We are honored to introduce Behind the Seams readers to Ferd. Schmetz Needle Corp. President and SPESA Board Member Rolando G. Bohlemann.
A long-time SPESA member, Rolando has served on the SPESA Board of Directors since 2004.
Please tell us a little about your company, your current role, and the career path that led you there.
Rolando Bohlemann: Ferd. Schmetz GmbH, is the oldest sewing machine needle manufacturer, established in 1851 near Aachen, Germany. I am the president of the USA subsidiary Ferd. Schmetz Needle Corp. located in South Florida.
After 20 years of working for Union Special Corp — 10 years in Germany and 10 years in Chicago — selling sewing machines around the world, I joined Ferd. Schmetz Needle Corp in February of 1999 as Vice President. Shortly after, I became President, also being responsible for sales in Region West, which means all countries from Canada to Argentina.
How were you first introduced to the industry? What attracted you to it?
RB: In 1982, I decided to move from Argentina to Germany to try for a better future. After struggling for a while, I was hired by Union Special GmbH in 1983 for their heavy duty sewing machines division, called bag making and bag closing machines. The attraction was this particular segment of heavy duty sewing machines. It was a perfect introduction to a future in the garment sewing industry.
My sales activities covered the Far East — a totally new area for me — and Latin America, which I knew already. While in Argentina, I had already travelled extensively in Latin America.
What is the most important thing you have learned during your career?
RB: Patience and learning how to deal with so many different mentalities and cultures around the world.
Obviously together with patience is being flexible.
Always be respectful and honor your customers. The world is round and you will encounter everyone at least once more in your life.
What is the most surprising thing you have learned about the sewn products industry?
RB: The very fast and large exodus of the industry to other regions in the world.
But on the other side, it does not matter what happens in the different regions of the world, everybody needs to wear one kind of garment or another. Sewing always needs to be done, in sectors outside the traditional garment industry also. Even a tire factory does some sewing.
What is something you have accomplished during your career that makes you proud?
RB: Coming from a third world country, I adapted fast and quick to the new world. My languages obviously helped me a lot.
Basically, from starting visiting customers in Argentina on a motorcycle to doing the same today in an SUV.
Is there anything you know now that you wish you had known when your career first began?
RB: Having more patience and flexibility in my earlier years would have been helpful. But I was lucky to listen to the elders, to the ones with more experience, and then I found my path
How have you seen the industry change during the course of your career?
RB: The main change was the shifting of the industry to other regions. Followed by the relatively fast reaction through automation in our region.
What do you think will be the next big change or pivot for the industry?
RB: Automation in order to be competitive with lower cost manufacturing markets.
How have advancements in technology impacted your company and your customers?
RB: Through the constant new design of products to make the seams more efficient and better.
Are you working on any new projects right now that you are excited about?
RB: We are constantly working on new products, mainly with environmental friendly products like the new finishing of the needles. This is a totally new technology.
What is the biggest challenge right now for your company?
RB: Actually, the pandemic.
What do you think the next generation of the sewn products industry workforce will look like?
RB: More IT savvy, with large amounts of data available to make easier and more accurate decisions.
What advice would you give someone looking to follow in your footsteps with a career in the sewn products industry?
RB: Even though in our region, Region West, there is not much growing of the industry, always remember that, through globalization, our area of activities are around the whole world now. Even more important, the world population is growing and always needs some kind of garments to wear. Besides, there are many other sectors where sewing operations are required.
Thank you Rolando for taking the time to answer our questions and for your dedication to the sewn products industry!
The SPESA Board of Directors is responsible for guiding the association's policy direction and making decisions to improve our effectiveness in representing the interests of the members and the sewn products industry.