How did it come about that you became CEO of Netcetera? Did you apply or what was the procedure?
No, I didn’t apply. I was asked by the Board of Directors whether I could imagine doing so. After my "yes" there were interviews with everything that goes with it, and because they decided in favor of me, I’m there now.
How long did you have to think before you accepted?
Less than the usual 24 hours. The moment was right for me to do something new, and I was totally up for it. But I admit that I was a bit surprised by the request.
So it was a gut decision?
On the one hand, yes, but on the other hand, my professional intuition, which I have developed, also helped. I know myself quite well and have been with myself for a while (laughs).
How do you organize your family life?
My family lives in Tübingen, and I live in Zurich during the week. Because my children are still growing up, we are waiting to make the definitive move.
How have you settled in after 100 days in Switzerland and at Netcetera?
Switzerland is not a new experience for me. I was already here for three-quarters of a year in my old role at IBM. At Netcetera, I used the first 100 days to visit and get to know as many employees as possible at different locations. Likewise, I exchanged ideas with large customers.
Due to your time at G+D and its minority stake in Netcetera, you already knew the company, albeit from a different perspective. Did anything still surprise you?
Netcetera's high quality and ability to deliver. I haven't seen a single "red project" here. I was also pleasantly surprised by the company's reputation and the commitment of its employees.
Were there any negative surprises?
It seems to me that Netcetera sometimes has a hard time saying "no" to something and stopping projects that don't work. That's why it makes sense to look at our portfolio and see if we want to continue with all of them as before.
And do you want to?
There are a few areas in our company that we could say "no" to.
What are they?
It would be too early to name them. That's also because we still have to reach a few internal agreements first.
What issues have you already tackled in the first 100 days?
I've already had several meetings about strategy development for the next three years. We reached triple digits for the first time last year, and now we are working intensively on how to proceed.
What topics are we talking about?
For example, our operating model. Do we want to change our structure? Do we want to be leaner and more clearly structured? And what should our vision be? Answering these questions is a team task. I'm a big fan of CI - collective intelligence.
Become leaner? That sounds like job cuts.
No, there will be no mass layoffs. Of course, we're also keeping an eye on how business is developing compared with headcount. But so far, we've seen a nice upward growth curve.
Conversely, did any employees leave since you started?
With the kind of upheavals we've experienced, terminations are normal. It's important to me to bring the employees along with us through clear and open communication. And as far as I can tell, the leavings have not increased disproportionately since I took up my post.
What will the future look like regarding cooperation with the majority shareholder G+D, whom you know very well from your 6 years on the job?
It is important to understand: Netcetera is independent, responsible for its customers, and is also responsible for the business autonomously. Of course, we will now introduce some reporting and standardize some processes to adapt to G+D a bit, but the main focus is on the opportunities we have. With G+D in the background, we have new opportunities at Netcetera, for example, in terms of inorganic growth.
How much G+D is still in you, or how much of it have you already shed?
I think there's more IBM in me than G+D because I worked there for three times as long. But of course, I know both sides and can explain who benefits from this collaboration. That helps to ensure that it is better understood internally.
I'm particularly interested in why the majority takeover happened so quickly. The original 5-year plan has become a 2-year plan.
There were many internal discussions, but I was not present. That's why I don't want to say anything about it. Nor can I judge whether it happened quickly or whether it was perhaps even the right time. That is for those to judge who were involved.
How should Netcetera develop in the future: Slowly and sustainably as before or in the direction of profit maximization? What is the optimal way?
There is a lot of literature on "growth vs. profitability". In my previous positions, I have always managed to achieve both with the respective teams. That's why it's my ambition to do the same here. But the concept of sustainability should not be forgotten.
What do you mean by that?
There are not only productivity gains but also sustainability gains. For example, I ask myself whether software can also be programmed so that it requires less CPU power. I find that exciting, and it's a topic we'll explore in greater depth with various universities. I will also address the issue of buying certificates to offset our CO2 consumption. We want to have a clear strategy for this.
This interview was published in German on inside-it.ch on 28 April 2023.