An AGRAVIS institution says goodbye

Erich Helms finishes his career on 31 March 2016 at the age of 65. The man from Celle was active for exactly 50 years – and managed to do something special: Erich Helms remained with the same employer from the first day of his apprenticeship until retiring. “Something like that is extremely rare,” said Horst Feldmann, branch manager withAGRAVIS Technik Heide-Altmark GmbH AGRAVIS Technik Heide-Altmark GmbH at the Celle location.

Bildmaterial zum Content

Long before this cooperative company bore this name, the then 15-year old Erich Helms was hired by LBA Burgdorf. LBA subsequently handed over the farm machinery section to Hauptgenossenschaft Hannover, which merged with Raiffeisen Central-Genossenschaft Münster to create AGRAVIS Raiffeisen AG in 2004.

First assembly

Erich Helms always did things precisely. Every single screw must be in the right position for the farmer's son from Wietzenbruch. That, and the words of praise from the local craftsman, meant that the young man started his apprenticeship as a mechanic for farm machinery on 1 April 1966. He can still remember his first project: “The rear axle had broken off a Hanomag,” explains Helms with a grin at the memory, almost as if it were yesterday.

Helms has been with the company through all relocations from the Nordwall in the town centre to Westercelle and Garßen and Altenhagen to the current location at Lüneburger Heerstraße 77. Back then there were seven employees, of which three were apprentices. Nowadays AGRAVIS Technik Heide-Altmark GmbH in Celle employs 16 people, and again, three of them are apprentices.

Enthusiasm for agriculture

“Almost all have contact points with agriculture,” explains Horst Feldmann; “otherwise you don't do this job for so long. You have to have enthusiasm for this sector as service is important to us – regardless of the time of day. When it’s harvest time, then the machines have to run.” Erich Helms nods: He knows what his boss is talking about. “If it took a long time in the yard, then we sometimes ate lunch together with the farmers.”

As a mechanic for farm machinery, Helms was close to customers and technology until 1990. If something was not right, he had to find it – for the sake of the customer, but also as it would not get out of his mind. Helms also adapted to the changes in the market over the decades. For example: The machines are becoming bigger. “We hardly ever had tractors over 50 HP.” The rapidly expanding level of digitalisation in farm machinery also suited Erich Helms. He isn’t just precise with screws, but also with numbers and programmes. When he changed over to the spare parts warehouse in 1990, he had already written one or two simple programmes himself. “If I were to look for a job today, then it would not involve machines, but computers instead,” explains the soon-to-be pensioner. Training in Windows? He never needed it.

Experience as an invaluable benefit

His decades of experience as a mechanic was, and still is, an invaluable benefit in the warehouse. If anyone knows what part is required for a repair, then it's Helms. “Commercial aspects are easier to learn than technological aspects,” he concludes. Such comprehensive technical knowledge is appreciated by customers.

Helms also admits: “In the meantime, the machines have now become so complex that when searching for spare parts someone from the workshop has to help me.” As workshop manager Martin Cramm adds: “Nowadays the engineer and the warehouse clerk search for the parts together on the screen. One person alone cannot do this any more.” 5,000 items can be found behind the office door in the warehouse, and the rest is ordered.

“Where is Erich?”

A second man has already been working in the spare parts warehouse since 2009, and Helms's successor, Henning Wegener, has also been there for at least a year and a half. He has a tough act to follow when Helms leaves on 31 March: “Even on the first day I still had to handle several customers. When they enter, they immediately ask: ‘Where is Erich’,” grins Erich Helms. “We've been very fortunate that Erich has remained loyal to us. We benefit greatly from his experience. Such people do not grow on trees”; said Martin Cramm.

Erich Helms should actually have left at the end of February as he had reached pensionable age by then, “However, I didn't like that idea much, personally. That would have meant 49 years and 11 months. Why not a round number? I wanted to complete the 50,” states Helms emphatically. As ever, he always does things precisely.