Interview with András Lőrincz
The founder and former MD of Agriapipe
Vízmű Panoráma - Issue 4 2015
(Béla Hamvas – Hungarian writer, philosopher and social critic)
On the occasion of the World Water Day 2015 András Lőrincz, former MD of Agriapipe Kft, for his devoted and successful activity was awarded the Medal of Honour of the Water Utility Sector which he took over in Sopron (Hungary) at the Water Utility Conference. We took the opportunity to ask him about his successes and the morals of his eventful career.
Vízmű Panoráma When and where did your career of several decades in the water profession begin?
András Lőrincz September 9, 1974 was an important date in my life as this was the day when I began to work at the Heves County Waterworks in Eger. And why have I chosen Eger? This was the year when I finished my studies in Miskolc (Hungary) at the Technical University of Heavy Industry and for the graduation ceremony which was in June I received a suit from my parents. As to improve the profitability of the suit I got married in July in Eger. My wife was about to finish her studies at the College of Eger so it was pretty evident that I would end up in Eger. I had already come to like the city and I had always wanted to settle here. Why at the waterworks? As from my third year at the university I started to do TDK (Students’ Scientific Circle) research study at the Department of Hydrodynamic Systems where I got involved in the topic of suction ability of pumps. I thought that „if pump then waterworks”. First I was not admitted so I went all around to see other companies in Eger, but there was no opportunity for a job. They almost employed me at the „Patyolat” (state owned laundry) as they found me nice enough, but after a short time it turned out that they were looking for a boiler man and not an engineer. Later, by the merest chance I heard that there was an empty position at the Heves County Waterworks, so I applied again. This interview proved to be successful and I got admitted to the company. It was written in my identity card with an ink pencil - previously wetted by the tongue of the HR manager – that I am a TMK (social work community) assistant.
Vízmű Panoráma How was the initial period and what did you have to do as an assistant?
András Lőrincz I learned that my activity would be in connection with the whole company because operation and maintenance affected all areas. At the beginning my task was to control and organise works carried out by external companies. While having multiple duties, two main territories drew my attention - the problems of water producing driven wells and mechanical pipe cleaning. These two topics had almost become my hobbies.
Vízmű Panoráma What did this mean?
András Lőrincz It turned out later that there was no registry for the wells belonging to the waterworks, meaning there was sort of a chaos. As a first step I mapped the wells and made up a comprehensive system. Many things are still being used from my registry. In the first step we launched a control procedure of the wells and besides usual geophysical testing we carried out TV inspection in the wells, with this being among the first ones in the country. Based on the tests, after getting familiar with the condition of the wells we applied phased filter regeneration using the services of a foreign company. This technology completed by a chemical treatment is still in use at the Heves County Waterworks.
Vízmű Panoráma How did you get involved in the mechanical cleaning of drinking water networks?
András Lőrincz It was the secondary contamination occurring in the city of Hatvan (Hungary, Heves County) that drew my attention to the problems of the mechanical cleaning of drinking water networks as there were already clearly visible tubifex -like worms in the sediment of the water network. The great number of consumer complaints led to an unsustainable situation so we had to find an efficient and quick solution. As from 1975 we were testing different pipe cleaning technologies. First, we were trying to use the technologies of the waterworks of Pécs (Hungary) then that of the Czechoslovakian Vodni Zdroje company but none of the technologies was suitable for the cleaning of an integrated and complicated network. I began studying professional literature and I remember that because of the expenses of the freshly translated articles I had to show up for „questioning”. Finally, I found American cleaning elements made of polyurethane foam that we could purchase from the German RRS company by a lucky chance. Trial cleanings showed good results so as from 1980 – for the first time in Hungary - we began to use these American cleaning elements on a regular basis. Concerning the efficiency of the procedure it is quite characteristic that it took 4 months to completely clean the approx. 80 km long drinking water network in Hatvan.
Vízmű Panoráma What were the reasons for finally developing your own cleaning panels?
András Lőrincz The turning point was the situation of necessity caused by the „foreign currency stoppage” in the country as we could not import American cleaning elements. We had to develop our own elements also suitable for the mechanical cleaning of a drinking water network. Fortunately, we could do this. As other waterworks were facing the same problem as the one in Hatvan we received several requests to help solving these problems so we set up a pipe cleaning department within the waterworks.
Vízmű Panoráma What countries were you working in?
András Lőrincz We did mechanical cleaning of drinking water networks in several countries like Finland, Sweden, Norway, Poland and in Turkey as well. We had plenty of adventures in these countries - often we were carrying e.g. the copper sulphate necessary for the cleaning in a handbag as Swedish authorities did not recognize it and they thought that it was some drug. It was quite difficult to explain them what this fine blue powder was good for. Our successful activity as well as the income we gained on the patents certainly generated the so-called EF (envy factor) so one control followed the other and finally there was a large group of people from the then Ministry of Finance coming to execute a financial control. These investigations always had a lucky ending because when they understood the importance of our activity as well as the fact that the income was based on actual work, it was recognized that there was no cheat and the extra income was a due compensation for works accomplished.
Vízmű Panoráma How would you evaluate the years you had spent at the Heves County Waterworks?
András Lőrincz I think it was the most determining period of my life as I had a very good time at the waterworks. I gained a lot of experience and I established many new things in the company. I had good bosses because they let me do my job and helped in my work. In 1983 as a sign of recognition of my work - despite my protests – I was appointed head of the technical department but I was not very much fond of this for I wanted to go on developing. From this point on my tasks concerning managing and coordinating increased because in terms of numbers this was the biggest department in the head office. The well maintenance division, the heavy current engineering group, the pipe cleaning division, transportation, maintenance and material accounting all belonged to me. When in 1989 – in the year of political transition – the question of reorganisation (transfer of ownership to municipalities) of waterworks arose and the local constitutions were about to fall apart everybody felt insecure - including me.
Vízmű Panoráma What possible solutions were you considering?
András Lőrincz At the end of 1990 we founded the Umwelt-Technik Kft with 9 members and 1 million HUF share capital which was a real „tszcs” (socialist producers’ cooperative) accordingly to the routine of that era. After long time of persuasion I finally accepted the position of the general manager so my job contract at the waterworks finished. A new period started in my life and at the same time I had to build up a new company in a new situation under new circumstances.
Vízmű Panoráma What happened to Umwelt-Technik Kft then?
András Lőrincz Unfortunately, the continuation was a typical Hungarian story because after the first successful year (13 million HUF revenue and 2.5 million HUF taxed income) tensions arose among the members. As it turned out, dissatisfaction was based on a distorted expectation. To put it simply, the problem was that not everybody could „buy a Mercedes Benz” in the very first year.
Finally, this tension led to the profound transformation of the ownership rights and the Austrian Rabner company entered the company as the main owner replacing several former owners. These happenings were followed by a calmer and innovative period and besides pipe cleaning trenchless procedures the so called NO DIG repairs also received attention. These procedures were less well-known in Hungary so we held a conference with 400 participants in the „House of Technique” in Eger attracting enormous interest in spite of the icy rain falling.
Year by year the company kept developing and we had one year where we doubled the revenue of the previous year. By 2005 we generated a revenue of 2.5 billion HUF beside 450 million HUF own asset. Meanwhile there was a generational change in the Rabner company causing a conflict at the Umwelt-Technik Kft. The younger Rabner brothers had very different ideas about market, business attitude, innovation and networking than their father and I used to have. Recognising this unfortunate situation I offered to resign from the general manager position and I also confirmed that if they ask me I would stay with the company provided that they buy my share in the company. We agreed on this, me not knowing what was ahead. To be specific, western companies are following a certain „script” meaning that they would basically prove that the general manager – being also a part-owner - had not done his best in favour of the efficient operation of the company . If they succeed in proving this, the manager can then be blackmailed. This way, the business share can easily be purchased at a low price and the main owner may also pretend that he is about to help out the manager. This attempt has failed in my case as nothing incriminating was found during monitoring so the main owner had no other choice than discharging me without any explanation on October 5, 2007. This discharge became the beginning of a 4 years long fight and what’s more, I remained an owner.
Vízmű Panoráma What solution did you choose in this situation?
András Lőrincz A few days after my release on October 12, 2007 we founded the Agriapipe Kft with my older daughter, Adrienn. We had to set up the company again but this time we did not have to start form zero because my good personal and professional reputation helped us during the new start. While being busy with the formation of the new company a lot of energy was absorbed in the fight with the „labanc” (historical name for Austrian soldiers), to which let me give an example:
In 2008 the new management of the Umwelt-Technik Kft had sold out the complete machinery worth 310 million HUF - formerly developed by us using state aid – for 110 million HUF which amount was paid off in terms of stock items. When I heard about this I immediately reported it to the police. After one year of insistent investigations the police concluded that „the sale was not intentional, it happened accidentally”. As a result of our objection to this – after another six month investigation – the decision of prosecutor’s office declared that „it cannot be determined whether a crime has happened”. We then filed a supplementary private prosecution at the court but the court assessed that I cannot be considered plaintiff of the case as it was the company (Kft.) whose assets were stolen so the company is to report the crime. (There was no way out from this situation because it was the majority owner of the company who would have had to denounce the case to the police, basically against himself, as he was the person who bought the machinery way below the real value.) After three years of a legal saga I paradoxically achieved to be the plaintiff of the case in the eye of the law as well.
Vízmű Panoráma How would you assess the period you had spent at the Umwelt-Technik Kft?
András Lőrincz It is quite interesting that just like at the waterworks I worked exactly 17 years at the Umwelt as well. During this time we could advance the Kft to the position of a market leader. We also introduced many new technologies in Hungary and developed many things to find optimal solutions. We contributed to the popularization of the trenchless NO DIG procedures by holding conferences, professional lectures and exhibitions.
Vízmű Panoráma What new possibilities opened for your company with the foundation of the Agriapipe Kft?
András Lőrincz The world opened for me. Australian and Japanese technologies appeared in the Agriapipe’s spectrum of services and they gained plenty of recognition in the Hungarian market. Former colleagues are working with us again and this will ensure good and reliable performance. Our technologies and developments have received many awards like the Grand Prize of the BNV, Mavíz Award of Excellence and the Greenovation Grand Prize. These recognitions prove that we are on the right track.
Vízmű Panoráma For one year now you are no more general manager to the Agriapipe Kft. What’s next?
András Lőrincz One year ago I did resign from the position because the company is facing a significant development and this requires a new attitude, a young and dynamic management. As for my professional experiences gained I am planning to use them as advisor to the company as long as it is needed. My grandson, Marci is giving me more and more tasks. Among other things I am to teach him how to shoot the ball with a bicycle kick into the upper corner with your back to the goal…