Renate Pilz: “Knowledge is not constrained to one country”

by | Feb 7, 2018 | Corporates & Start-ups, In BaWü

The automation and safety specialist Pilz is a very typical Baden-Württemberg company: family owned, very international and a technology leader. Renate Pilz – owner and for decades the driving force of internationalization at Pilz – on the values which motivate her global teams and have lead to long-term success. 

How did Pilz survive the crisis in 2009 and the regional crises in Southern Europe or Russia?

The crisis was a period of severe upheavals for all of us. First the extreme drop, then the recovery – this was something we had not witnessed before. One of the reasons why Pilz was able to record the growth it has since then is that we did not have to cut any jobs during the crisis. For which, by the way, we also have to thank the government and our collective bargaining partners for their far-sightedness and decent response back then.

“We did not have to cut any jobs during the crisis”

As a company, Pilz strives for long-term success. We build development and production expertise and capacity in house to ensure they are sustainable. Our strategic aim is to pick up innovative ideas and run with them over the long term. So we were very well positioned after the crisis and were able to grasp the opportunities.

As far as Southern Europe and Russia are concerned: Pilz has a portfolio that enables it to thrive even in countries where the general economic environment is difficult. Although economic constraints may slow down investment in new machinery, they also increase the demand for automation solutions that improve the efficiency and safety of existing machinery and systems.

How do you approach the world markets? How important are coincidental moments, personal factors, temporary opportunities?

We take our time when setting up national subsidiaries and build them steadily. As a family business, we strive to ensure that the same management principles apply in our subsidiaries as we practice them in Germany. The best way to achieve this is to recruit management and staff from the country itself. They bring a functioning network and existing contacts; they know the mentality – after all, it is their own. And what is maybe most important of all: our managers and staff speak the same language as our local customers. Direct customer contact is essential to learn exactly what it is they want and to then satisfy these requirements well.

“International staff know the mentality – after all, it is their own”

Where do you see Pilz vis-à-vis global competition – which markets are home to your fiercest competitors?

Pilz is able not only to supply its customers with individual components and systems, but to also offer them added value with integrated and safe automation solutions. Services are a key element here. The quality of the support we give customers throughout the entire life cycle of a machine or system is unparalleled the world over. As a global ambassador of safety, Pilz wants to raise awareness of safety everywhere – even in countries that do not have appropriate standards and regulations governing mechanical and operational safety. Around the globe, companies are becoming increasingly aware that safety is a worthwhile aim for reasons of cost efficiency and not just to prevent injury. At Pilz, we have therefore made it our mission to work with research institutions and the public sector to create a culture that fosters the protection of humans, machines and the environment.

What do you see as the main criteria for success when building an efficient sales and distribution structure?

Since the 1960s, Pilz has been building not just a global sales and distribution network but also a competence network. Ireland-based Pilz International Service Group coordinates international projects, such as certifying systems operated by major producers in the consumer goods sector. Pilz can take local knowledge and apply it across borders, and is not constrained within a country. This ability to transfer knowledge is what sets Pilz apart and makes us the ideal partner for multinational corporations.

“I am always pleased to see how well we work together with so many different cultures in our company with its 40 subsidiaries.”

Now that sales and distribution, service and production have gone abroad – are they soon to be followed by parts of R&D? Is in-depth knowledge going to be kept in house, here in Germany?

Pilz has brought the development and production of its core products together under one roof at its headquarters. This close collaboration and proximity are key to bring products to market quickly and smoothly. All of the departments receive ongoing feedback about their work, and are learning more about what their colleagues do. Transparency is improving. There are fewer interface problems between individual groups. So the proximity is both physical and mental. And in keeping with our “Local for Local” strategy, we want our manufacturing facilities to be located where the products are used, such as China, in order to reduce transportation that pollutes the environment, for example. We have brought all the production-related departments together in our new Production and Logistics Centre, which now houses not only production technology and quality management, but also purchasing and IT. This enables us to ensure a seamless flow of information from customer right through to production, just as it should be in Industry 4.0.

What role does the shortage of experts play in this respect? Is global sourcing becoming more important?

The most important assets of any company are its staff and the underlying philosophy that employees can relate to, as well. We are increasingly noticing that applicants are consciously opting for Pilz simply because we are a family-run company with corresponding values and a philosophy to match. When experts are in short supply, it is the soft facts that tip the balance in favour of a company. Fifteen or so years ago, we were having problems finding software engineers, so I investigated where the training courses were taking place what we needed, and found a college in Ireland. I went over there for a closer look and decided to set up a subsidiary since – back then – as an SME we could not afford to bring these people to Germany. Looking back, I am very glad I made that decision as I feel it is better to give people the opportunity to work in their native country so as not to uproot them and their families.

“Learning from other cultures is always something that enables a company to evolve and constitutes a real asset”

How do you integrate your global teams? What do you see as the most important element in your corporate culture?

Just as common rules and accepted behaviours govern our private lives together, so companies are built on a foundation of shared values. At Pilz, these values stem from our Christian faith. The values we practice include mutual appreciation and respect in our dealings with each other and especially with other cultures. I am always pleased to see how well we work together with so many different cultures in our company with its 40 subsidiaries. Learning from other cultures is always something that enables a company to evolve and constitutes a real asset. At Pilz, innovation is a central part of our corporate strategy as we believe that technology leadership is the only way to secure market leadership. For years, we have been continuously investing 20 percent or more of our revenues in research and development.

The interview was first published 2016 in “Krise, welche Krise”.