Back to News


26. 04. 2017.

Wirtschaftstandort Niederrhein: “The personal connection is the key to success”.

We would like to thank Wirtschaftstandort Niederrhein for the interview. It has been a very pleasant oe and we are very proud of the result. Please enjoy it! 

Original article in German 

Mönchengladbach. The company APS is one of many that believes in Mönchengladbach Airport and wants to expand there. Managing Director Wolfgang Dillbaum-Alexius explains in an interview with Wirtschaftstandort Mönchengladbach why the airport is “a gem” for him. 

Mr Dillbaum-Alexius, with your company APS you have specialised in the service focused on aircraft spare parts in aviation. How did you get involved in this very special industry? 

Wolfgang Dillbaum-Alexius: I have been working in the aviation industry since 1986. As a trained businessman, I got my first job in aviation purely by chance, namely at the company Rheinland Air Service in Düsseldorf. At that time, RAS, which is now also strongly represented at Mönchengladbach Airport, only had a handful of employees. I was in charge of the logistics department there and helped to build it up for the company. I worked for Rheinland Air Service for a total of 17 years, the last five of which as managing director. After this long time with one company, however, I felt the need to do something new and then I changed to Jet Aviation, a large Swiss company, where I worked for two years at their Düsseldorf location as Director of Logistics. Parallel to the time when I went to Jet Aviation, I founded my own company Aviation Parts Service in 2002 – also to secure my professional future. My first major task with this was to take over the trading division of my former employer RAS, which had sold it. I have now been the sole shareholder of APS since 2009. 

Because you wanted independence? 

Absolutely. After all these years in responsible, but not independent positions, I wanted to be on the road without a safety net, but only committed to myself. I was also aware that about eight years ago – at that time I was 48 years old – it was probably the last chance to take the step into independence; later I probably wouldn’t have done so. You should make such a decision before you turn 50 (laughs). I had the dream of becoming self-employed for many years – and the ambition to stand on my own two feet and be successful in this industry, which I slipped into quite by chance and had been working in for a long time. 

And this success could already be foreseen in the first years of APS… 

Yes, it went very well from the beginning, because on the one hand I could count on a very loyal clientele and long-standing business contacts, but on the other hand also on employees who followed me to all my stages and who today have been working for me for many years in some cases. 

“In the industry, we have earned an excellent reputation as problem solvers”. 
– Managing Director Wolfgang Dillbaum 

So since 2009 you’ve been putting everything on the map with your own company. How has the business developed since then? 

In the eight years that I have been solely responsible for APS as Managing Director, we have increased turnover six-fold and have recorded exorbitant increases every year. 

What are the reasons for this success? 

First and foremost, the expertise of my team, which has been in the industry for many years. Our flexibility to react quickly to every customer request. And the fact that we have been able to continuously increase our export rate. We have earned an excellent reputation in the industry as problem solvers. My standard saying, which I give to every new employee or trainee on their first day, is: “There is no «You can’t have it»”! According to this credo, we strive to solve every problem of our customers, no matter how unusual. This is the only way to make the difference to competitors: The products they all offer are similar; you can score points above all in customer service, and that is my approach. Where others stop, we just start, and for me personally, that’s also what makes a task so appealing. 

Can you give a specific example? 

There are many. Recently, we were approached by a customer from Bitburg in the Eifel region who offers parachute jumps. A company that depends on being ready for take-off, especially at the weekend. His machine had a defective battery, but he was completely booked for the next day. So one of my two employees, who have a pilot’s licence, sat in our plane, brought the spare part to the customer on the same day and installed it directly. The flight was able to continue as planned just hours later. That’s what I understand by service, and it is very much appreciated by our customers. By the way, they appreciate also the fact that we do not look for standard solutions, but for the most favourable one for the respective customer. Flying is a very expensive pleasure, but it doesn’t always have to be a brand new spare part; the prices are exorbitantly high in the industry. We were one of the first companies to offer PMA parts. PMA stands for “part master approval” and refers to replicas of original parts. These are authenticity-certified, officially approved and meet the same quality standards as a new part, but are significantly cheaper. 

The aircrafts you take care of are mainly in private hands? 

Not only, we have a very wide mix of customers. We provide spare parts for vintage aircraft as well as for Boeing 767s. We have major airlines as customers, business aviation companies, regional airlines and, above all, workshops that repair smaller propeller or turbine aircraft. We currently have a base of around 1,200 customers spread across 75 countries around the world. In the coming business year we want to further increase our export quota and win 140 new customers. 

Let’s go back to the keywords service and customer orientation: How important is personal contact with customers? 

Immensely important. Not all problems can always be solved by phone or email. We try to visit our customers in Europe at least once a year. With our large customer base, this is time-consuming, but we attach great importance to this personal contact because it shows our appreciation for our partners and you get a completely different approach to the business partner in a direct conversation. The personal connection to the customer is the key to success. 

Your company is headquartered in Mönchengladbach, but you have also established other locations… 

That’s right. We currently have 15 employees in Mönchengladbach, plus three in our branch in Belgium, three in the USA and eight in Serbia. Serbia in particular has become an important location for us in recent years, where we are a close partner of the military there and of the international airport in Belgrade. 

Do you still see a special growth market for the coming years? 

Yes, in South America. We have just started to find and fill niches there. That’s why I’m planning to open a branch in Lima, Peru, within the next two years, in order to further develop and coordinate our South American business from there. 

As I mentioned at the beginning, your team includes many long-standing employees, but also relatively young faces – was this a conscious decision on your part? 

Definitely. Young people are eager to learn, and a basic prerequisite for what we do in this very special industry is enthusiasm and motivation. The identification with one’s task and the company is decisive, so one can overlook possible weaknesses in school. I’ve been training people myself for 26 years, and in the meantime I notice pretty quickly whether someone has the passion for the job in aviation or not. Here in Mönchengladbach, for example, I have an employee who came from secondary school with an average report card at the age of 16 and started training here. Today he is one of my most important employees. In principle, I am firmly convinced that there are still many diamonds among young people today. You have to polish them, it’s a lot of work, but in the long run it’s worth the effort. 

Your company is successful and should continue to grow, also in the area. You are flirting with a new building at a logical location. 

That’s right, we want to expand, and preferably directly at Mönchengladbach Airport. At present, our company headquarters are not far from there, and our current address in the “Airport Park” also suits us very well. But if our business is already aviation, then the airport location makes even more sense for a new building, if only for image reasons. In the short term, we need more storage space, and in the long term we also need to consider adding another business segment, such as aircraft chartering or sales. This has not yet been finally decided, but if we had the corresponding space available at Mönchengladbach Airport, we would probably also enter this field. 

“What are the intentions of a potential new owner? We need planning certainty” 

– Managing Director Wolfgang Dillbaum 

So a potential new building for your company headquarters stands or falls with the further development of Mönchengladbach Airport. 

We are not the only ones eagerly awaiting the decision on what will happen to the airport here; other companies already based there would also like to expand. So the all-important question is: Will Düsseldorf Airport give up its shares in its Mönchengladbach “subsidiary”, and if so, who will get them, and what are the intentions of a potential new owner? I need planning security, just like all other companies that want to grow there. 

How big are you planning a possible new building? 

Currently, we have 1,100 square metres of warehouse space and 500 square metres of office space at the current location. In the case of a new building, I would almost double that, i.e. around 2,000 square metres of warehouse space and 800 square metres as office space. If it doesn’t work out with a new building at Mönchengladbach Airport, I will invest at our current location. The capacities are there and I would want to move into a third hall here and sign a long-term lease. But the wish remains quite clear that the prospect of a new building at the airport becomes feasible, because if you are already investing, you want to invest in something of your own. 

Gladbach Airport is 70 per cent owned by Flughafen Düsseldorf GmbH, and the corresponding contract runs until 2020. What is your forecast for the future of Mönchengladbach Airport? 

That is very nebulous and difficult to answer at the moment because none of the parties involved has really dared to come out of the woodwork yet. But I am convinced that Mönchengladbach Airport will experience a renaissance if things are done right. In the 1980s, Mönchengladbach Airport was one of the TOP3 landing sites in Germany in terms of the number of take-offs and landings. And it is still a gem: a private investor who really has a heart for aviation can turn this location into a real attraction. The Hugo Junkers Hangar, for example, has ensured that Mönchengladbach Airport is once again in the public’s consciousness. In general, I would like to see more focus on the topic of flying in Germany through emotions. In the USA, for example, it is Harrison Ford, a well-known actor, who leads the “Young Eagles”, an association of young pilots in America. So aviation gets a completely different standing on its own. Or look at the schools in the USA: school classes there regularly go on day trips to airports, sponsored by companies or private individuals, which gives them an early connection to the subject. Here, schools prefer to go to the zoo. Aviation has something special – you just have to bring it out in the youngsters and not set the entry barriers so high. 

Do you think Düsseldorf will continue to operate the Mönchengladbach site after the contracts expire? 

To be honest, I can’t imagine it. From my point of view, the entry of an investor – for example NEW, which already holds shares in the airport – in combination with the support of the business development agency would be desirable. The WFMG and many local companies are aware of the potential that the airport offers for Mönchengladbach. If this is utilised more efficiently in the future than in the past, our airport will really flourish!