Test Drive with Rene Gansauge

Head of the Mechatronics division and chairman of the board of Pierburg and Pierburg Pump Technology

There it was, fiery red, parked in front of the headquarters building in Neuss. After driving it just a few meters in the direction of downtown Neuss, Rene Gansauge is fired up, too. Most of all, it’s that special sound the engine makes when running on all eight cylinders that excites him. “Cool. Nice sound, huh?”, he says, briefly spurring the Mustang on as he eases into the first curve.

Waxing philosophical as he glances at his own reflection in the rearview mirror, he muses that “When you sit in a car like this, you smile the whole time.” To the passenger seated next to him, it’s soon clear that that this isn’t the first time Gansauge has driven a Mustang. “Cars are intimately connected to sound”, he declares – and this is especially true of automobiles like the Ford Mustang. With five liters of cubic capacity and 450 HP, by German standards this is already a big engine; in America, though, there are even bigger variants. For example, the classic ivory-green Mustang convertible he brought back from the States with him in 1965, with its whopping 4.6-liter displacement. Even at a time when e-mobility is playing an ever more important role at Rheinmetall Automotive, for Gansauge it’s clear that work to perfect and optimize conventional engine concepts still needs to proceed in parallel. This explains why there’s a Ford Mustang in the meantime with a four-cylinder engine (not that it’s exactly underpowered at 370 HP).  

Meeting place for car fans

In America, the Woodward Dream Cruise was one of his favorite leisure pursuits, an event in the Detroit area attracting over 100,000 auto enthusiasts, mostly with unusual vehicles, ranging from vintage cars to the latest models. This, he says, “was my event”, which he happily visited over and over again, eager to see as many cars as he could. (By the way, he still reaches for the wrench himself from time to time, recently changing the fuel pump in his Mustang.) Born in Moers (just north of Krefeld on the lower Rhine), from the age of 11 Gansauge grew up in the Sauerland district south of Hagen in the Ruhr Valley. It was here that he began his career as an apprentice machine toolmaker, followed by a year of mandatory military service in the Navy, during which he made it as far away from home as Bermuda. After returning to civilian life and now back on the job, he sensed that it was time to make something more of himself. In his mid-twenties in the meantime, he hit the books. At night and on the weekends, he continued to pursue his vocation, enabling him to finance his Abitur before going on to study industrial engineering. 

In service for Pierburg worldwide

His first encounter with Pierburg came in 2004 during a university-related internship in Fountain Inn, South Carolina. A year later, following a stint as a student trainee at the company’s headquarters in Neuss and writing his thesis at the Nova Odessa plant in Brazil, he returned to Pierburg’s plant in South Carolina as comptroller, a post he occupied for three years. It was there that he met his future wife, who worked in the finance office of Pierburg’s sister company, KS Gleitlager. Then came nearly three years as head of the controlling department at the head office in Neuss, until he was asked to lead the new Group company in Pune, India in 2010. Gansauge and his family quickly felt at home in India. For him, dealing with Indian ways of doing things was never an issue, even if certain seemingly German virtues like orderliness and cleanliness remained important to him: “I always said that the company should be as Indian as possible and as German as necessary.” 

Meanwhile, the brand-new 2018 -Mustang sped past the Pierburg plant by the riverport, heading for the racetrack, where a number of horses were being put through their paces ahead of the next race. The Pierburg chief continued his tale. In 2013, he and his family – by now he had a 9-year-old son – returned to the United States, where he headed the Group’s Mechatronics operations in North America. 

hen, in early 2018, it was time to return to headquarters in Germany, this time responsible for all Mechatronics activities worldwide. This meant that he was now in charge of former colleagues, which necessarily posed certain challenges: “In my new role, I don’t want to change the way I communicate, my openness, or my collegial approach”, declares Gansauge. Despite the organization’s size, Pierburg has always reminded him of working at a medium-sized company with something of the flair of a family-run enterprise: “You know a lot of people, and plenty of people know each other. It’s easy to get things done this way, to solve problems without a lot of red tape. This is a big plus for Pierburg, and definitely corresponds with the values of the Rheinmetall Group.”

A defender of leadership principles

Years of moving back and forth between the continents have shaped him. Learning to operate in different cultural settings and respond to the needs of the people there, to say nothing of the starkly different approaches to leadership, have become part of his personality. No wonder he’s become such a stalwart defender of the new leadership principles at Pierburg. As he sees it, it will be vital in the future to know how to integrate highly disparate cultures, locations and customers, without calling into question your own culture. “We want to establish guidelines on how we want the company to function. The leadership principles are the same worldwide, and should place their stamp on the entire organization.”One thing’s clear here: As far as he’s concerned, processes alone don’t really make much of a difference. “Ultimately, what matters is the people we have on board, and getting them to work together in the most efficient and innovative way possible. This works best when you try to bring together and integrate various different cultures.” This explains why – in light of the current expansion of the company and the new processes this entails – the new Pierburg chief is so eager to hang on to the company’s characteristic mid-sized, family-owned feel and sense of cohesion.  Indeed, cohesion is the watchword here. Arriving back at Pierburg headquarters, Gansauge is clearly reluctant to take leave of the red Mustang: “Boy, what a beautiful car.”