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What does the CEO of Tampa Bay's newest big company think of this area?aprile 4, 2016

The Tampa Bay area recently landed the corporate headquarters of Manitowoc Foodservices, an international commercial kitchen equipment manufacturer that spun off from its Wisconsin-based parent and went public on March 4.

The Trinity-based company, led by new CEO Hubertus Muehlhauser, generated $1.5 billion in revenue last year, placing it among the top 10 Tampa Bay area public companies in sales.

Before taking over at Manitowoc in August, the German-born Muehlhauser spent 12 years at consulting firm Arthur D. Little, where he analyzed the food chain from farm to consumer. After that, he oversaw European and Asian operations for Agco Corporation, an agricultural equipment manufacturer.

Muehlhauser, 46, chatted with the Tampa Bay Times about the Tampa Bay area and his vision for the company in Florida. Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Q: What do you think about the Tampa Bay area, specifically Pasco County, as a place to have a headquarters?

A: I think the larger Tampa Bay area I like a lot. Starting from the airport. I think it is by far the best airport in the United States that I've seen. It's just great to arrive here. And that's truly an important thing, because when you arrive as a foreigner into the United States, you don't always feel welcome. It was the first positive impression that I got from the area. And second there's a very, very high quality of life, which I really like. The weather is very nice. But it's also the people. I've found very, very open minded, friendly and good people. And good people to work with. So all positive.

Q: I read that when you were interviewed by The Street, you called Manitowoc a Tampa company. Do you want to align yourself more closely with the city of Tampa, or the Tampa Bay area as a whole, or do you consider yourselves a New Port Richey company?

A: Well, I think coming from very, very far away, New Port Richey is not what everyone knows. But Tampa, of course, the Tampa Bay area is known to everybody. I think Tampa is a great place to be. ... I'm also now being the representative for the German industry, you know there's the German-American Chamber of Commerce, and I'm the chapter director for Florida. So this is going to give even more prominence to Tampa because I'll try to bring new companies from Germany to the area. If Trump allows me to, of course, we've got to be careful that we don't have too many walls here (laughs).

Q: Do you see Pasco County, and the greater Tampa Bay area, as a place that's a magnet for other businesses?

A: Yes, I think so. I think taxes play a role. You pay less taxes than in other states. And I think because of its approachability and high quality of life — and good educational system, because I've seen very good schools, you've got very nice private schools and you've got a good public schooling system — I think that is a source for future success.

Q: Since you've taken over in August and put together your executive team, what's changed?

A: We have put a big focus on making sure that we grow profitability in a very rapid and increased fashion. If you look at the last two quarters, we have improved profitability significantly. Alone in the last quarter we improved profitability about 500 basis points versus the prior year. And we're going to continue that way. So we're going to have a big focus on simplifying the business and right-sizing the business and making it more profitable. Secondly, we're going to have a specific emphasis on innovation and growing the company. Growing it now only in North America, but also outside the United States. Today, 70 percent of our turnover is Americas based, and 30 percent is in Europe and in Asia. Obviously, I'd like to have it more balanced. So we would like to continue to grow in the United States, but we'd like to grow a bit faster in Europe and catch up in Europe and Asia.

Q: What are some of your short and long term goals?

A: Our short term goal is to significantly improve our profitability. To close that margin gap to our competitors which we have. Which is also the reason why some of our investors have agitated for the spin off in order to basically unlock that value. So the short term goal is to really increase profitability. And the long term goal is to once again become the leader in our industry.

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