Since August 2020, Thomas Weckerlein is Chairman of the Board of the family-owned, Nuremberg based, German textile company Wöhrl, which has experienced 5 years of turbulence, and is an ardent FC Nürnberg fan. He therefore likes to make use of analogies from football.
Thomas Weckerlein reveals that he is characterised by a great capacity for suffering, but refers this in no way to Wöhrl SE but to his favourite football club FC Nürnberg. “With this club you experience incredible baths of emotions, DFB Cup winner and relegated from the Bundesliga in the same year. Last year FC Nürnberg only prevented relegation to the third division in the 93rd minute of the final game! But, once a club fan, always a club fan. That also suits my character.”Indeed, Thomas Weckerlein, born in Nuremberg in 1968, and the Franconian fashion house Wöhrl are also linked by a professional relationship that is unusually long in the classical business world.
In 1998, Weckerlein was poached by Wöhrl from what he himself describes as his professional boredom. Weckerlein, “I practically had civil servant status, but also an extremely dry job as an auditor for a statutory health insurance company and was responsible for social security issues at larger companies. People preferred to see me go, rather than come!“
At Wöhrl it was the other way round.
Initially, he worked in the wages and salaries department for four years before Thomas Weckerlein became head of the “Human Resources” department and was thus able to take on responsibility for around 3,300 employees of the Nuremberg company, this despite Weckerlein’s self-critical remark “When I look at my CV from back then, I have to say, You just can’t hire this guy“
However, “this guy“ did his job quite excellently before Weckerlein allowed himself a short, five-year excursion into the marketing and communications industry from 2013 to mid-2017. “But I stayed in my professional corner, and was responsible for human resources in my function”.
In this way, he is very happy about this. Weckerlein has saved himself from the very hard times and also the darkest chapter of Wöhrl, the protective shield procedure; a special type of procedure under German insolvency law, and with the help of which, an insolvency of the company after a failed takeover was averted, but not without severe cuts.
Although Wöhrl Neu took over large parts of the insolvent company, it was literally a start-up venture – but one with tradition.
On 2nd October 2017, Weckerlein returns to the central administration of Wöhrl, “It was the same office building, except that there were only 95 employees sitting on 16,700 square metres. We felt that there were more printers than employees”.
This was followed by months of “tidying up” and unbundling IT systems and processes. The reason for the sometimes unusual network. Weckerlein described, “53 different IT systems alone were in use” – a result of the take-over of a similar traditional textile company Sinnleffers in 2013 by Wöhrl AG and the failed attempt to synergise two completely different corporate cultures.
Weckerlein, “The problem with the merger of two traditional companies was that many diplomatic decisions were made but far too few, technical ones. As a result, both companies were given systems that did not fit the structure of their company. A small example of an issue, was when Sinnleffers brought in SAP. However, SAP did not communicate with Wöhrl’s well-functioning merchandise management system.
In parallel with the tidying up and unravelling of the systems, Thomas Weckerlein quickly climbed the career ladder at Wöhrl.
In 2018, Weckerlein was appointed Board Member for Human Resources, Finance, IT and Controlling.
In 2019, the Purchasing and Marketing departments were added to his control.
Finally, in August 2020 he was promoted to Chairman of the Board. Weckerlein, “In marketing, however, I am not the creative one, but more the nagging one. I’m always asking what brings which action. I see myself in defensive midfield. My job is to make sure there is a clean sheet at the back and that I distribute the ball to my colleagues from a controlled defensive position”.
One of these balls was dedicated to the 29 stationary shops of Wöhrl, which are to be refurbished. “In the cities where we are represented, we are always the number One, the top dog”, Weckerlein knows the importance of a successful external appearance. We owe that to our 800,000 regular customers. Weckerlein, “They are like the fans of FC Nürnberg and go through thick and thin with us”.
Then came Corona.
As a company with a long tradition, sales via our online shop were not particularly high on the list of priorities. Weckerlein calls it a delicate little plant, especially since it was already the fourth attempt by Wöhrl to establish an online presence. “We also sell emotions, and thus a shopping experience. Many people will probably look for that in the post-Corona era. People will want to get out, drink coffee and get inspired,” Weckerlein is sure of this, “because if it was only about shopping per se, online retailing would easily cover that, however Corona, has led us to push the online theme.”
Corona has also led Weckerlein to deal almost reactively with measures to secure liquidity. Bayern Consult, a subsidiary of the Syngroup on recommendation of Wöhrl’s principal bank, comes into play here through the mediation of Wöhrl’s principal bank. Weckerlein, “Syngroup became an important partner in the Corona crisis because of its expertise. If you can’t open up your business, you have the feeling that you are bleeding to death and we had to evaluate with the help of Syngroup whether Wöhrl had actually implemented all measures to secure liquidity consistently and correctly”.
The banks also had to be presented with a three-year plan on how the textile industry would develop. A competent sparring partner was needed to test the figures. Weckerlein, “This sparring partner has to critically scrutinise our figures, get on our nerves, lovingly and hold a mirror up to us in the many versions of the three-year plan we put forward. And Syngroup has done an excellent job of that”.
The famous third party is a helpful partner, when the figures are discussed in a circle of colleagues, and the head of sales, the head of marketing, the head of purchasing always has his interests in mind. “Syngroup does not have to fight over a budget and is the ideal partner to help me take a impartial look at the figures. The team also brings a wealth of experience and expertise from other companies and industries. This was also extremely helpful,” says Weckerlein.
Rudolf Wöhrl SE is a German clothing company with headquarters in Nuremberg, which was founded by Rudolf Wöhrl in 1933 in Nuremberg. The Wöhrl group of companies has 29 locations, mainly in southern Germany, and employs about 1,600 people. In 2019 Wöhrl generated a turnover of €208.4M