Austrian cable-car maker Doppelmayr Holding is proof that even a company with roots in the 19th century can become a growth story. Doppelmayr is best known for its gondolas, chairlifts, and funicular railways, which haul skiers in places such as Zermatt, Switzerland and Telluride, Colo. But under the leadership of Michael Doppelmayr, great-grandson of the founder, Doppelmayr has branched out into areas such as escalators and mechanical parking systems, helping lift sales 60% from 2000 to 2003. "We make the best cable cars in the world," says the plainspoken Doppelmayr, 46.
The 112-year-old, privately held company, which reported operating profit of €17.9 million in the 2003 fiscal year on sales of €417.9 million, has also grown through mergers and acquisitions. In 2002, Wolfurt (Austria)-based Doppelmayr completed acquisition of Swiss cable-car maker Garaventa, a deal that provided much of the company's recent sales growth. Doppelmayr has also absorbed cable-car companies in Italy and Switzerland.
Now Doppelmayr is scaling heights in the developing world. The company has installed ski lifts in Russia, Bulgaria, and China. It is also building lifts to transport tourists in Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, and Atlanta. Doppelmayr even hopes to generate sales in India by building lifts to haul pilgrims to sacred peaks. Depending on the terrain, a Doppelmayr system can run upwards of €6 million.
Lately the Austrian company has been trying to crack the urban transit market, including small-cog railway systems for use in hilly cities. The latest innovation: portable gondolas. Doppelmayr moved a gondola from Rostock, Germany, where it provided an aerial tour of a garden exhibition, to the site of the National Garden Show in Munich.
It's not always a smooth ride. Profits in 2003 were down 30% from a year earlier, even as sales rose 2.6%, as stiffer competition from Doppelmayr's main rival, Italy's Leitner held down prices. But in the long term, Michael Doppelmayr expects the market to keep growing. "More and more Chinese are discovering the skiing lifestyle," he says. Doppelmayr is ready to take them to the top.