He left us last April 18, a great protagonist of the international aluminium world, who marked the development of the modern foundry casting in light alloys in a decisive way
by Mario Conserva
We mourn the death of Dr Alois Franke, the founder and partner of Aluminium Rheinfelden, and one of the founders in 1999 (and until his demise Vice President) of FACE, the Federation of Aluminium Consumers in Europe. He died a few days ago at the age of 78 following a prolonged period of illness. With his death, we are losing an exceptional entrepreneur, a pioneer, an energetic top manager who has left a strong impression on the development of the global aluminium industry and his region. For this, we all owe him our recognition – the accomplishments of his lifetime deserve our profound respect.
Alois was an exceptional character in more than just one respect. First and foremost, he was a courageous, bold entrepreneur. He was of the rare breed of middle-class doers who, on the basis of his high specialist abilities, had a keen feel for the wishes and needs of his customers – and how he could fulfil them and thereby become successful. The greatest proof of his courage was when he purchased the promising parts of the Alusuisse site in Rheinfelden in a management buyout in 1994, not least saving about 300 jobs in the process. Since 1982, Dr Franke had been a member of the management of Alusuisse Rheinfelden, and from 1988 onwards its chairman. He simply could not bear the thought of shutting down the site. In hindsight, when success has set in, this sounds fairly straightforward. But in the actual situation at that time, when nothing could be taken for granted, risks were everywhere. The Land of Baden Württemberg provided a guarantee of millions, which however never had to be used. Dr Franke was prepared to take such risks. And in everything he did, his purpose was first and foremost to serve the company – all the profits were always left to the organisation. Everyone knew: he would have given away his last shirt for his “Alu”and its workforce. This entrepreneurial approach of Alois was associated with his long-term strategic view: decades ago, he had realized that the future of aluminium also depended on speciality alloys and semi-finished products, and his vision was to align the requirements of processing and end products with a tailor-made alloy in order to achieve top efficiency and unrivalled quality – occasionally enabling a specific application in the first place.
In numerous pioneering accomplishments, Dr Franke and Aluminium Rheinfelden came close to this vision. Just a few corporate history highlights are enough to demonstrate this role as a forerunner. In 1992, the company developed the Silafont-36 alloy, the first die casting raw material for light-weight automotive engineering in the marketplace – just a few years later, the Audi A8 spaceframe marked the breakthrough of this application. In 2004, Castasil-37 was launched, an alloy for manufacturing large structural components in car-making that eliminates the need for thermal treatment. Then, in 2009, Castasil-21 for the first time ever enabled high electrical conductivity of aluminium components. But Dr Franke achieved success with his company not only in the field of aluminium alloys. Since its rebirth, Aluminium Rheinfelden tripled the output and boosted the market share of the slugs used especially in packaging applications for making cans, tubes or bottles. At the same time, in connection with Soderberg masses, the transformation was managed from anode producer to innovative manufacturer of environmentally-friendly electrode and ramming materials. These various successes not only prove his long-term strategic orientation, but also his keen executive skills and attention to details.
It was not only the technological capabilities that made his company attractive for business partners, it was also Alois’s very personal nature, the open and at all times helpful and energetic way with which he won over customers and business partners for his cause and tied them to his own person and his company. He was fully committed to his customers, establishing a culture that today has become characteristic of Aluminium Rheinfelden. Such a personality with his powerful urge to shape things is never limited to his own narrow sphere of activity. Wherever Dr Franke put out his feelers, his aim was to shape things. And thus, also the region around Rheinfelden ultimately benefited from this impulse in the form of nursery schools, parks, family promotion programmes – and a Dual University (together with Duale Hochschule Baden-Württemberg) that integrates academic studies and hands-on training. All this costs energy and power. And this Dr Franke drew from his Christian self-understanding, the pleasure he took in art and music as well as his family and grandchildren.
Alois Franke was a man of energy, a creator, a lover of life, we shall remember him with affection and gratitude for his extraordinary humanity and the natured vigour with which he stated his rules as a man and as an entrepreneur. With Aluminium Rheinfelden, he is leaving us a heritage that still has much potential for development. It does not come as a surprise that he placed this heritage in the hands of the second generation, his children Erika Zender, today Managing Director of Aluminium Rheinfelden GmbH, and Rüdiger Franke, even during his lifetime. There is no doubt that this generation will make every effort to lead the company into a prosperous future – quite in the sense and in honour of its founding father.