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Hans Albert Ruckdeschel has turned 80: “IREKS basically is life”

On the occasion of his 80th birthday on 26 March 2024, our Managing Partner Hans Albert Ruckdeschel looks back on his first career steps and the development of the Company Group under his leadership in an interview. He additionally reveals what makes IREKS special for him: the team spirit and solidarity across borders.

Hans Albert Ruckdeschel, graduate business administration (Dipl.-Kfm.), is Managing Partner of IREKS GmbH and has been responsible for the fortunes of the tradition-steeped IREKS Group for more than five decades. Under his management, IREKS developed from a company with around 900 employees into a globally active Company Group with over 3,000 employees. He was responsible for the brewing malt division and other central functions of the company for over 30 years. He still has various mandates today and provides the entire IREKS Group with important impetus for continuous development.

Mr Ruckdeschel, is there anything you are particularly proud of? What are the best moments you remember?

Hans Albert Ruckdeschel: The best thing is when everyone is healthy and we can do our work successfully and without any special problems. I wouldn’t say particularly proud, because you don’t really have time to think about that. There is still so much to do. I’m of retirement age and can’t complain about being bored. I still go to the office every day and it makes me happy when everything runs smoothly. Every now and then, there are things that have to be ironed out, that cause grey hair to grow or hair to fall out (smirks).         
In general, the development of our Company Group is a good result. When I started working here, we had 900 employees in a completely different structure. Our subsidiaries LUMEN and IRUSO played a comparatively larger role at that time. The baking ingredients division was less important than it is today, but was still the most important segment. There are now over 3,000 employees worldwide.

Let’s jump back a few decades: How did you come to IREKS and what was your first big task?

Hans Albert Ruckdeschel: I had my first industrial accident at IREKS when I was five years old on the factory premises in front of silo 1 (laughs). I used to drive around a lot with a former employee in a pre-war Unimog and a Bulldog, because we had branches in various places around Kulmbach at the time. I often spent my afternoons there and may have skipped a school lesson or two and then was scolded. During my studies, I became more involved with the company and was subsequently appointed by my father to the Management Committee of our holding company at that time, J. Ruckdeschel und Söhne KG. Starting in January 1975, I was employed as Managing General Partner and worked in the Business Administration Department.            
Six months later, I went to Belgium to join our branch at that time. My job was to reorganise the malt division. That was a very instructive challenge. The growth that the Company Group has experienced in almost 50 years is a beautiful but also exhausting thing. This is because it might require us to adapt outdated structures, meaning that we have had to close locations where they no longer met the requirements of our customers and markets. Although this is always a bitter decision, at IREKS it has always been done with consideration for the hard-working employees in the team.

Shortly after your assignment in Belgium, you took over responsibility for the malt division, didn't you?

Hans Albert Ruckdeschel: I wasn’t really meant to be in the malt division, but there was no one there! In 1976, there was a change of personnel and I was told: “Ruckdeschel, you’ll take care of this for three to five years.” It became over 25 years. It was a difficult business. Nevertheless, we have grown magnificently. When I started here, we had a capacity of around 30,000 tonnes of standard brewing malt in Kulmbach per year. Then, in 1973, we opened our site in Vienna, where we have been building ever since and have grown from 36,000 tonnes per year to around 150,000 tonnes per year. In Germany, various malting plants were incorporated in Kulmbach as well as in Sulzbach-Rosenberg and Schweinfurt. As a result, we now have an annual malting volume of 300,000 tonnes.

Investments continue to play a major role in the strategy of IREKS, certainly beyond the malt sector, too?

Hans Albert Ruckdeschel: The factory premises in “Lichtenfelser Straße” are the best place to see that we have constantly moved on. Some kind of construction work is happening all the time. Over the course of time, the possibilities for establishing new useful applications for baking businesses have increased significantly with more and more specialities in the production of malt. These days, speciality malts are produced in the former Meussdoerffer malthouse, and this range has grown considerably in the meantime. In principle, there is an unlimited number of ways to create different speciality malts with numerous properties.

Despite all this growth, IREKS considers itself a family company. I assume this has a very special significance for you.

Hans Albert Ruckdeschel: Yes, that’s true. My wife in particular has had my back for 25 years. As we live on the company premises, she is often moving around the company. Here and there, she may be the person to whom you whisper something that you don’t want to tell me. She travels to trade fairs, talks to customers and is fully absorbed in her role. That is not a matter of course and I am very happy about that. Above all, I like the fact that my wife puts her heart into it. Additionally, I consider the fact that my nephew Stefan Soiné is in the company to be a great stroke of luck. He applied here when, during the planning of our baking ingredients factory, we were hit hard by the sudden death of the employee in charge at the time. Since then, he has not only contributed his knowledge in technical matters in favour of our Company Group, but also successively taken on management and supervisory board functions at various group companies in Germany and abroad. Ultimately, I am just as pleased that the shareholders have placed their trust in me over all these years and continue to do so.

What does IREKS mean to you?

Hans Albert Ruckdeschel: IREKS basically is my life. As I said earlier, it all started at the age of five. I have seen the company grow, but it has not always been a perfect world. We laughed, we argued, we experienced failures as well as successes. Fortunately, the latter have retained the upper hand. Every company in our group has their own challenges and perspectives. Nevertheless, in the end, we all have to remember: We are one! If we are one, there is a positive outlook for the future, even in the dire geopolitical situation we currently find ourselves in. Thanks to trust and cooperation, something has been created in all our country locations that I believe — because it was and is well accompanied on a human level — can last. It is important that the heart continues to be involved in the generations to come and that it is not about making money alone. We want that too, but it is vital that everyone can recognise a real benefit in working and being together.