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Kai Karstens, Executive Vice President Global Sales & Account Management, Körber Business Area Technologies

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Customers are mindful of resource-efficient production

In August 2023, Kai Karstens took over the position of Executive Vice President Global Sales & Account Management in our Körber Business Area Technologies. In this interview, he explains his view of customers and markets.

You have held a new position since August, but you’re not new to the company, are you?

Kai Karstens: No, not really. I’ve been working at different locations and in different roles in sales for the Körber Business Area Technologies for more than 20 years. I see my new position as proof of the trust placed in me and this comes with great responsibility.


What goals are you pursuing in your new role and what are your priorities in your day-to-day work?

Kai Karstens: In the special machine construction segment, Sales serves as the link with the customer. I’m highly conscious of this key role and believe that a lasting, successful relationship with customers can only be achieved if we form a partnership built on trust. The Körber Business Area Technologies excels thanks to its highly motivated employees and numerous areas of expertise. Our leading market position is based on these factors. A clear focus on market needs is the top priority to ensure we maintain this position in the future. 

I see my task as implementing our customers’ requirements using a targeted approach. I work together with my team to carefully sound out needs such as time-to-market, shorter innovation cycles, market trends and development collaborations and bring them into our organisation. We also act as a guide for our customers, informing them about our innovations and extensive expertise. In essence, I concentrate on actively communicating with our customers and ensuring their satisfaction. I enjoy this and, in doing so, I am a proponent of pragmatism and simplification as therein often lies the true challenge of successful communication


If you look back on your career, how have the market and relationships with customers changed over the past 20 years?

Kai Karstens: Contrary to many predictions, worldwide sales of products containing tobacco or nicotine continue to remain relatively stable. However, a change can be seen in the range of products. In particular, tighter regulations and the changes in consumer behaviour have led to the development of new products, which are increasingly establishing themselves alongside conventional tobacco products. A key new development in recent years is the THP segment. A substantial proportion of development work is directed towards this field, both in our customers’ projects and within our company, as these products require customised production technologies. Examples of this are our MSM Multi Segment Maker and the systems for tobacco dust amalgamation for recon production.


Has the conventional cigarette segment stagnated?

Kai Karstens: Not at all! This segment continues to dominate worldwide tobacco consumption and we’re also seeing changes here: while we have witnessed a trend towards increasingly faster production machines for some time, there has been a clear focus on the mid-speed range paired with a rising demand for flexibility in recent years. The goal is to achieve quick, cost-effective format changes. Moreover, differentiation is sought in conventional cigarettes due to more complex multi-segment filters, leading to significant investments in corresponding filter production machines.


One topic that is gaining in importance is sustainability, no matter the product category. Could you describe the effect that this development has on the tobacco industry?

Kai Karstens: This is evident in all areas, from production through to the final product. Our customers now place a strong emphasis on environmentally friendly production and compliance with criteria related to the environment, society and responsible corporate governance throughout the entire value chain. Körber is a pioneer in the sector in this respect, starting with the supply chain and the manufacture of our goods through to the footprint that our products leave behind during their entire life cycle. We are very proud of the certification that independent institutes have awarded us for our activities. The Körber Group has just gained Platinum Status from EcoVadis, for example.


Are there differences between regions or between major and smaller tobacco companies with regard to sustainability?

Kai Karstens: The worldwide trend is clear and we observe related activities among all our customers. Needless to say, there are regional differences based on the varying statutory requirements. A company’s size can also have an impact on the options available to implement sustainability systematically. Larger companies usually have extensive programmes in place and define specific requirements for their suppliers. As a general rule, we’re able assist all customers with our sustainability expertise, and the improvements we have achieved are automatically incorporated into all customer projects.

What sustainability-related topics are currently of particular concern to Körber Business Area Technologies customers?

Kai Karstens: At present, our customers are focused on the use of more sustainable, rapidly biodegradable materials in final products. There is a clear trend towards alternative filter materials, such as paper or non-woven. The use of these alternative materials is incentivised in an increasing number of countries by imposing levies on the sale of products containing standard materials. The production process needs to be adapted to incorporate these alternative materials. We identified this trend at an early stage and have been advancing the necessary developments in our machines. We are also undertaking development projects with our customers for their specific requirements. We’re thus pleased to offer a broad range of solutions for different needs.


What developments do you expect over the coming years?

Kai Karstens: In addition to sustainability, a relevant variable will be country-specific legislation and taxation of products containing tobacco and nicotine. As a result, in addition to conventional products, there will certainly be a wide variety of product innovations, and the THP segment will continue to grow. We remain at the cutting edge thanks to our close partnerships with our customers and our own studies and developments, constantly striving to be ready with the right responses and inspire our customers at all times.

How relevant do you consider sustainability endeavours within the Körber Group when it comes to providing such responses and inspirations for customers?

Kai Karstens: This topic concerns every one of us. We cannot shirk responsibility for sustainability related to business activities or in our personal lives. Körber fulfils this responsibility by assuming a pioneering role. In addition to numerous activities, we have set clear goals: achieve carbon neutrality for Scope 1 and 2 in 2025 and net zero across the entire supply chain by 2040. We are currently undergoing a transformation from being a machinery provider to becoming an ecosystem provider. During this process, we network our own activities with those of other Körber Business Areas and with external partners. In doing so, we learn from one another, which speeds up our advancement and ensures that we remain the competent, innovative partner that our customers desire at all times, including in the future. Taking sustainability into account for all these questions, challenges and developments is an essential part of work for a forward-thinking company.

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