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January 2008 Issue

Atlas Shrugging
Gründer's CEO on war, peace, and the weight of the world on his business.

Johann Seiler has lived as colorful a life as the company he runs. The CEO of Gründer Industries has restored his company from the brink of the post-fascist collapse to its former place among the titans of the global arms industry. Yet the trend of global disarmanent hasn't dampened Seiler's optimism, nor his company's growth. The company is expected to post record profits heading into 2009, buoyed by contracts from both Osea and Yuktobania as well as several recovering Usean nations.

GAZE met Seiler during the Expo City Airshow (X-Air) earlier this month. East Usea correspondent Kirk Baxter (KB) sat down with him (JS) and got a look into the CEO's mindset.

KB: Let's begin with a little history. You were fairly high up in the company hierarchy when the National Worker's Party was elected in 1991.

JS: I was actually in charge of one of the main aircraft component assembly lines. It wasn't that high up. We license-built parts for many of the big names in aviation then, including Yuktobania's, and those were also integrated into our air force.

KB: But did you ever make aircraft yourselves?

JS: Not necessarily. We did create a forward swept-wing model with Sukhoi but as you know, we only completed a few before the anarchists and North Point military hardliners stole our prototypes.

KB: Of course, you were actually a member of the National Worker's Party?

JS: It's not something that I'm proud of, but yes. We were all required to be members in order to keep our jobs at the Munitionsfabrik [South Belkan Munitions Factory]. I was not exempted from that rule. Some were enthusiastic about it, others simply found it a necessity.

KB: Others like yourself.

JS: Certainly. Gründer is to Sudentor what Neucom is to Farbanti, Boeing to Jefferson City, and so on. The great industrial cities have always been proud of their home companies like they are proud of their football team. It is their heart, their lifeblood. It is what keeps their cities alive.

KB: One of the Seven Pillars nuclear devices went off right behind your facilities though.

JS: A tragedy, no doubt, but I am proud to say that we have gotten up from that day. It was a long struggle but we have gotten back on our feet.

KB: Speaking of that day, of course, the question we all asked ourselves is where were we when it happened?

JS: I was at home with my family in the suburbs, hunkering down for the imminent allied assault. The military evacuated everyone ahead of time so they could use weapons that were literally fresh off the assembly line. But we never expected that the leadership would actually do something like that.

KB: And how did it make you feel?

JS: I guess I felt the same way everyone else in the world did. We were stunned, afraid...frightened. And ironically, we were united in that fear. A lot of us hoped that this was really the fascists' last gasp for breath, and that their downfall would bring a new, more optimistic era for our country.

KB: History turned out otherwise, of course. South Belka became North Osea, and North Belka fell under Yuktobanian control for several years.

JS: I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed. And I understand why many of us from South Belka would feel betrayed. But reverting to domestic terrorism caused more problems than it solved. After more than a decade of hardship, I have come to believe living well is the best revenge.

KB: And you don't think you're betraying your heritage by attaining Osean citizenship?

JS: I was able to maintain dual Osean-Belkan citizenship. It certainly helps me get through both countries' immigration easier. [laughs] But I believe that our work in restoring Sudentor has helped the company regain the trust of our people, not just our workers.

KB: Not long after you took control of the company you decided to establish ties with Yuktobania. And this was already when the AN had Yuke troops in North Belka.

JS: Well, the old saying is good business is where you find it. Our company had a history of cooperation with Yuktobania prior to the nationalization, and with Yuke military leaders looking to tap into our industry, you could say we already found it.

KB: So it was all just a matter of calling them up again.

JS: I would think so. I would have wanted matching red and blue phones on my desk for the two leaders like Bright Hill. [laughs] But really, the improving relations between the rivals meant twice as much business for us. Why should we turn down such an opportunity?

KB: Because their disarmament policies would mean less business for you as a weapons company.

JS: Well, some would say it's an obstacle but as a businessman I see it as a challenge. The governments want fewer troops, but at the same time both of them want to show they are still capable of defending themselves into the new century. So modernization is key.

KB: And you don't see any potential conflict of interest with it? Helping two rival superpowers that is.

JS: On the contrary, it's given us a prime opportunity to hand out an olive branch. We've already helped supply much of the information technology to the joint Space Bridge project. That trickles down into civilian projects, and that ends up paying dividends on our initial investment.

KB: Plans for the future?

JS: I can assume people have already noticed that we've been building into the mountains, and all I can say is because the city's grown so quickly since the end of the war that it's the only place we can test our newest technologies away from the usual prying eyes.

KB: Technology such as...

JS: I'd tell you, but you know how that other old saying goes. But apart from what we're already showing off at ExAir, we are looking into the next generation of flight technology, allowing the pilot to become more aware of their surroundings with as little visual blockage as possible from the control panels. It's a tough balance to achieve with these increasingly sophisticated machines.

KB: So, who would you believe are your competitors in this field? Or rather, who do you think these prying eyes would be?

JS: Apart from rival spy agencies? I should say Neucom, of course. They may raise eyebrows with their radical technology ideas but they have the backing of the Erusean industrial complex and the know-how that nearly conquered the continent. Fortunately in this new age I hope that we should see the competition of the free market prove more constructive than before when it comes to technology.

KB: And on the contrary, anybody you admire in particular?

JS: I do like what that man [Newfield Cartel* CEO Francis] Mondeci is doing in growing small businesses and education in Usea, though I wish he could be more willing to accommodate larger players into his fold. Nevertheless, he did a marvelous job at filling the crater on Shinda Island** and perhaps it would be nice if he could try the same with one of our own.

KB: Finally, returning to Belka. Do you ever see yourself returning to your homeland, perhaps in a reunified state?

JS: Who doesn't? For all our differences, one Belka cannot survive without the other. What the old fascists did years ago left scars on this very planet that may never heal, just like the asteroids. But we can stitch the wound with bridges to heal rifts. Mondeci proves we can even bring new life out of craters. Perhaps...reunification really isn't that difficult to achieve if we put our minds to it.

KB: Thank you for sitting down with us, Mr. Seiler.

JS: Call me Johann. And it was a pleasure talking with you.

*The Newfield Cartel was the informal name given to a group of investors that appeared after the Usean Continental War and invested heavily in rebuilding the devastated ISAF countries. The network of businesses they raised would go on to form the General Resource group, which would serve as an umbrella association for the companies until their total integration in the 2020s.

**Shinda translates to Newfield in the North Point language. It was referred to as Newfield by most Usean countries following North Point's defeat during the Second World War, but was officially referred to as Shinda again following the end of the Usean Continental War and North Point's contributions to ISAF.