People typically associate an engineer with the construction of bridges or buildings, but the term spans a much wider range of occupations. Peter Krueger is a clothing and textile engineer who helps turn woodchips into textile fibres, which in turn become products such as towels, bedding, clothes and even underwear.
Mr Krueger, technical marketing manager, Asia Pacific region, Lenzing Fibers (Hong Kong) Limited, was born in Germany and it was there that he received his formal education in engineering. "The programme gave me a solid foundation and from there I chose to specialise in clothing and textiles," he says.
After graduating, he worked as a research assistant in Australia for a year and then headed for academia at his old university in Germany for another year. "At that time, I was approached by the industry," he recalls. He moved into the private sector and after two years with another company he joined Lenzing in Austria.
In 2002, Lenzing sent Mr Krueger to Indonesia to take care of its Southeast Asia operations. Two and a half years later he was transferred to Hong Kong, where the company's Asia Pacific headquarters are located. He now works with clients from across the region — from Pakistan, China and Japan all the way south to Australia and New Zealand. "Working with Lenzing has been wonderful," he says. "I have been able to develop myself further and the company has a short hierarchy so my responsibilities have grown considerably."
"The specific area isn't as important as ensuring you get a solid foundation of broad knowledge"
Communication a key
As technical marketing manager, Mr Krueger's major role is communicating with the company's indirect customers. That is, not with the next company in the production line, which turns Lenzing's fibres into yarns, but with the brand houses and retailers that commission the end products. "It involves aspects of customer service, marketing and communicating," he says. "We must let these companies know what they can do and how they can benefit by using Lenzing's products."
The clothing and textiles industry is fast-moving and it always is a challenge to stay ahead, Mr Krueger notes. "Fashion companies used to have two seasons of clothes a year — now they have three or four."
For Mr Krueger this means staying in close contact with the companies and knowing what they want. "It's not enough just to have a functional product. You must understand what the consumer wants and what the final product will be used for," he explains. This knowledge has helped Lenzing create fibres that are soft and comfortable to wear and touch and that also retain their quality and colour after washing and general wear and tear.
"As well as fashion products, we also have clients working in baseline applications like socks, underwear, mattresses and bath mats — things you need all year round."
To be able to communicate with people across the region, Mr Krueger also spends a large part of his time on the road. "The job is 40 to 60 per cent travelling, depending on the season," he says. In early September he was in Nanjing where Lenzing opened a new production plant. "I was getting things ready, looking at our internal production line and talking to customers to check that we are fulfilling their requirements," he explains.
Although Hong Kong is the company's regional base, Lenzing also has a mainland presence in Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing. These extra locations help the company to be in closer communication with clients, Mr Krueger says. "You need to be able to appreciate different cultures and understand the business environments of your customers. A customer in Japan is different to one in China, and both are different to a customer in Indonesia."
The emphasis on communication does not mean Mr Krueger is stuck in formal meetings in his suit and tie every day. He explains that he still has plenty of opportunities to get his hands dirty, either working on a machine or being part of a customer trial.
His engineering background is important for the job. "You can get into this industry through merchandising or marketing, but having a sound understanding of engineering is extremely valuable. When you are talking to engineers all the time, it helps to build trust and credibility and it instils confidence. They respect you if you know what you are talking about," he remarks.
Mr Krueger therefore recommends that people wanting to get into the industry get an engineering degree. "The specific area isn't as important as ensuring you get a solid foundation of broad knowledge. You should also be open minded and determined. A basic understanding of economics and business, as well as some managerial skills, are helpful."
English language proficiency is also a necessity as the days when industry leaders such as Lenzing worked in and dealt with people from only one country are long gone. Whether dealing with mainland clients or others further afield, English is the language of business, Mr Krueger stresses.