SelectScience Interview: Curiosity and Customers are the Keys to Knauer Success

Meet the entrepreneur at the helm of the family-friendly scientific instruments manufacturer

03 Jul 2017


Alexandra Knauer, CEO and owner of KNAUER Wissenschaftliche Geräte GmbH

 

Innovation the key to success
KNAUER Wissenschaftliche Geräte GmbH has been developing, manufacturing and distributing laboratory instruments around the world for 55 years. It puts its success down to "numerous world’s firsts that have won more than 20 awards for innovation".
 
 
Staying curious is the key to every discovery and development.
Alexandra Knauer

CEO, KNAUER

With its emphasis on innovation, caring for its employees and working with scientists to improve human lives, KNAUER has been enjoying a period of sustained growth.  Founded in 1962 by Dr. Herbert Knauer, the family-business is now in the hands of his daughter Alexandra Knauer. Here, she shares her story with SelectScience, offers her tips for success, and looks ahead to the future.

SS: Can you please introduce yourself?

AK: My name is Alexandra Knauer and I am the CEO and owner of the Berlin-based scientific instruments manufacturer KNAUER Wissenschaftliche Geräte GmbH. Our focus is on the development and production of high performance liquid chromatography equipment.

 

SS: What is your background and how did you end up as CEO of Knauer?

AK: I graduated in business administration. When I grew up, I knew how much commitment and work my parents invested in the company and I thought that this was not my idea of work and living. I thought I’d rather have a good 9 to 5 job. It was in the early 90s after the fall of the wall in Germany, that KNAUER was struggling. A good part of the business with the former Eastern Bloc countries came to a halt, bills were left unpaid, because many companies and institutions closed or were in a state of transition. KNAUER was hit quite hard, having a substantial user-base in these countries. When I saw that my parents were struggling so hard, I thought, with my business background, I could help them to overcome the crisis. It was 1995 when I became General Manager of KNAUER.

 

SS: What inspired you to get into the world of science?

AK: I love nature and I was always fascinated by how well it all works together, but I think I wouldn’t have been a very successful scientist. I admire my father (Dr. Herbert Knauer, Ed.), who has this scientific and technical curiosity in him, that made him create all these inventions. Here I have more in common with my mother (Roswitha Knauer, Ed.), who also has a business administration background and speaks four languages.

 

SS: How would you personally describe KNAUER?

AK: KNAUER is a middle-sized family business with a well-trained and motivated staff of 130 people, many of whom are academics, working in development, product management and application support. We have always had the desire to provide scientists with the most useful tools for their challenges. This is how my father started the company in 1962 and it is still our most important guideline. We keep adapting to the requests of our users and to developments in science, e.g. nowadays we very successfully produce and sell LC systems for fast protein purification, an area which was quite new to KNAUER only a few years ago. As an entrepreneur, social responsibility is very important to me and my staff. That’s why we are a family-friendly place, why we want our technology to be used for the good, and why we engage in environmental and aid projects.

 

SS: What were the key milestones or moments that have defined KNAUER’s success?

AK: A crucial one was surely when my father developed his first osmometer. It was based on a temperature measurement device with a sensational accuracy of 1/1000th of a degree Celsius. This remarkable temperature measurement device had been developed a year earlier by my father, but didn’t sell. The osmometer, however, was a great success and KNAUER became Germany’s osmometer pioneer.

In the early 1970s KNAUER entered the HPLC market, which was still a very young technology. So KNAUER became one of Germany’s HPLC instrument pioneers, too.

Providing our products as OEM for our competitors in the laboratory market was also an important decision. Today this makes more than a third of our business.

Offering our own HPLC columns since the early 1980s enabled us to provide complete system solutions for analytical tasks. In the 1990s KNAUER entered preparative HPLC and simulated moving bed chromatography. You can find out more on our website.

 

SS: What are your (4-5) key ‘tips’ for business success?

AK: Staying curious is the key to every discovery and development. Working together with our customers is very important to us, because only this way can we know what they really need. Also, understanding the needs of our employees is not only a matter of respect, but ensures high performance readiness and a good working environment for all of us.

 

SS: How are SelectScience independent product reviews and customer recommendations contributing to the success of Knauer?

AK: Recommendations are always very useful for business. Regarding the SelectScience reviews we are just beginning to promote this.

 

SS: Which piece of advice would you offer to a budding science industry entrepreneur based on your experience?

AK: A startup should consist of one technical-oriented person and one person who is more sales/marketing oriented. They should also be prepared to deal with a huge amount of work and stress. But if you’re lucky it will be worth it in the end.

 

SS: What do you see for the future trends in the scientific industry and what part will KNAUER play in this?

AK: We expect the market of protein-based treatments to grow and thus the demand for purification platforms. Digitization and higher levels of automatization are trends that we will also look into. We will follow our strategy and we will stay financially independent, so that we can make our decisions independently of short-term profit goals that investors tend to set. 

 

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