the carbon footprint in CO2 emissions, in order to simply, I say, better control the effects on the climate accordingly? And of course there is one thing we need – and I am already convinced of this – you need, you have to like people and you have to be able to inspire interested people and great people, not only technicians, but also great people in general for the idea, for the vision. And then of course, yes, I would say of course, you need the ability to suffer and consistency on the one hand. But on the other hand, of course, you need to be happy to share visions and ideas with people, and you need to be able to realise larger goals together. I think these are the essential themes. Of course, the method is based on a certain set of values, because otherwise the good people won’t come and join us to realise this vision.
Elisabeth Leyser: Yes, I think that is a very important combination of aspects that you have now mentioned. Namely, on the one hand, the clear orientation and also an obviously for you very clear „why“. Why are we doing this? To ultimately improve the climate and make it less of a burden. And on the other hand, I have gathered from your stories that you have always approached people, approached partners, that you can also build and operate partnerships across company boundaries. That means you are obviously someone who likes to cooperate with others. And yes, and also awakens the passion in others to go with them on the path that they think is right. I think you have mentioned many, many criteria for success that are important for all companies. And what is always so important to me, or where I think it is often either easy to develop or difficult, is the consistency with which such things happen. We often see that a company holds on to a small part of the change and loses sight of the fact that the other aspects have to fit in, or that something like cosmetics is done in the area of climate issues, that greenwashing is done. But it is also often seen as such in terms of employee treatment. And I would be interested to know how you think it is possible to allow as few contradictions as possible in an organisation, so the outside and the inside and also of course the inner culture of leadership culture, that this is well in harmony and how you ensure that in your company.
Josef Hochreiter: I think it is important to have a clear vision, as I said before, and to be able to inspire good people for it. Of course, this presupposes that over the years, step by step, you create a basis of trust, so to speak, with the employees, in the company, with all the external cooperation partners. That you are ultimately authentic and predictable in the individual procedures and don’t immediately abandon the principles, so to speak, when the wind blows a little, but that you also radiate and live this credibility in difficult situations, let’s say, or in tense situations. Because people are, I would say, all ultimately grateful if they don’t get bogged down in micromanagement, so to speak, but who say okay, where is the journey going? And if you add to what has been said – and of course that goes, it has to do with the fact that they believe in the vision on the one hand, but on the other hand also believe in the proponents and also in the drivers and have confidence in them. And that, I think, is the important point. In other words, you have to live your life in a certain context of values. But that is an important point. And if you can do that, then you can make unpopular decisions that hurt, for better or for worse. But then everyone understands when he says: OK, we know that if that is the case, then he doesn’t make it easy for himself, but then it has to be. You have to believe that this credibility cannot be written down somewhere in a mission statement or something like that; you simply have to live it, if you will, in the company as a second family. And that is ultimately the reputation that you create for yourself and the trust that you gain.
Elisabeth Leyser: Yes, I think that is very important. That is simply the personal integrity that you are talking about and the conviction that you really represent. Thank you. I think that is a very important point. And in the end, it is easiest when you know yourself well and are in harmony with yourself, then even difficult decisions are surprisingly much easier. If we now think about the developments your company is currently involved in and what you plan to do in the next few years. Where do you see your company in the next few years? What is happening right now that you can already say publicly? Of course.
Josef Hochreiter: Yes, there is a lot going on at the moment, I must say. Of course, it is also driven by the global view and the fact that the whole world, if you like, has recognised this in different ways: We simply have to go massively into the topic of the circular economy for carbon and the reduction of CO2, innovate massively, invest massively. And we are now benefiting, of course, from the fact that we have already initiated a whole series of developments in the last ten years. And at the end of the day, in a few years‘ time, we simply want to make a significant contribution to reducing the pollution of our planet with our technologies on the one hand, and also to reducing the danger that we can increasingly do without oil and gas and that we simply keep these products in the cycle or reuse them in such a way that they are not a burden on the climate. And I think that these two pillars, our entire vision or our overall strategy, which is derived from this, is also a guarantee that we simply attract great people. Great people who say, „Yes, I want to work on this task, on these issues, I want to be part of it, I want to shape it, help shape it! And that requires a lot of know-how and good people. And yes, we have again succeeded in winning a very interesting CTO for NGR, rather for one of the subsidiaries in the group. And yes, that’s where the great art lies, and in networking people well with each other. So that the individual really becomes a team that continues to work in exactly this direction. And if we achieve that, we will really have taken a big step forward and I simply see the next 8 to 10 years as a very exciting time. This process, which is becoming more and more widespread worldwide, and where we want to make our contribution. And in the end, if we succeed, the result will be that the company will be able to develop continuously and will also be perceived more and more globally and will have more and more significance.
Elisabeth Leyser: That is, actually, based on your corporate purpose or the – I don’t necessarily want to strain the word purpose now, because it is already used a lot – but on the very clear knowledge of why you are doing all this? Namely to reduce the littering of the planet and to reduce the consumption of raw materials and energy. And there, of course, you get comrades-in-arms, because this is such an important issue for everyone. I also believe that what you said at the end is very important. Of course, the best thing is to support these great people who are passionately committed to the same issue, so that they can develop even more strength as a team. And now I ask you again for a recommendation. Now, many companies and managers are facing critical or at least very consequential decisions. What do you think is the most important thing to pay attention to? Where do you see the greatest leverage when it comes to shaping the next years of a successful company?
Josef Hochreiter: The biggest lever is certainly that you can inspire great people here. Great people networked with each other in teams. And here, of course, it is also moderated accordingly, at least from my point of view. I think one of the great challenges in companies is to let people really develop and not to micro-manage too quickly, but to simply inspire people with a common goal, with a common, sustainable vision, and to be able to control this. That is the essential point. That creates the resilience that we need, because everything else is very difficult to manage in these volatile times that we have, in these challenging times, I believe. So you really have to decentralise very strongly here. I think here just to attract new people staff shortage of skilled workers, bottlenecks etc.. Yes, you probably have to see things very, very globally, simply and not only digitally, but also focus on people as social beings in addition to using modern technologies. That means that these are already core points where companies can also steer well through moving seas.
Elisabeth Leyser: Yes, thank you. I think that’s a very good summary of what you feel is important. Inspiring people, networking them as a team, then also moderating that and supporting them so that they can contribute to the vision together. In this sense, I am quite sure that you will continue to be very successful with your people and with your innovations, and that you will still contribute a lot to solving the challenges we face. Thank you very much for the interview, I have heard and learned a lot of new things and I am sure our listeners also found it very exciting.
Josef Hochreiter: Yes, thank you very much! From my point of view, I would like to close with our slogan „Working for a better future“. We will do our best to achieve this. Thank you very much.
Elisabeth Leyser: Thank you, Mr Hochreiter. Thank you, dear listeners, for being with us. If you enjoyed the episode, we would of course be very happy if you subscribe to us via a podcast app. But we also appreciate good reviews. And if you share what you heard with colleagues and friends. Because that helps us to continue to attract exciting guests and to continue to deepen the topic of change, especially in such challenging times. Looking forward to next time. Goodbye!