Career paths – change as a constant


Alexander Jahn was born in Marktredwitz in 1975. He grew up in the Fichtel Mountains and spent a lot of time in his parents’ butcher’s shop in Wunsiedel as a child. His path to become a master butcher and business owner seems preordained. He even completed an apprenticeship in his parents’ business.

‘I’m a trained butcher, but please don’t ask me for a recipe for German meat loaf today.’ After the apprenticeship, he quit what he called a solid but exhausting job – not an easy decision, given his family’s expectations. He gravitated towards a more industrial career, which is why he studied business administration in Regensburg. Alexander Jahn took a sharp turn on his career path. He experienced firsthand that change can set the path to your own future. Nowadays, there is hardly a fixed template for the professional career path anymore. That’s why it is part of GEALAN’s corporate culture not to block new paths, but to embrace them openly. 

Alexander Jahn started his first job at GEALAN in controlling in 2001. Soon, the company experienced serious changes, and so did he: in 2002, financial investors bought the PVC profile manufacturer. ‘The period after the takeover challenged and shaped me. I had to deal with new shareholders, with banks and consultants. Of course, the relationship with them was very different from the previous one with the owner family. Suddenly it was all about numbers.’ Jahn was appointed Senior Investor Relations. He stuck with the numbers game. In 2008, he became head of controlling, and in 2010 he also became head of Finance. ‘Many people find numbers boring. Compiling statistics may not be thrilling, but looking behind the figures is very exciting because it reveals what makes the company tick. GEALAN was sold more than once, so I always had to explain to new investors, bankers and consultants what was going on. You can only do that if you deal with numbers.’ Legal affairs, including auditing and credit management, as well as human resources were added to Jahn’s scope of duties in 2011. In the same year, he was granted power of attorney (Prokura). His email signature now lists him as ‘Commercial Manager’. 

2014 marked the end of the era of financial investors at GEALAN. With the sale to VEKA, the company returned to private ownership. New framework conditions, new contacts, new opportunities – Alexander Jahn was also instrumental during this change of direction: ‘I found the new beginning with the VEKA group to be a relief for GEALAN, because we were no longer just talking about finances. We were able to concentrate on the operations, and we invested in Germany and the international locations. When training courses are offered again, when canteens open, and when it’s about people again – people notice that, of course.’ 

Today, 55 employees work in the commercial division at GEALAN. They take care of people and numbers, says division manager Alexander Jahn. He spends most of his time on personnel issues, which he coordinates closely with his team. The first major project he is responsible for in human resources will usher in a new era: In 2012, GEALAN introduced an innovative shift model at its production site in Tanna – a 35-hour week based on an average of three and a half workdays. ‘The idea came from the employees, as it was new territory for me. After some discussions, we made the courageous decision to just give it a try. Of course, not everyone was equally enthusiastic at first, but everyone went along with it. The shift model has caught on and is very well accepted.’ 

The opinion of the GEALAN team is important to Alexander Jahn. It is the foundation for changes from within. That’s why GEALAN regularly conducts employee surveys. ‘The evaluations become really exciting when we present them to our colleagues. They draw their own conclusions and suggest improvements from their individual point of view. GEALAN benefits from it.’ Five values are the foundation of our corporate culture: Professionalism, team spirit, trust, appreciation and open communication. This GEALAN quintet of values was jointly developed by about twenty employees. The word of the users also carries weight in the conversion and design of the new office space in Oberkotzau. 

GEALAN is changing from the inside but must also respond to changes from the outside. The work environment is changing as fundamentally and rapidly as society as a whole. Applicants lining up in response to a newspaper ad is an image from days long gone. Today, employers advertise for employees on the labour market. GEALAN is represented on online platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, but also in schools and universities as well as at vocational training fairs. Location and personnel marketing have become really important. Anyone looking for a job, says Alexander Jahn, must have GEALAN in mind. In job interviews, it’s not so much about money. GEALAN is a flexible and open employer and responds to wishes and goals: ‘We offer part-time and mobile working, support with training and Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK) courses. We have also developed our own qualification programme, and we provide opportunities to attend technician and master craftsman schools. All specialist departments have competent supervisors for training and further education. The opportunities for development at GEALAN are excellent – professionally and personally, even up to management level.’ 

Even at GEALAN, the typical career path is a thing of the past. It’s true that many loyal employees have been with the company for a long time and every now and then a 40th anniversary is celebrated. But careers are very personalised – a trend Jahn considers to be positive. ‘Trainees climb the ladder. Lateral entrants become experts. Colleagues move through the divisions or work internationally. The start of a GEALAN career can be an internship, an apprenticeship, a trainee position or a dual study programme. People take diverse paths to reach their professional goal. Some take the straight path, while others take detours, but one thing is for sure: at GEALAN you can develop and evolve.’ 

Jahn and his team are working on many future-oriented projects in parallel. They want to standardise agile working methods, advance digitalisation and increase occupational safety. Women are expected to take on even more responsibility at GEALAN, part-time if they prefer. The focus is on collective solidarity, also interculturally. Impulses and advice for future projects are given by those whose work they change: ‘We foster a lively feedback culture with open communication. Every employee should enjoy working at GEALAN. My goal is to fill people with enthusiasm for GEALAN.’ 

22 years of Alexander Jahn at GEALAN – always new configurations and new tasks, always change. It was never boring, he says. From butcher to authorised signatory in the industrial sector – does he see parallels between his fundamentally different jobs? ‘In the butcher’s shop I learned to value food and not to waste anything. GEALAN also uses raw materials consciously and recycles them. This type of entrepreneurial thinking was just as important in the butcher’s shop as it is for the commercial management at GEALAN.’ 


Marc Schenk


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