Swiss firm greases the wheels of big business

Peter Blaser's Swisslube supplies its products to industrial giants (picture: Regina Blaser)

Switzerland's Emmental region has achieved worldwide fame for its cheese, its rolling hillsides and its special character. Less well known is that it is home to the world's top producer of lubricants. In the second of an occasional series on leading Swiss firms, Robert Brookes profiles Blaser Swisslube.

This content was published on June 8, 2001 - 10:28

Tucked away in the community of Hasle-Rüegsau in the heart of the Emme valley, Blaser Swisslube thrives on innovation in an industry that is likely to leave most people yawning.

However, industrial giants like Boeing, Airbus, Ford and Mitsubishi all use Blaser Swisslube products. The chairman and chief executive, Peter Blaser, told swissinfo that the company has both local and an international product lines.

"We have standard products such as motor oils, hydraulic oils, gear oils and greases, which are mainly sold in Switzerland, and then we have a specialised product line, metal-working lubricants, which we sell internationally", he said.

The founder, Peter's father Willy, started the company in 1936 when he was 20 years old. Like tens of thousands of others, he was out of a job, and started developing shoe polishes by cooking up a mixture in a battered pot on a used paraffin stove.

What made Willy Blaser's polish special was the fact that it was waterproof, and he rapidly began supplying it to farmers, who spent their days in wet, muddy fields.

"But since the one kilo tins lasted a year or even longer, I had to invent other products to sell enough to live on," said Willy Blaser. "So I developed a floor polish which sealed wooden floors and made them easier to clean.

"As the farmers acquired more and more machinery, I started to supply machine oil and slowly product after product was added to the range."

It was Willy Blaser who noticed that farmers also needed grease for their wagons, oil for their engines and lubricants for their machines.

Nowadays, innovation from the Swiss countryside is the order of the day. "Oil is not simply oil, otherwise we wouldn't be able to sell our products outside the Emmental," said Peter Blaser.

"Research and product development is a very important aspect. We have around 40 people in our lab and we have a project to invest SFr12 million, including on R & D," he said.

Not surprisingly, there are no oil rigs in the Emmental. "We import our raw materials - mainly mineral-oil based products - from Europe, the United States and also the Far East," he said.

Once the raw materials have been processed the Blaser way, their value is increased three-fold.

The company has been expanding steadily over the years and now has 220 employees in Hasle-Rüegsau and about 300 worldwide. In 1981, it entered the United States market with its own production plant at Goshen in New York. The expansion plans paid off - the US is now Blaser Swisslube's biggest market.

The company is also expanding in China, one of the largest and fastest growing markets in the world.

And the growth continues. "We have just founded distribution companies in India and Brazil," said Peter Blaser. "We also have other projects which will enhance our situation in the market and, within the next five years, we will have a production plant somewhere in Asia and eventually South America."

Whereas advertising to most companies is a necessary evil, Blaser Swisslube has found a novel way to make its name known.

"Our company is a little bit hidden in Hasle-Rüegsau. That's one of the reasons I started ballooning. I thought it would make our company a little better known in the Emmental," Peter Blaser said. But, he admits, it's more pleasure than advertising.

Blaser is typically modest in his achievements as a hot air balloonist. He was twice Swiss champion in hot air ballooning and he's a vice European champion, but he says his real fascination is to fly the balloon in different countries.

He's flown in 25 nations, including over Red Square in Moscow, the Great Wall in China, in Brazil and Myanmar (formerly Burma). And his enthusiasm for the sport has carried over to company employees.

"We now have 10 pilots, four Blaser hot air balloons and I think I'm the most balloonaholic of all the crew," he says.

by Robert Brookes

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