Leadership Connect – Corning GmbH

Connecting at Corning GmbH


Corning GmbH, based in Kaiserslautern, has set itself the goal of improving air quality worldwide and produces ceramic substrates and high-performance filters for exhaust aftertreatment in the automotive sector in Kaiserslautern. The products are supplied to markets throughout Europe and worldwide - since clean air is a basic need for everyone.
The company, with its eponymous headquarters in Corning, New York, has been in existence for over 170 years, and the plant in Kaiserslautern since 1986. Since its foundation, the company has experienced impressive times and has proven that it is in tune with the spirit of the times with innovative products and can always hold its own on the market with the right products. Perhaps surprisingly, Corning began producing glass envelopes for light bulbs in 1879, before inventing the ceramic substrate for catalytic converters in 1972 after a long series of further innovations.

As simple as the goal sounds, the production of the products that are supposed to ensure clean air to breathe is just as challenging. In the second round of the Leadership Connect Program 2024, we were guests at Corning in Kaiserslautern and discussed, together with the American executives of the Air Force, the hurdles that a management position in an international company with several locations worldwide entails. No matter how big a company or institution is, there are challenges everywhere. However, it is quite astonishing when you consider that production capacity has almost doubled since the plant was expanded. While around 300 people were employed in the 1990s, today there are around 1,000. The size of the plant became clear during the factory tour, during which the participants were given an insight into all stages of the manufacturing process, from shaping and firing through to the final production of particle filters.

The subsequent leadership discussion, in which several managers from Corning took part, including Thomas Neuberger (Plant Manager), Christopher Mohler (HR Specialist) and Dr. Daniel Düpont (Head of HR), provided insights into the local management environment at Corning and the challenges currently facing the management culture.

It was interesting for the participants to learn that Corning's biggest competition in Kaiserslautern is not external, but internal. For example, there are sister plants in China that serve the same product range. Although there is a regular exchange of information between the engineering teams, the Palatinate plant still has to hold its own against its sister plants within the company.
The topic of "result-based leadership", a results-oriented management method characterized by managers setting goals, actively approaching their employees and appreciating them for achieving goals, was considered important by both sides. This is particularly important in the context of working from home. It has become more difficult for managers to assess the work and efficiency of employees when they are not on site, although it has become a common requirement for employees to work from home for a certain amount of time each week.

While Corning already creates individual incentives for appreciation, it is not as easy to implement in all areas of the company. In shift work, there is a desire for more flexibility, but is difficult to realize. A dilemma, because Corning wants to create incentives for shift workers, but cannot fulfill the employees' most important wish: to have weekends off. Changing the shift model is complicated, especially with 24/7 production. This is one reason why the average length of stay for shift workers is low. However, Corning also makes an explicit effort to identify and develop young talent in production.

In a time of change, including the planned end of the internal combustion engine in Europe by 2035, Corning is focused on exploring future markets such as CO2 capture. At the same time, communication with employees is essential, as is the message that the site in Kaiserslautern has a future.