10.05.2023 | Happy 20th birthday, Axpo Deutschland!

“Service with the passion of a start-up”

Twenty years ago, Axpo opened its office in Leipzig. Since then, the German subsidiary has grown to 36 talented and passionate energy professionals and has become a key player in the country’s energy market. In addition to its strong focus on origination and renewables, Axpo Deutschland also ranks as one of the country’s leading power traders. To celebrate this milestone, we spoke to Managing Director Johannes Pretel, who’s been at the helm since October 2022. In this interview, he reflects on the early days of Axpo Deutschland, market developments, and the team’s unique positioning in the market.

Axpo entered the German energy market 20 years ago. How has it evolved since then? What did Axpo bring to the table during those early years?

Although I will soon have been working at Axpo for 13 years, I wasn’t there at the beginning when Axpo was established here. EGL Deutschland GmbH, as we were then called, was set up in 2003 when we opened our first office in Leipzig. As is usually the case with Axpo, we started with a small local team that focused on electricity supplies and services for distributors and municipal utilities in Germany.

It was only in 2009 that we decided to open another office in Düsseldorf. This marked the transition from a more sales-oriented approach to a focus on origination. We were able to win large industrial customers as clients and partners for the first time in addition to distributors and municipal utilities. In 2010, I started my career at Axpo in Düsseldorf as an originator.

Are there any highlights that you fondly remember?

When I joined Axpo, I was planning to stay with the company for about five years. Since then, almost 13 years have passed. One of the reasons for my long tenure is that I’ve been able to experience outstanding opportunities for development with Axpo and, above all, with the team in Germany. Together, we’ve reached many significant milestones.

Back in the day, we mainly traded and sold conventional electricity, produced from non-renewable resources. Over the years, however, we’ve been able to expand our business to include gas and, more recently, power purchase agreements (PPAs) and green electricity generated from renewable resources. I can still remember the onboarding of our first gas customer, a company that has remained loyal to us to this day and has even expanded its business relationship with Axpo to other countries over the years. Since then, business with pan-European customers has developed into a real success model for Axpo.

I also have fond memories of our first supply customer in Austria, for which Axpo Deutschland handled the supply. And, last but not least, we concluded the first major long-term electricity supply to an industrial customer in Germany, which I was able to support personally at the time. Those were very hectic but exciting times which ultimately laid the foundations for our long-term pan-European business.

Of course, in 20 years we haven’t just celebrated success. We’ve also had many challenges and market changes. But even if these haven’t always generated business results for us, I feel they have helped create a stronger team.

Johannes Pretel: "We’ve had many challenges and market changes".
How has Axpo Deutschland’s team and business developed in recent years?

Of course, Axpo in Germany has also changed considerably in terms of personnel over the years. The team has now grown to 36 people and is still in two locations in Leipzig and Düsseldorf. In response to the high level of competition and the corresponding pressure on margins in Germany, we are now concentrating more on the origination business, that is the more complex and much more tailored energy contracts. The team has adapted accordingly, employing, for example, more portfolio managers than originators, which in my opinion is rather unusual for a ‘sales office’. In risk management and the processing of complex transactions, we have also developed strongly, enabling us to generate stable income in the future.

Today, we have access to a wide variety of training and study specialisations and a healthy mix of entry-level professionals and colleagues with lots of experience. We also have a high number of female colleagues for the energy industry, with almost half the proportion of women to men. When hiring new staff, for me, it is always important to engage people from a wide variety of profiles and backgrounds. This is the only way we can ensure that our work is still ‘challenged’, even after 20 years, and that we don’t fall into well-worn patterns of behaviour.

How have your services and products changed in the past two decades?

In Germany, as in many other European countries, Axpo occupies an almost unique position in the market. Our teams are relatively small in terms of numbers. Yet, thanks to the financial strength of the Axpo Group, we’re able to undertake energy business that is often regarded as the bread and butter of larger trading companies, most of which have local roots. Accordingly, our products and services are increasingly focused on complex business opportunities that are certainly large in terms of trading volume and turnover.

How is Axpo Deutschland contributing to the group’s strategy?

The abolition of Germany’s renewable energy subsidy for older wind power plants and, of course, increased energy prices meant we were finally able to conclude our first short- to medium-term PPAs in Germany over the past two years. In Europe, Axpo is traditionally strong in the marketing of renewable energies, so I’m delighted that we’re now seeing this in Germany.

We have also built a small team in Germany around the construction and marketing of batteries and, for the first time, our own PV projects. This is slowly starting to show results.

All three topics, the marketing of renewable energies as well as the operation and construction of battery storage systems and PV plants, are anchored in both the group and local strategy.

Why do customers like working with Axpo in Germany?

I believe that in Germany we have retained some of the commitment, fun and above all the passion of a start-up, even though we’ve been here as a company for 20 years. We have been granted a great deal of freedom and entrepreneurial independence by the Axpo Group to individually adapt to the German market. Rarely does one financial year resemble the previous one. Admittedly, this often presents us with operational challenges, but on the other hand it does allow us to remain dynamic and flexible. Perhaps my experience is a good example of this – even after 13 years at Axpo I still feel challenged and believe I can develop even further with the company.

I hope our customers, some of whom have been loyal to us for more than 15 years, can also feel the benefits of this flexibility and passion.

The company has grown significantly. How would you describe Axpo Deutschland’s culture? And how do you ensure that Axpo remains an attractive employer?

Axpo is a dynamic and adaptable company and I am still thrilled that we have retained those qualities to this day. We have grown a lot in terms of personnel and, of course, we are also subject to some corporate directives and structures in Germany. But we would still all fit into one classroom! So I hope we’ll be able to maintain this dynamic and practical ‘hands-on’ mentality in the future.

I still see a very high level of intrinsic motivation and enthusiasm among my colleagues, and would like this culture to continue for the next 20 years. Ultimately, I think this is the only way we can remain an attractive employer. The job market is changing a lot and we won't be able to attract young talent just by offering salaries in line with the market. We look for and rely on passion, enjoyment of the work and personal identification with what the Axpo Group has thankfully allowed us to shape independently in Germany.

Last but not least, how do you relax after a challenging day at work?

With my two daughters, aged 7 and 2, and my new role as managing director, I have actually had much less time for hobbies recently. However, I’m confident that I’ll find more time again in the future, especially for sports activities. I'm particularly fond of golf, a hobby that I've discovered can unfortunately take up a lot of time… (laughs). 

Johannes Pretel

With almost 17 years of experience in the German energy market, Johannes Pretel started his career as an Originator with Alpiq in Germany. After three years, he then joined Axpo to build the Origination activities in Germany from the Düsseldorf office. Working in various Origination roles within Axpo, in October 2022 he took over the role of Managing Director of Axpo Deutschland GmbH. Johannes Pretel holds a degree in Economics from the University of Cologne and an MBA from Eastern Illinois University, USA.

Go to Johannes Pretel's LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/johannes-pretel-339a008a/

About Axpo Deutschland

Axpo has been active in energy trading in Germany since 2003. The German subsidiary of Axpo Group, based in Leipzig and Düsseldorf, is one of the leading providers of wind energy and solar plant marketing in Europe's largest electricity market and draws on a wealth of experience in both onshore and offshore wind farms. In addition to the PPA business, Axpo Germany's core competencies include services in the areas of procurement and structuring of electricity and natural gas for industrial companies, power plant operators and redistributors.

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