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‘Decisions not necessarily money driven’

As president of Germany’s association of metal traders VDM, Petra Zieringer represents the broader interests of the national metal scrap scene. But at home in Bensheim near Frankfurt she focuses 100% on her own cable recycling business.

Petra Zieringer is the third generation of her family to lead Zirec, which has a EUR 100 million-plus turnover and processes 28 000 tonnes of (mainly) industrial cables per year. Her father Karl Zieringer founded the firm in 1981 but the roots of the family enterprise were planted in 1927 by grandfather Andreas Zieringer when he started a smelter.

Back then, recycling was relatively straightforward – or at least less complex than today. ‘We are in a time of change and awakening,’ says Petra Zieringer about the current state of the scrap recycling business, referring to the challenges arising from Covid-19 and ever stricter national and EU environmental legislation.

Pros and cons?

Does being a family business make it easier to deal with these challenges? ‘Absolutely,’ she says. ‘In times of crisis, as now with the coronavirus pandemic, it’s easier to make decisions. There are no shareholders; there is no far away head office. It’s me and the small management team around me. So it’s always a short decision-making process and the decisions are not necessarily money-driven.’

Another advantage, according to Zieringer, is that she feels close to her workforce. ‘Employees are treated like family members. There is more personal contact and that makes the firm stronger as a whole. Every day is a new adventure we conquer together with our employees.’

Asked for the main disadvantage of a family enterprise, she offers ‘difficulties in securing liquidity’. Will Zirec continue as a family business after Petra has retired? ‘It will be either family-owned or transformed into a company foundation,’ she says.   

Read the entire ‘family business’ series in this issue of Recycling International.

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