Walter Mennekes’ desk is huge. It’s big because he needs a lot of space for the many small, large and medium-sized plugs that he keeps lying around, for inspiration’s sake. Because that is his job: To develop the right connection for each and every plug. Mr. Mennekes, grandson of an electrician, heads the company, Mennekes Plugs, based in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Their motto is “plugs for the world” and clients include the auto industry, airlines, power plants and the military.
“Plugs, that’s us,” as Mr. Mennekes himself says.
His biggest coup to date had been the invention of the adapter that connects electric cars to a charger, a cardinal piece of technology in electricity-powered driving that is now happening on roads all over Europe.
Mr. Mennekes has acquired a reputation for ingenuity and, thanks to the plug he invented, known as the Type 2 or the Mennekes plug, he and his family firm look to gain much from the auto industry’s desires to grow the electric car market.
In Germany, it is predicted that there will be 1 million e-vehicles on the roads by 2020. And the plug maker thinks that his sales should at least double in the near future as a result. In fact Mr. Mennekes recently decided to release the patents for “his plug” as the sector’s demands have become too big for his company to deal with alone. Now other electronics manufacturers are also profiting from his work.
But this won’t hurt Mennekes Plugs. Mr. Mennekes bet on an international future some time ago. In 1995 he expanded the business into China and launched a joint venture; Mennekes makes 55 percent of its revenue in China today. In 2002, he built a production site in the city of Nanjing where products for the Chinese market are made. Good growth saw him build another factory there just six years later. Mr. Mennekes also has another production site in the United States.
Despite the global outreach, the company is still family-run. Mr. Mennekes’ grandfather founded the business which now employs 1,000 people, one of the countless medium-sized businesses in Germany that make up the country’s economic backbone. When he took over, Mr. Mennekes, a mechanical engineer, expanded the company and started to specialize in plugs. By 2015, those plugs made up 15 percent of the company’s total revenue of €140 million. The electric car plug accounts for about €20 million of that.
Since then, his oldest son, Christopher, 37, has taken over the day-to-day operations. The senior Mennekes is still there to give advice but increasingly the company is coming under his son’s control. This gives Mr. Mennekes more time to focus on the other things he’s good at.
Another Mr. Mennekes’ specialities are his people skills. He likens himself to a “foreign minister” for the family business and indeed, he was recently re-elected head of AUMA, the Association of the German Trade Fair Industry that represents the interests of exhibitors, organizers and visitors to trade fairs. It’s a role Mr. Mennekes takes seriously because he believes trade fairs are the best places to market one’s ideas.
In fact, there’s only one thing that will anger this self-proclaimed diplomat of the electronics industry and that is product piracy. He believes firmly in defending trademark law and seeing cheap imitations at trade fairs annoys him.
The Mennekes plug even has something of a celebrity following. A number of heads of German auto manufacturers have been to visit the company headquarters in Kirchhundem, as has Günther Oettinger, the European Commissioner for Digital Economy. Even the German Chancellor Angela Merkel dropped by the Mennekes stand at a Hanover trade fair earlier this year.
There is no doubt that Mr. Mennekes is an excellent networker. His passion is football and he sits on the supervisory board of German Bundesliga champion club, FC Bayern Munich. It’s quite possible that some of Mennekes’ plugs success is due to Mr. Mennekes’ favorite sport too. He met former VW chief, Martin Winterkorn, in the VIP booth once during a game. Luckily Mr. Mennekes just happened to have a sample of his Type 2 plug with him to show the auto industry boss.