German 3D Sensor Leader Recruits Seasoned US-Director to Boost Business in North America
08.05.2023 - Gretchen Alper has taken charge as Automation Technology’s Business Director for North America. She told inspect why Boston is the perfect place to start and what will be the major factors for success.
For Germany based machine vision and sensor specialists Automation Technology coming to the US was a strategic milestone, and the next logical step for the quickly growing enterprise. So, AT looked for a representative with an understanding of the differences in culture and markets as well as experience in the field – and found one with a convincing track record. Gretchen Alper, a seasoned industry expert, already played a major role in the growth of another European company in the States. Alper will take charge as AT’s Business Director for North America. She told us why Boston is the perfect place to start and what will be the major factors for success.
What do you bring to the table that AT benefits from?
Gretchen Alper: I have a lot of experience working in a remote sales and support office for a European equipment manufacturer, so I already understand the challenges and benefits of dealing with the logistics, with imports, with time zone differences and the likes.
And then I understand the U.S. market and this industry quite well. I have great relationships both with equipment manufacturers and industry partners, and I’m just curious in this area. I love to meet people and I really like the customers that exist. I like working with OEM customers and building those relationships. It’s more focused on long-term partnerships and solutions versus trying to sell to the general public. I like this kind of business.
Why did you decide for an office in Boston?
Alper: It’s not too far in regard to the time zone differences which is helpful when working with a European company. But mainly, there’s a lot of companies that are optics-based or working in machine vision in that same area. Other collaborators, different manufacturers right there in this industry. Therefore, it’s a good area for both meeting customers, meeting people from complementary manufacturers, as well as recruiting people with the right backgrounds. There’s a lot of universities in that area, too. So there’s just a constant great supply of talented people who are interested in the field and willing to work.
What’s your focus as the new Business Director for North America?
Alper: There’s many different priorities right now. Learning the technology, learning the markets, learning the applications, working on getting our message out there and making people more aware of what we offer. But the number one priority is meeting the prospective customers and talking to them to understand their needs so we can find the right fit and the solution.
Where do you see challenges/advantages on the North American market and why?
Alper: The North American market is huge and AT is relatively unknown right now, so the biggest challenge really is clear, understandable and constant communication so that people can find us when they have matching opportunity and know when to use AT products. On the plus side, there’s an association with German companies for delivering very reliable engineering, very good quality, very good procedures and all of those things so that definitely helps to get a foot in the door.
What’s the biggest challenge opening a new office?
Alper: There’s of course the logistics of setting up the office and staffing and all those things. Also, to find out where to start, where and what to focus on and what to prioritize. There are so many exciting things to do to make the business run and people to talk to.
inspect: What is your goal for the coming years?
Alper: To develop new customers in a variety of fields, and then to start a team in the US that’s well integrated with the team in Germany. To continue the helpful, fun, exciting quality that’s in the headquarters over in the US and bring that energy to our customers.
You have been working with European companies for a long time. What are the biggest differences between the European and the North American market?
Alper: In my experience, the way things work in Europe is that information spreads more by word of mouth. If you make a really good product, people will find you. There’s a lot of good reputation, referrals, that kind of thing. In the U.S. and the North American market, marketing and communication is much stronger and more focused on making it easy for people to understand on their own what you do. It’s not just about having a good product. They need to really understand why it’s different, how to use it, and quickly assess whether it’s the right solution.
What is your professional background?
Alper: I studied chemical engineering for my bachelor’s degree. And during that time, I worked in a lab focused on optics where I got exposure to different metrology equipment and got really interested in that world. But I knew I didn’t want to work in the lab. It was solitary and slow.
So, when I graduated, I started working as an applications engineer with various semiconductor equipment manufacturers and traveled all over the world doing equipment installations.
I really like preliminary discussions and finding the right solutions, so I realized I wanted to be even more customer-facing and started working on my MBA. After I finished my degree, I started doing account management, business development and marketing for a Dutch image systems manufacturer.
Back then, they were relatively small, and I stayed with them for 18 years during which they grew significantly. I supported the growth process developing a lot of their business in the U.S.
What fascinates you about machine vision?
Alper: I’m very interested in the possibilities of machine vision. The range of applications is so extremely broad – from food inspection to electronics to wood and tire inspection. And I´m constantly learning about new applications. There are many things we don’t always think about, but then it’s amazing to see the background details of how all these things work that we use in our everyday lives.
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