Nissen Elektrobau – Signs of success

Wherever roads are being repaired, re-surfaced or extended, a company in Schleswig-Holstein makes sure the traffic keeps on flowing. It also operates worldwide, and has done so for decades. If you were to drive right across Schleswig-Holstein from Kiel to Tönning – a journey of only around one hundred kilometres due to the proximity of both coastlines – you would no doubt pass a large number of warning signs, flashing arrows, beacons, cones, safety equipment, lighting systems and lights, barriers and other signals along the way. Behind the wheel, you’d barely notice them. However, on arriving at the premises of Adolf Nissen Elektrobau on Friedrichstädter Chaussee in Tönning, the people there would explain that, in all likelihood, many of the signs and signals you passed were manufactured by their company. 

The reason for this is that Nissen has long been the European market leader in its field. Wherever roads are being repaired, re-surfaced or extended, and wherever traffic is diverted around hazardous locations and along contraflows, the Tönning-based company ensures that everything keeps running smoothly. In short, they are specialists in mobile traffic safety products – from simple warning lights to intelligent LED systems, Nissen offers a solution for every conceivable scenario. “Ultimately,” says managing director Dieter Wade, “most of the things that flash or blink on the roads were invented by us.” Following its founding over a century ago, the company initially took the “scenic route” by way of a diversion into the countryside, so to speak. Before turning its attention to the world’s roads, Nissen’s primary focus was the cattle pastures of Northern Germany. In 1914, company founder Adolf Nissen began developing car ignition systems, for which he filed patents in several countries. When his son Gerd returned from war captivity in Canada in 1947, he brought with him a duffel bag full of cigarettes and also a business idea – Gerd had noticed that the farmers across the Atlantic were using electric fences to secure their fields. And so father and son set out to construct their own fence system (their starting capital was the duffel bag full of cigarettes) which they could sell to the local farms. Although things ran smoothly for a while, the Nissens later faced intense competition and so decided to embark on a parallel venture. Their gaze turned from the fields to the roads – where they saw an abundance of roadworks. Immediately after the war everything was, of course, still rather desolate; the road surfaces were so damaged everywhere that it was impossible to drive after dark. Therefore, when the Nissens filed a patent for the first electric warning light in 1954, they were hardly taking a shot in the dark. And so it all started with their flashing lights, which were a genuine world first. Today, the company has three factories in Tönning alone and a workforce of 380 people. Its customers include motorway maintenance depots, construction companies and road authorities – the whole shebang. Nissen Elektrobau is active worldwide and has sales offices all over Europe. 

And in the future? ‘For us too, the digital transformation is no longer a far-off reality. However, it will remain the biggest challenge in the years to come because it takes place on many levels, from process optimisation to customer communication to value chains. First and foremost, the staff has to keep up with this transformation and get involved. This presents a big but positive challenge for us all,’ says Wade.   

So why set up shop in Tönning? A small town situated at two metres above sea level, with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants, the Eider river and a picturesque harbour – seemingly a curious choice of location for a company whose spiritual home is the world’s multi-lane highways, roads and motorways.

“We have always remained loyal to our region and this location,” says Wade, who trained at Nissen and later studied Electrical Engineering before becoming a partner and managing director in the late seventies. ‘Our company is firmly established in Schleswig-Holstein. What has convinced us about this location are not just the good living conditions and career opportunities that we ourselves and other medium-sized enterprises can offer, but its intact business development, too. The short distances, personal contact, open conversations and feeling that your concerns are heard work fantastically here in the True North. In order for us to promote innovation and development, there are good funding opportunities here that we have also already made use of ourselves. And successfully, too.’

The whole company has also become a personal beacon for many of its employees – they like living here in Tönning, many completed their training at Nissen, the staff turnover is very low, and managing director Wade is not alone in feeling that this all adds up to a great quality of life. Of course, it also helps that Nissen is based in a region where many people choose to spend their holidays. The popular seaside spa town of St. Peter Ording is only a twenty-minute drive away – or half an hour if you want to strap your surfboard to the roof rack first. 

Adolf Nissen Elektrobau GmbH + Co. KG

  • Location: Tönning
  • Employees: 380
  • Founded: 1914
  • Branche: Mechanical and electrical engineering
  • Service: Development and production of LED information boards, computer-based traffic control systems, construction site protection
  • More

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