CEO at Bossard AG since 2017 where he is responsible for the Swiss market. He joined the company in 2013 and was part of the market development group and project lead for company acquisitions. He previously served on the executive committee of a US firm operating in global marketing of IP rights to fastening technology. After completing his degree in economics (University of Applied Sciences HWV) he worked in the commercial sector of a major Swiss bank, where he was responsible for financing of Swiss and international companies.
Watch an extract from the interview
How drastically has the virus affected your company?
Switzerland has not been as hard hit as, for example, Italy, France, Spain, Malaysia or India and entire regions of China where there were strict lockdowns. In Switzerland, we still have some sectors that are doing very well. Individual med tech firms, for instance, are growing beyond average, but also the semiconductor industry is doing well. On the one hand, we’re seeing a surge in the workload for some of our key customers, but then there are also sectors that have collapsed, especially the machine tool construction industry in Western Switzerland but also traditional firms in the mechanical and electrical engineering industries throughout Switzerland. As we also had to send some of our workforce on short-time work, our task now is to balance the increase in activity at companies that are doing well with the collapse in other sectors that made short-time work unavoidable. Short-time work is hugely helpful at the moment in bridging this difficult phase and securing the know-how of all our employees.
What has been particularly challenging for you?
The situation in our technology and logistics center. We couldn’t have those employees work from home, they had to be physically on site. We had to separate teams, put up Plexiglas screens where necessary and equip people with protective gear, basically we had to hermetically seal the buildings. If anyone had become infected, it could have put an entire team out of action. That would have had devastating consequences. In Switzerland we were classified as having a critical systemic function. We received urgent calls from medical technology companies asking us to safeguard supply certainty. For example, if just one low-value C part is unavailable, production can be frozen entirely.
With the benefit of hindsight, what would you do differently?
I would prepare and equip everyone to work from home in advance. That was quite the exercise – essentially asking all our office staff to work from home within 24 hours. We were helped by the fact that we’d already introduced remote working in April 2019 and certain employees were already equipped. We also realized quite quickly that we didn’t have adequate stores of protective gear. But we managed to purchase it in time. This could have been avoided with more consistent implementation of the measures defined in the pandemic plan. Otherwise, we were in fact pretty well prepared. Our company is 189 years old and has experienced many crises over the years. There was no panic or hectic response this time either. The team was calm and professional because we know that we can overcome a crisis like this as well.
Our company is 189 years old and has experienced many crises over the years. There was no panic or hectic response this time either.
How did you get through the first phase of the crisis so successfully?
It’s true – and I’ll admit that I am proud to say this – that we didn’t have a single situation where we were unable to deliver. It’s absolutely thanks to our employees, especially our procurement teams. They pulled off a Herculean feat. Geographical diversification was enormously helpful – we source in over 30 countries – as was our broad delivery base and the long relationships based on trust that we have with our business partners. We never focus on a single supplier and adhere consistently to a dual sourcing strategy. It meant that we could relatively quickly restructure or increase volumes from a supplier in a region affected by lockdown to other suppliers in countries where the supply chain was intact. This also shows how forward-thinking we are in our work. We managed to maintain our target of 97% warehouse availability for standard parts even during the crisis. Thanks to our intelligent, fully automated SmartBin logistics system and the consumption data we get from it, we can predict demand for special parts pretty accurately and plan volumes accordingly. That helped us during the crisis.
Will the crisis trigger changes in your business model?
Our three-level “Proven Productivity” concept is the engine of our success. We remain committed to this proven product-service strategy, comprising sales of fastening technology products, engineering and logistics services. But we are thinking out loud about other digitalization projects, moving away from analog and towards software-based solutions. For example, for some time now we’ve been looking at Smart Factory Assembly, a digitalization project in the production area that ideally complements our range of services along our customers’ value chain. The coronavirus crisis has given various projects an extra boost and has certainly helped push forward acceptance for digital solutions. Our product range and services are continuously being extended through innovative solutions, and we are digitalizing processes and workflows to improve our customers’ competitiveness. But I don’t anticipate any changes to our business model as a result of the crisis right now.
How will you organize your day-to-day work life in the new normal?
Human beings are very sociable creatures and we need real contact with other people. I personally value proximity to my people and prefer face-to-face meetings or the chance to spontaneously visit colleagues in the office rather than writing an email. As we are all close together in the workplace, this works well and is valued. But I can very well imagine that working from home will increase. Coronavirus has definitely given a boost to the remote working model. For our organization, we’ll keep the aspects that worked well before the crisis and continue them in combination with aspects from during the crisis. I predict that we’ll see a mix of increased working from home on the one hand, but I’ll also continue with my efforts to speak to people directly where possible and to maintain personal dialog. What’s difficult to convey digitally, in my opinion, is a company’s cultural values, and these are very close to our heart at Bossard.
How did the crisis change your approach to remote working?
It has certainly helped encourage acceptance for digital solutions. Definitely. And we said, now is a good time, a very good time, to stop doing certain things because everyone pretty much could see that it works. For example, when we introduced working from home, entire departments were telling me there’s no way that will work, it’s impractical. But within 24 hours it was working. And suddenly, meetings were taking place via Teams and Zoom with 30, 40, 50 participants – it worked brilliantly. The evidence is there to prove it. I can well imagine, and I personally would welcome, a mix in future of new possibilities and those from the old world.
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