AGP - Culture Matters

Crossing the stormy seas on a transatlantic fusion voyage

In June 2018, AGP, an innovative manufacturer of glazing solutions for the automotive industry based in Lima (Peru), embarked on a challenging endeavour: its first transatlantic transaction, part of an ambitious global expansion strategy. They acquired Soliver, a long-established Belgian company in the same industry, to position AGP's innovative e-glass products for connected mobility in Europe. Parallel to the integration, a new plant was also to be built in Belgium for this purpose.

"From today's perspective, we were only partially aware of what we were getting ourselves into beforehand. What we vastly underestimated were the cultural differences in the 'way of doing business' between America and Central Europe, as well as between the working methods of our companies," says Arturo Mannheim, CEO of AGP.

The various manifestations of these cultural differences and their far-reaching influence on the success of the integration project were among the trickiest issues from his point of view. On the one hand, they concerned everyday operational details such as punctuality, speed of response in communication and boundaries between work and private life, but on the other hand they also affected fundamental concepts of corporate culture such as speed, personal responsibility and recognition. Building a sustainable bridge here required, above all, humility, honest openness and a willingness to listen with curiosity, learn from each other and use diversity to work towards a common vision.

In order to establish this attitude throughout the organisation, the management team had to act as a united pioneer and role model in the matter. "We had fundamentally similar ideas about core topics such as customer focus, quality, technology and personnel. However, agreeing on their concrete implementation in the business required a lot of discussion and symbolic actions," explains Juan Manuel Clavijo, HR Corporate Director at AGP. "The appointment of two Co-Managing Directors in Belgium - one from AGP ranks, one from Soliver - was a powerful message and a clear statement of our expectation of co-operation on both sides. Leaving production management in the hands of an experienced Soliver veteran also ensured continuity and demonstrated our confidence in their expertise. Finally, our core strength lies in a strong and diverse team of talented leaders across all business units. We have deployed the promising talents on both sides in a strength-oriented manner and supplemented missing skills with new additions."

Creating opportunities for talents from different origins and backgrounds was also a key to surviving the complex reality of the European labour market and the 'war for talent'. Low unemployment rates, a booming start-up environment with a strong attraction for young professionals, long notice periods and high expectations of work-life balance are just some of the challenges they had to face. In response, AGP actively invested in the development of internal high potentials with comprehensive training programmes, mentoring and mobility initiatives. Attractive remuneration packages also played into their hands to attract critical talent. However, Mr Mannheim and Mr Clavijo see AGP's particular USP as an employer in its growth culture, which is characterised by four core values: dream big, meritocracy, founder's mentality and customer obsession.

"Talented young people want to be inspired and challenged, but at the same time have the freedom to realise their own ideas."

"We offer them the opportunity to help shape the future of mobility and to grow with this task according to their own ideas. This has proven to be a strong value proposition for the kind of employees we want to attract and retain."

The figures show that determination and the fulfilment of ambitious promises have also strengthened their position with customers. "We have proven that we are able to combine Soliver's reputation with AGP's entrepreneurial spirit, technology and speed to develop solutions tailored to their needs. This has enabled us to gain the trust of the industry's most respected OEMs to work together on our vision for the future of automotive glazing. This partnership relationship has opened up new growth opportunities for us worldwide."

Almost two years after embarking on its transatlantic journey, AGP is in full swing on its way to becoming a global player in the context of connected mobility. The production lines have been optimised, the state-of-the-art new plant has been in operation since September 2019 and an integrated organisation for growth and innovation has been set up. "Leading the integration of the two companies to success and at the same time building a plant to the latest technological standards in record time is an achievement of which we are particularly proud," emphasise the managers. "undconsorten has played a key role in bringing us to this point today. It was our first integration outside of Latin America and your unparalleled expertise, leadership and execution during the process were crucial for AGP. In addition, your clear view of the relevance of the cultural and human aspects was essential in finding the right balance between the 'hard' and 'soft' factors in our integration approach."

What lessons have you learnt from this experience for future transaction plans? "The cultural side of the equation should never be underestimated. You have to be prepared to invest the necessary time and resources to understand each other's world, beyond the immediate business context. To achieve this, you must never stop communicating." As the experienced sailor knows: the radio to the mainland is indispensable for steering the ship safely into harbour through stormy waters.

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Dr. Jens Müller-Oerlinghausen
Dr. Jens Müller-Oerlinghausen


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