By APA Bureau
With a thirst for action, the young Robert Bosch set up his workshop for Precision Mechanics and Electrical Engineering on November 15, 1886 in Stuttgart, Germany. However, the initial euphoria was followed by frustration. With the expansion of the power supply in Stuttgart making slow progress, the electrical engineering business was slow to take off. Bosch was on the verge of insolvency.
With minor customer orders he was able to keep his company alive. Even with the public power grid up and running, the success he had hoped for failed to materialise. Customers were less receptive to electrical engineering innovations than Bosch had hoped.
But Robert Bosch did not lose his nerve. Driven by his optimism, his thirst for action, and his absolute faith in himself and his associates, he kept looking for new business opportunities.
A lot has happened since then. Today, Bosch employs around 375,000 associates and generates annual sales of euro 70.6 billion. The 1886 workshop has become one of Germany’s 10 largest enterprises, and operates in more than 150 countries.
A Spark Of Genius
1897 may well be the most important year in the company’s history. That year marked the start of Bosch’s rise to a global player. Since 1887, the company had been making ignition devices for stationary engines for generating electrical power in buildings. By 1896, it had built a total of around 1,000 such devices. But its business remained stagnant.
One year later, that was to change. A customer requested an ignition device that could be used in a gasoline engine – an ignition device that had not existed until then. Bosch asked his factory manager Arnold Zähringer to enhance and refine the existing ignition devices. It was a huge risk, but for Bosch it meant the decisive breakthrough that was to make its owner an industrialist. That is because the magneto ignition turned out to be the only reliable system for automobiles.
With the automobile enjoying unparalleled success after 1900, Bosch too became a global company. In the first five years, Bosch sold 50,000 ignition systems. By 1912, it had already sold two million.
The huge success of the magneto ignition was something that even Robert Bosch did not expect. When he made the decision in 1900 to build his own factory, he planned to accommodate around 200 associates. At that time, he was employing 30 associates, and he was considering renting out part of the new building. He assumed that his company was not going to grow beyond 100 associates. He was wrong: just eight years later, Bosch employed more than 1,000 associates.
As a vigilant and forward-looking entrepreneur, Robert Bosch regarded the success story of his magneto ignition with scepticism. Aware that his company depended on a single product, he opened up new markets all over the world. From 1908 on, Bosch ignition systems were available on all continents.
This ability to adapt – to ensure the survival of the company by entering entirely new fields, but also withdrawing from loss-making businesses – is one of the key common denominators that runs right the way through the company’s history. A key characteristic of Robert Bosch and his successors has always been their sense of responsibility toward associates, and not just the pursuit of profit for its own sake. It takes a willingness to change in the face of volatile economic conditions to keep a company and its workforce in business.