Ladies and gentlemen,
The year 2022 was a record year for the Würth Group: At EUR 19.9 billion and with 16.8 percent growth, sales were up significantly in a year-on-year comparison. This means that in the last two years alone, the Group has generated sales growth of over EUR 5.5 billion—a remarkable achievement in the company’s 75-year history. Our operating result increased from EUR 1.3 billion in 2021 to EUR 1.6 billion. As recently as mid-2022, we would not have dared to forecast growth at this rate. The COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine have triggered such major upheaval that market volatility has become an incalculable risk. Repeated disruption and trouble spots have made any sort of predictable outlook impossible. In these difficult times, our customers have valued our consistent product availability and our market-leading service—if we compare the company to its peers, this strategy has borne fruit.
At the moment, signs of a brighter economic outlook are starting to emerge: China has lifted the restrictions it imposed in response to the pandemic, and the German government is projecting an inflation rate of 6.0 percent for 2023 as a whole, down from 6.9 percent in 2022, the highest rate in the existence of the Federal Republic. The robust labor market also gives us reason to be hopeful. The number of people employed is extremely stable. The recession many had feared turned out to be less severe than expected a few months ago. This means that we can all be confident that purchasing power will remain high in many areas, despite higher prices.
Hope, trust, and confidence in times of crisis—these are the values that unite us. What is decisive is that brief moment in which we decide whether we can up the tension a bit more or help to calm things down. How we react reflects the importance we attach to the crisis and, as a result, its impact. Will we emerge from the crisis stronger, or will we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed? It is precisely here that the power of a family business becomes visible and tangible. It gives us support and strengthens us in our ability to make good and courageous decisions.
As such, crises can turn into opportunities. Opportunities for special partnerships, for long-term relationships and bonds. The people that stand by you in difficult times are the people you trust unconditionally. When our employees can trust in a secure employer, and our customers in a reliable supplier, then Würth becomes something akin to a family. Würth will remain Würth and, as a result, will stay in the family’s hands in future—this message from Prof. Dr. h. c. mult. Reinhold Würth on the succession plan provides the sort of stability that we are currently missing in many other areas. It has never been clearer than it is today: Our family business is something to be valued and provides the overarching framework that allows a strong corporate culture to really radiate.
Family businesses are also characterized by consistency, long-term management, and an intrinsic motivation to succeed. According to the Foundation for Family Businesses in Germany and Europe, these businesses are hugely important in economic terms: They account for 58 percent of the workforce in Germany and 52 percent of total sales in the German economy. As such, family businesses have a very important role to play as employers and strengthen the country’s economic power as a driver of growth.
The future is our joint responsibility. If we cannot offer our children prospects for a world worth living in, we do not need to think about investing in further growth. As a company with global operations, it is our duty to assess global dependencies from a 360-degree angle. Resource shortages and volatile commodity flows will increase because the world is ultimately only a warehouse with finite capacities. Focusing on a circular economy will allow us to sever the links tying us to these challenges. Nevertheless, the incentive for us as a company has to be to find the best solution for each problem through research and development. And it has to be a solution that benefits everyone equally. Decarbonization in one country must not be pursued at the expense of another.
Starting in 2035, the EU will only permit the sale of new cars that can be driven without emitting any greenhouse gases. By the end of 2023, the Chinese automotive industry intends to have launched 80 electric car models. In this way, competition will determine the best solution. It is crucial that Europe does not abandon this key industry because it secures jobs and livelihoods. We need to map out the right path between responsible business and a healthy planet. For me, this path lies in an open-minded approach to new technologies. After all, sustainable energy production is also finite. At the same time, the carbon footprints of alternative concepts for synthetic fuels have not been conclusively clarified. We do not yet have reliable answers to a whole number of questions. This is precisely why we are called upon to consider all options to strike a healthy balance for people, the environment, and the economy.
The Central Management Board of the Würth Group would like to thank everyone who joins us in seeing the future as an opportunity: our customers, employees, the Councils of Confidence and Works Councils, the members of the Customer Advisory Board, the Supervisory Board of the Würth Group, the Advisory Board, and the Würth family, in particular Prof. Dr. h. c. mult. Reinhold Würth and Bettina Würth.
For the Central Management Board
Chairman of the Central Management Board of the Würth Group