Jenoptik, a top maker of laser optics, has emerged from the Communist era and German reunification to help lift the fortunes of its hometown, Jena, and much of the economy of the former East Germany.
Home to a university and a number of private and public research institutes, Jena feeds intellectual capital and talent into companies such as Jenoptik, and Jenoptik in turn helps the city remain prosperous.
Jenoptik dates from the late 19th century, when Jena was already a site of technical and intellectual prowess. More than a century later, it is a thriving optics and laser company and the second-largest employer in the city.
Jenoptik's success in managing the post-Soviet transition lies in both continuity with the past and openness to change.
The company traces its roots to an entity founded in Jena in 1889 called the Carl Zeiss Foundation, which produced precision mechanical and optical equipment. The U.S. and Soviet armies dismantled and divided the Foundation after World War II, and part of the enterprise migrated to West Germany under the name Carl Zeiss.
The remainder stayed in Jena as state property; known as Kombinat VEB Carl Zeiss Jena, it was a giant firm with more than 60,000 employees in 25 plants and subsidiaries. But when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the company, along with the rest of the East German economy, was forced into radical transformation.
Large state-owned combines like VEB Carl Zeiss Jena had primarily traded with other communist countries and couldn't compete on the world stage. In 1990, a German government privatization agency took over VEB Carl Zeiss Jena and carved out Jenoptik, divesting other resources into the West German lens maker now known as Carl Zeiss AG and located in the town of Oberkochen. In the process, 50,000 people lost their jobs.
But by 1998, Jenoptik was strong enough to list on the Frankfurt stock exchange. It now produces specialized lasers, sensors, and other technology used for everything from semiconductor production to hair removal to space exploration.
Sales last year hit €548.3 million ($818.3 million at current rates), up 5.1 percent from the year before, and profits were €11.8 million ($17.6 million) vs. an €8.2 million ($12.2 million) net loss in 2007.
Earlier this year, former Jenoptik Chairman Prof. Dr. h. c. Lothar Späth received the SPIE Visionary Award for his success in restructuring the company and revitalizing the optics industry throughout the region. SPIE President Maria Yzuel presented the award at the SPIE Europe Optical Metrology congress in Munich, Germany, on 15 June.
Späth was recognized for his "visionary guidance of Jenoptik AG and the Jena optics community to its recognition as a world leader in its industry, providing technological solutions to challenges of the world and its future."
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