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Germany’s Industrial Giants Confront Their Mortality on Election Eve

Schaeffler’s strategy to future-proof itself may hold lessons for the rest of the auto sector.
Schaeffler headquarters.

Schaeffler headquarters.

Photographer: Julian Baumann for Bloomberg Businessweek

Klaus Rosenfeld was making a routine visit to a potential supplier in the fall of 2018 when, unexpectedly, a big opportunity presented itself. Executives at the company let it slip that it was about to be sold. The terms hadn’t been finalized, and Rosenfeld’s Schaeffler AG could cut in if it acted fast.

On the drive home to Frankfurt, Rosenfeld called Georg Schaeffler, the son of one of the company’s founders and now its chairman and main shareholder, to brief him. Before hanging up, the two men agreed to sleep on it. Less than 12 hours later, Rosenfeld had the green light to make a bid for Elmotec Statomat, a world-leading supplier of equipment used in the manufacture of electric vehicles. “We’ve never turned around a deal so fast,” says Schaeffler’s chief executive officer. “It was clear the technology would accelerate our transformation—a small step with a big impact.”