What makes an adventurous engineer stay in the same company for more than forty years?

Globetrotter for 40 years

That is something Hans Jørn Petersen can answer. On March 1st, 2023, it has been 40 years since he, as a new graduate engineer was recruited by the company’s founder, Asger Gramkow, who was waiting for him outside the exam room.

“I’d never heard of the company before, but one of my teachers had apparently mentioned my name to Asger, so when I came out of my exam, he was waiting and invited me to a job interview the following Monday."

Hans Jørn started 9 months after the interview as he had planned to spend few months in the USA and that lust for travel and adventure would later take him further around the world.

It was a very young and entrepreneurial company that he started in back in 1983. “When I started, the company was only few years old and there were only 10-12 employees in the company, it was a real start-up company, and we were almost like a small family. It was Asger, the founder and his wife Irene who basically ran the company at that time and we were often invited to their private home and Irene was an important part of it all” Hans Jørn recalls.

“I was originally hired to look at streamlining the flow in the production, but one day Asger came with a new task for me. There was something that had to be designed and built and since then I had nothing to do with the production anymore”. This project was a steppingstone for Hans Jørn into refrigeration technology, because the project was about making educational unit for engineer students around the world, where he had to build errors into the system that the students had to find and correct.

Later, Hans Jørn developed the company’s first recovery station that recovers refrigerants from a cooling circuit (for example from air-condition units or refrigerators) and eventually he moved more into sales. He might as well be able to sell the things he had developed, his boss thought. So, Hans Jørn started travelling around, first in Scandinavia and later through the rest of Europe. At that time, all the sales took place from the headquarters in Sønderborg.

"We were already in the process of doing refrigerant recovery when the Montreal Protocol was adopted in 1989," says Hans Jørn. The Montreal Protocol has been described by Kofi Annan as the most successful international agreement to date and the agreement was simply to phase out CFCs, including Freon, in order to protect the Ozone layer. The stations Hans Jørn had developed for AGRAMKOW fit perfectly into the new agenda, where the refrigerants had to be collected instead of released into the atmosphere. "The Montreal Protocol meant that we started getting a lot of orders. At that time, we had already been making the equipment for a few years in collaboration with Volvo, but suddenly we started getting orders from all over the world."

"The Montreal Protocol has actually set the course for AGRAMKOW, ever since and everything we do today is still very much about sustainability.  We were on the green wave, before there was a wave at all"

In 1996, Hans Jørn moved to Singapore to establish AGRAMKOW's first office in Asia.  "We could see that there was a large market in Asia and an opportunity to grow the business."

In 2001, Hans Jørn found love in Singapore when he met Diana, who is Singaporean and the two have now been married for more than twenty years.  

Fortunately, the job has brought Hans Jørn to Denmark several times each year, where he also has his three children from a previous marriage and no less than 8 grandchildren.

The Corona era has been hard for the family, who haven’t seen a lot of each other in person for a two-three-year period. But in December, Hans Jørn and Diana were finally able to celebrate Christmas with the whole family in their cottage at Vemmingbund again.

2020-2022 has been a tough period with long quarantine stays in hotels. Hans Jørn believes that he has spent more than six weeks in quarantine in hotel rooms.

Image: Hans Jorn and His wife, Diana

Hans Jørn has been involved throughout a large part of the company's history and describes the different eras of the time:

There was a time up through the 80s when AGRAMKOW was a real entrepreneur company. There were lots of ideas and quick decisions. Later, an external investor came in and financial management became more professionalized with budgets, cost control etc. Later, when the company had grown a bit, there was a lot of focus on people management and developement, where there was a focus on training the employees and having the right skills. And then came internationalization, where during the 90s we especially moved out into the world. We opened branches in the UK, Singapore, and Brazil. Later, we were also present in the United States. We built a network of agents who could help us further out into the world.  Since the company became part of the Dürr Group, it has been a real globalization. We are represented all over the world and it is really exciting."

Going forward, Hans Jørn also sees that the company has its opportunities: "The era we are in now, with focus on IoT, Industry 4.0 and digitalization, here we are the market leaders in our segment in appliance. There is an increased pressure on our customers to be able to document their CO2 footprint and we can help them with that," concludes Hans Jørn.

A good piece of advice for the newly graduated and new employees from the experienced engineer is:

"Be happy that you have joined an international company and seize the opportunities that you will get. It's exciting to get out and experience other cultures and see other parts of the world. In addition, you must make sure to try some different things. Then you find something you're really passionate about, and it's usually what you're passionate about, that you become really good at."

So, what is it that makes you want to stay in the same company for your entire career? In addition to the various tasks and fun challenges, it is also the industry itself that Hans Jørn finds interesting. "The industry is a niche in appliances. I've probably been to every appliance factory in the Asia."  In addition, Hans Jørn highlights the colleagues, many of whom are still there.  "And I come from Southern Jutland, so when I walk around Sønderborg, it's good to know some people."

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