The figures speak for themselves. What began as a one-man band has grown into an enterprise employing almost 1,000 people. One site has multiplied into around 40 in 20 countries across the globe. Today, CHG‑MERIDIAN is one of the leading providers of non-captive technology management. Find out more about the business model, the people behind CHG-MERIDIAN, the technology it uses, and its international expansion.
Many achievements, with many more to come.
The idea of getting into the computer sales market came to Jürgen Gelf in the mid-1970s. While trying to source a new mainframe computer for his employer, he stumbled across the organised resale market for this equipment and immediately recognised the potential it harbored. IT equipment was hugely expensive at this time. Manufacturers such as IBM, Nixdorf, and Comparex serviced the machines and ensured they were kept free of technical defects and up to date. They could easily be resold when the owner needed a bigger computer, for example.
In his role as IT manager, Jürgen Gelf told his boss about his idea of buying and selling IT equipment. His boss was not interested in pursuing the idea for his company RAFI, an electronics manufacturer in Berg near Ravensburg, but he gave Gelf permission to explore the opportunity privately in his spare time. Jürgen Gelf took the chance and founded CHG Computer-Handels-Gesellschaft m.b.H on March 2, 1979. The original business idea of remarketing IT equipment remains part of the company’s name to this day.
In response to customer demand Jürgen Gelf soon also began offering leasing arrangements to finance the IT equipment. The idea of leasing was already well established in the USA, as IBM had been leasing equipment there since the 1920s. In Germany, however, the model was still relatively unknown. It was only in the 1970s that there was a boom in this niche market, resulting in an 800 percent upsurge in just ten years. Leasing quickly became CHG’s core activity. In 1982 the company changed its name to ‘CHG Computer Leasing- und Handels-Gesellschaft mbH’, and in 1992 the ‘Handels-Gesellschaft’ was finally dropped from the company name altogether.
The revolution in the IT market brought with it an exponential increase in the number of devices. At the same time, the refurbishment of used equipment became a logistical challenge. In 2000, CHG-MERIDIAN opened its own brokerage and logistics center in Mörfelden. The data erasure processes developed there were certified by product standards regulator TÜV Informationstechnik GmbH in 2006 – the first certification of this type in Germany.
Lease returns have been refurbished for re-use and remarketing in the new Technology and Service Center in Gross-Gerau since 2010, and in CHG-MERIDIAN’s second Technology and Service Center in Skien, Norway since 2013. Between them, the two centers handled almost half a million devices in 2015.
The IT market changed radically in the 1990s. Computing power was decentralised and PCs began to replace mainframes. CHG found itself increasingly providing advisory and other services and became more involved in whole lifecycle planning for the IT systems it was leasing. The focus of CHG‑MERIDIAN, as the company has been known since 1996, shifted toward a comprehensive service offering which included installing and maintaining the equipment as well as investment and innovation planning.
Since 2014, CHG‑MERIDIAN has offered customers a standardised, environmentally friendly, and socially responsible re-use concept for pre-owned IT hardware, with the emphasis on remarketing.
In Belgium, the company started to work with the non-profit organisations Close the Gap and WorldLoop with the intention of passing on customers’ used equipment that is still in working order to schools and training establishments in developing countries. Here too, the equipment is retrieved and recycled in an environmentally friendly way.
The CHG story began in the laundry room of the Gelf household, where Jürgen Gelf would go to make telephone calls and send telexes after he came home from work. He dictated contracts to his wife and she typed up her shorthand notes the next day on an IBM golf-ball typewriter. Business was good and after a few years the qualified telecommunications technician was able to give up his day job and devote himself full-time to the new company.
When the first employees were hired, Gelf moved the office into another apartment in the same building. It made for a homely atmosphere. And that remained the case as the company grew and a total of 15 staff occupied three of the four apartments in the building. CHG bought a building plot nearby and at the end of 1986 the company was able to move into its brand-new office block in Berg near Ravensburg.
The spur-of-the-moment sailing trips of the 1980s are still talked about today. The boss loved to take his staff out on Lake Constance. “For Jürgen Gelf it was always important to make sure that his staff were happy,” says Michael Weiß, who has been with the company since 1984. The company continues to preserve this spirit. CHG‑MERIDIAN shows that it values its employees in a variety of ways: providing good catering, offering company crèche places for small children, supporting team events, and arranging various cultural activities.
In 2011, CHG-MERIDIAN won the ‘SME prize for civic engagement in Baden-Württemberg’. The award mentioned the long-standing support for a retreat in Reute that allows people to take time out away from the stresses of their everyday lives.
In 2012, CHG‑MERIDIAN was awarded the TOP EMPLOYER seal of approval in the TOP JOB competition – specifically for excellent communication, team spirit, and the culture of collaborative problem-solving. The company still practices an open-door policy, staff are courteous without being overly formal (people use the more formal ‘Sie’ form but are on first name terms), and company-wide events are held so that employees from different sites can get to know one another.
Since 2014, staff have also been involved in CSR activities in the form of the CARE initiative. They can nominate social projects within the region and then they take care of the organisation while CHG‑MERIDIAN provides support with funding and other resources.
CHG-MERIDIAN’s commitment to its roots in the Upper Swabia region is reflected in its corporate citizenship. Since the 2003/4 season, the company has been the main sponsor of the Ravensburg Towerstars, who play in the DEL2, the second tier of the German ice hockey league. In addition to professional sport, young athletes and sports teams in Ravensburg and other locations are also beneficiaries.
When Jürgen Gelf set up his own company at the end of the 1970s, computers had already begun to make inroads into many workplaces. They were mostly permanently installed systems: computing and data-storage units with cooling systems. The first machines sold and leased by CHG were the IBM 3340 magnetic disk drive model, monitors such as the IBM 3277 and the Nixdorf 620 data collection system. Customers were small and medium-sized enterprises, mostly local or from elsewhere in southern Germany, such as the Walz mail-order company, sewing machine manufacturer Pfaff, automotive suppliers Mahle and ZF, and Weishaupt, a manufacturer of fuel technology.
An IBM System/32 was used in CHG’s office from 1981. It was housed in the former guest room in the basement of the Gelf family home – along with the programmers. Jürgen Gelf was himself a programmer, trained at IBM, and a great technophile. He commissioned digitised lease schedule lists, and contact and inventory management at a time when most of his competitors still only had index cards and filing cabinets. Invoices for the leased equipment were printed out via a Commodore 8296D linked to an IBM printer with tractor-feed paper. When the company moved into its own new building in 1986, all the workstations were equipped with their own monitors, which were hooked up to the central IBM computer. In the mid-1990s the company switched to PCs.
At the end of the 1980s, the cost of IT equipment started to fall sharply. More and more companies began replacing their mainframe systems with distributed solutions, i.e. PCs. Due to the rapid pace of technical progress, equipment needed to be replaced with new, more powerful versions at ever shorter intervals. All of this demanded more intensive customer service and remarketing activities. Since the mid-1990s, CHG‑MERIDIAN has increasingly focused on long-term customer relationships, entering into framework agreements and expanding the range of services.
In 1999, the company developed and launched its first asset management system, an IT system for using customer-specific lease schedule information. It was expanded to become TESMA® Online in 2004. TESMA® stands for technology and service management. This web-based communication, planning, and administration platform gives CHG‑MERIDIAN and customers access to a shared data pool for each item of equipment in which commercial and technical information is combined. The latest version of TESMA® was released in 2016.
Investment in various technological areas has been stepped up considerably in recent years. CHG-MERIDIAN bought a stake in the French company Finexis Medical SAS back in 2004. In 2014, CHG-MERIDIAN invested more than €30 million in medical equipment for customers in Europe and North America. Since 2011, the company has also provided financing and portfolio management for high-value industrial capital assets such as production lines for vehicle bodies.
Industrial and medical equipment have therefore become CHG-MERIDIAN’s mainstays in addition to its traditional core competency of information technology.
1992 marked a major change for CHG Computer Leasing- und Handelsgesellschaft mbH. The company founder Jürgen Gelf gradually began to step back from his leading role, handing over the reins to Jürgen Mossakowski. An auditor by profession, Mossakowski restructured the company, changed its name to CHG Computer Leasing GmbH, and spent the next few years focusing on increasing revenue and on growth by acquisition. He was assisted in this by Peter Horne, who was appointed as a second director in 1995.
In 1993, IVG GmbH in Munich became CHG’s first acquisition, followed in 1994 by FMG‑MERIDIAN from Wiesbaden, which mainly operated in North Germany, making it the ideal complement for CHG, whose activities at this time were still largely in the south of the country. The two companies merged to become CHG‑MERIDIAN, and in 1997 the new company became a stock corporation. Further acquisitions followed: CICS in Karlsruhe in 1996, CSC Leasing in Munich and CTL Computer Trade & Leasing. CHG‑MERIDIAN thus became one of the largest IT financing companies in Germany.
At the start of the new millennium, Jürgen Mossakowski and Peter Horne set the company’s sights on international growth. The first step was to establish local subsidiaries in the UK and Austria, followed by subsidiaries in Ireland, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. By the end of 2001, the company had a presence in seven countries.
By 2004, subsidiaries in Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Russia, and Poland had been added, with new offices in the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Slovakia coming later. In 2009, CHG also took over El Camino Resources in the USA and Canada, and bought a 50 percent stake in the Mexican subsidiary. Its acquisition of ACENTO AS in 2014 also gave CHG‑MERIDIAN a foothold in Scandinavia with sites in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland.
In 2016, CHG-MERIDIAN AG, as the company has been known since 2012, maintained a presence at 36 locations in 23 countries. The finance and technology manager continues to focus on expanding its range of services in the local subsidiaries and increasing the volume of leases originated. One outward sign of steady growth is the company’s headquarters building in Weingarten that was built in 2003 to accommodate a workforce of around 270.
In May 2016, an extension with another 250 workspaces was opened. The modern architecture symbolises CHG‑MERIDIAN’s transparency and dynamism.
Organisational and personnel changes to the Supervisory Board and Board of Management have been carried out with effect from the beginning of 2017. After more than 18 years as Chairman of the Board of Management, Jürgen Mossakowski has joined the Supervisory Board. He has been succeeded by Dr. Mathias Wagner, previously the Board of Management member responsible for international sales. All global sales activities have been brought together under Board of Management member Frank Kottmann. Oliver Schorer has taken over the newly created IT and Services remit and Joachim Schulz remains responsible for Finance.
We have a tradition of growing with our tasks, our experience and, of course, with our customers. At the same time, we are always aware of where we come from – and where we want to be.