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More than Business Acquitances


30 years as business acquaintances and 30 years as close friends; the friendship between the CEO of ABL-Laatat, Ralf Forsman, and the regional manager of Agrob Buchtal, Rolf Klebl, has lasted for decades. The friendship was first sealed during the mid-80’s when the pair packed up a bus with ceramic tiles and headed up North.

 -We were on a week-long road show in Northern Finland and travelled by bus from one town to another. We organized tile seminars in hotels along the way. Ralf recalls

- I had only one wish when we set off on our journey: to spot at least one moose!” Rolf laughs. He adds:”But our road shows were in fact a huge success! The seminars were always full and the audience was genuinely interested.” He wonders if the same would be possible today: work life has become more hectic and time is always limited, also for architects.

German tile manufacturer Agrob Buchtal, for whom Rolf Klebl has been employed for his whole working career, has been a vital part of ABL’s history - the German factory even lends its name to ABL’s initials. Even to this day Buchtal is one of the principal factories for ABL, especially in the fields of ceramic facades and swimming pools. Over the past decades Rolf, as a representative for ABL, has closely followed the ongoing journey of the Finnish company from a small three person family business to one of the leading players in the Finnish ceramic tile industry, now with dozens of employees. All the while, the friendship of the two almost namesakes has strengthened throughout the years.

Family comes First

When Ralf and Rolf are asked what unites then outside of work, the answer is immediate: they share the same values.

 -For us, family is always most important, it preempts everything else, the men both state.

When the children were young, the two families often visited each other both in Finland and in Germany - many a time the whole gang was gathered around the same dining table. Now that all five children have grown up, visits are less frequent but contact between the families is constant, especially now that Ralf’s children Henri, Maria and Erika have joined the family company.

Rolf Klebl is pleased that the next generation is gladly part of continuing ABL’s legacy and traditions. Family businesses are becoming more rare, even in this field, and Rolf finds this unfortunate. - In bigger firms I rarely even meet the senior management. ABL does not have a similar hierarchy and decisions are made very quickly, he praises.

A big fan of Finland

Responsible for the Nordic countries, Rolf Klebl visits Finland approximately twice a year. In 30 years he has become quite the expert in all things Finnish - and also a great fan of Finland. Even though we are quite an introverted nation, Rolf can name many things which make our country unique:

-The beautiful nature and lakes, the sauna, fishing, relaxing in front of a campfire - I enjoy it all. And you don’t need to travel far from the city to find these things, everything is close by.

When Rolf Klebl turned 40, Ralf surprised him with a hiking trip to Lapland. This began a yearly tradition of spending an extended weekend hiking and fishing in either Finland or Germany. As a matter of fact, fishing was in the plans on the day this interview was conducted. When our time together was over, the pair immediately took off for a fishing trip to Tammisaari. I could almost wager that later that evening, the wood-fired sauna was crackling away.