The agricultural machinery industry is built on many strong people who had a vision of what they wanted to achieve and worked hard to put it into effect.

We are all familiar with Harry Ferguson, John Deere and Henry Ford, amongst others. They were determined individuals who left their stamp upon the world, and yet it appears that this particular hall of fame has a new entrant hovering at its door, Cathrina Claas.

Operating at ground level

Quite whether this is wanton hyperbole, only time will tell, yet what is undeniable is that she is spoken of only with great respect, and perhaps a little awe, throughout the machinery trade and beyond.

As a general rule, company executives are often remote, perhaps deigning to present themselves at the occasional dealer or press event, but on the whole, their focus is on maximising the company’s value and it is the relationship with shareholders that is most important to them.

There is more to manufacturing companies than shiny new metal, however impressive it may be

Cathrina is a different prospect altogether, she more or less owns Claas; there is no great bank of troublesome stockholders to keep sweet, allowing her to focus on running the company for the good of company – and the family.

And it is that last point which is important, for the family extends to all within the company, not just her immediate kin, and while big corporations might wish to engender such inclusiveness, they cannot compete with the real thing.

Resolute character

Agriland caught up with Cathrina and other senior management figures at the recent Claas press event held near Kiel in northern Germany, where, instead of being at the centre of a large retinue of fawning flunkies, she strode about the field in her determined fashion engaging with her staff and media.

She hardly stood out from the crowd, and she certainly does not put on any ‘airs or graces’. We had in our midst a real person who carries just as much joy, worry and concern as the rest of us, and a great deal more responsibility.

And she admits to feeling that responsibility, confessing to having been stricken by goosebumps when she came to realise just how much time and effort her employees, at all levels, were putting into mitigating the effects of recent events.

Woes of the industrialist

Component shortages were a terrible problem for the company with a large fleet of almost complete machines filling the yard at one stage. She would not talk of the actual number, but it had obviously left a painful impression on the conscience.

The team effort was not just confined to the company; dealers had gotten involved and cooperated between themselves to move combine harvesters around the Balkans in a bid to keep up with the harvest, rather than keeping the machines to themselves and within their area.

Cathrina Claas Kiel
Moving combines around the Balkan region to ensure that the harvest was gathered was an initiative of the dealers that impressed Cathrina immensely

Finding alternative supplies of mainly electronic components had been a nightmare, but the management felt that the situation was easing and there was light at the end of the tunnel when Russia launched an offensive on Ukraine.

Customer support is foremost

Claas had been enthusiastically growing its market in both countries and so it was an unwelcome development to say the least.

However, the reaction was not to jump on the bandwagon of political expediency, but to do whatever the company could to support farmers and dealers on both sides of the divide.

Claas press mower
There is great media interest in Claas and its products, but the company feels that the world’s media does not always probe deep enough into global events

The company feels that the relationship it has with these two countries is centred on its dealers and, in turn, their farmer customers, and it is unwilling to abandon them.

It considers itself as having been very honest about this position throughout the war, noting that other companies have not, saying one thing in public but doing another in reality.

Claas is very careful to avoid discussing the politics of the situation, which are becoming ever more divisive, focusing only on how the company is reacting to the challenge presented to it.

Integrity as a long-term asset

There is also an element of frustration within the management of the company with regards to mainstream media. An independent press is obviously essential to informed debate, but it is felt that the media is not as objective as perhaps it should be.

It would have been terribly easy for Claas itself to have just gone with the zeitgeist, but this it has refused to do, pointing out instead that the company is not allowed to do as much as it would wish, yet it has no intention of deserting any of its customers, Russian or otherwise.

This is a sentiment that should not be dismissed too lightly. While we may feel a little removed from it all, the conflict will at some point end, and companies will have to rebuild their operations within the countries involved.

Claas is making it as straightforward for itself as possible.

Farming community must lead the way

Another great concern of Cathrina’s is what she describes as the anti-farming sentiment that is growing within the west.

As the world’s population has moved away from agrarian employment this was bound to happen, and it is by no means a new phenomenon.

What is novel in today’s political environment is that much of this is being promoted by governments which, on one hand talk of food security, while on the other, demand drastic changes in agriculture which threaten that very security.

Claas kiel lead
It is up to the farming community to lead the way in promoting its industry

Cathrina’s view is that it is up to the farmers to fight their own corner. The company has often been approached to fund various initiatives, yet, she feels that it is not up to the manufacturers to lead the way, grassroot activism is required.

Inviting the public on to farms to explain how agriculture works, will carry far more weight than any sort of PR campaign the supply trade may conjure up she said.

Cathrina Claas leads a team

Looking forward, she believes that the corner has been turned and is full of confidence for the future, declaring with a laugh, that she “looked deeply into my crystal ball and all is good”.

There is certainly a great aura of confidence and optimism surrounding Cathrina; she is determined to forge ahead, taking the long-term view rather than bend to any intermittent breeze that may be encountered along the way.

Claas team customers
Cathrina sits at the top of a very professional manufacturing and marketing operation

However, it is not a solo effort, she frequently refers to her board of directors whom she obviously relies upon to a huge extent, but they will only act in cohesion if led by a strong and determined personality who works to promote the interests of all within the company and its customers.

Cathrina has all these qualities, and above all else, she has an integrity that is essential to keep the company working as one consolidated unit. It will carry her, and Claas, a long way.