German engineer Bastian Kettler was inspecting German-made industrial saws at Columbus-based Structural Machinery Solutions when his attention switched to an item on the second level of the saw vendor’s Woodside Industrial Park display room: a 1971 Italian Moto Guzzi motorcycle.
SMS owner David McCorry gladly shared information about his project with Kettler. McCorry has owned the former LAPD Moto Guzzi Ambassador 750 cc for about three years, and although it runs, he said it needs an engine rebuild.
That evening, Kettler attended a turkey dinner at the home of Columbus resident Mark Pillar. The day before, Kettler had attended a business lunch at the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, where he learned how the chamber supports local businesses.
Kettler’s lessons in American business and culture epitomize the goal of The Rotary Foundation’s Group Study Exchange, through which Kettler and four other young professionals from Germany have visited southern Indiana since mid-April. The visitors are staying with local Rotarians to complement their business experience with some basics about American life.
Five Americans from the local Rotary district will visit Germany in the next few weeks as a pendant to the visit from the German team.
Both teams will, for about a year after their return, share their experiences with Rotary clubs across their district. Rotary is funding the exchanges to promote tolerance and collaboration and to provide the next generation of leaders with an international perspective, better communication skills and an exposure to alternative ways to solve problems, both in business and communities.
The German team members began their visit in southern Indiana, worked their way north to Columbus and then west to Bloomington and Terre Haute.
In Columbus, team members toured manufacturing sites including the Cummins Fuel Systems Plant and small businesses including Zaharako’s.
They gained some insights into American hospitality and customs, as they went fishing with their hosts, toured local architectural treasures and tasted pulled pork barbecue and a traditional Thanksgiving turkey — in April.
Team members visited some sights and companies together but also split up on what’s called “vocational days,” in which members visited companies in their fields.
So while Kettler, 29, a mechanical engineer who specializes in hot and cold forging technologies, visited Structural Machinery Solutions in Columbus and a GM foundry in Bedford, fellow traveler Doreen Ullman, 27, an OB/GYN, toured Union Hospital in Terre Haute and University Hospital in Indianapolis.
Roman Klipp, 32, an information technology engineer of Zella-Mehlis, and Andreas Rehdanz, 28, of Trusetal, who studied economics and is self-employed at an information technology systems company, visited Data Cave in Columbus. Rehdanz said it was an impressive facility, especially because it is tornado-proof.
Their team leader, Daniela Singer, 31, of Wiesenthal, owns travel company Schmetterling
Reisen.de. Singer toured, for example, Star of America Shuttle Bus Service in Bloomington and The Travel Authority in Columbus.
Kettler said Cummins is a very progressive company whose production facilities and machinery are on the same level as those in Germany — though he said in small to midsized companies he found that the technology, such as computers, tended to be a little older than equipment in comparable German businesses.
Kettler said he also noticed that the percentage of women in production areas — whether the work involved assembly or the moving of heavy engine blocks — was much higher than in Germany.
He also was impressed by the architecture in Columbus, in part because one would not expect such a display from such a small city in Indiana.
Kettler said he found the Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans, at the courthouse, with its 25 pillars carved with letters from fallen soldiers, especially impressive and moving.
The engineer enjoyed the cultural aspects of the exchange as well, he said, particularly the turkey at the home of local Rotarian and retired Delta pilot Pillar, or the barbecue with Cummins employee Todd Swingle.
“I just love that pulled pork,” Kettler said.
He also praised Hoosiers’ friendliness and openness. The phrase “help yourself” was a common refrain.
“I was always cordially welcomed,” Kettler said, “and people showed me their entire home right away and, of course, where I could find the beer.”
Pillar, who led a Rotary exchange to Australia in 2011, said the experience helps up-and-coming leaders gain a better perspective and understanding of how businesses and governments function elsewhere.
Pillar said that the Australian team learned about everything from a city-owned industrial park to Unigov and a city’s response to heavy annual flooding.
One of the Germany-bound team members, Danya King, who lives in Greenwood but works for Cummins in Columbus, said she always has had an interest in other countries.
King, a Michigan native and mechanical engineer, said her interest in the exchange came about in part because her work at Cummins has put her in contact with some German companies, including Bosch and Daimler.
King has traveled, for work and vacation, to England, Scotland, Canada, Mexico, Australia and the Caribbean, but not yet to Germany.
She said other people who have participated in the exchange have told her that they learned a lot.
“I think it’s just a great opportunity,” she said.