As we reflect on the changes made to the world, and the specific impact to our industry, we celebrate those that turned challenges into opportunity. In this brief interview, our current CEO shares his thoughts on what makes a company successful in this very tumultuous landscape.
Thomas Herrmann on his first year as CEO of the Elma Group
Mr. Herrmann, you were appointed CEO of the Elma Group in April 2020, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. You had to familiarize yourself with your new role, while at the same time lead a company through the worst economic crisis in decades. How did you deal with this?
First of all, I was impressed by how the employees of the Elma Group worldwide mastered the great challenges associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. Good protective measures were introduced and have been continuously adapting and improving amongst all Elma companies.
My start was, of course, extremely unusual, especially since the planned visits to our companies and customers in Europe, USA and Asia could not take place physically. We compensated for this through many virtual meetings and digital company tours, which quickly gave me a first impression of the strengths of the various locations, and also some weaknesses.
Interestingly, the virtual medium has enormously strengthened and accelerated the global dialogue. Nevertheless, I am looking forward to meeting our customers and employees in person soon.
In your opinion, which positive experiences and developments were particularly significant?
I’m very proud that we were able to make an important contribution to the public healthcare in 2020 with our technologies, products and our agility.
We supplied a large number of rotary switches for ventilator machines in the medical sector at short notice; this was a major contribution to ensuring that hospitals in Europe and Southeast Asia received this essential equipment. We also were able to develop and manufacture a disinfection device for a customer in Switzerland that was used in the Zurich region to disinfect buses, laboratories and medical practices.
You describe the 2020 business year as “turbulent” but also “solid”. Are you satisfied with the performance in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic?
Our customers have remained loyal; the defense sector has proven to be stable and the decline in orders in the industrial sector was largely compensated for by the medical and transportation sectors.
The company’s results are indeed presentable. We slightly increased net sales and order income was adjusted for currency effects. At the same time, we reduced operating expenses and generated a higher EBIT and net profit.
I’m convinced that global companies survive when they operate with agility and customer-orientation in this “new normal” environment. I’m motivated every day to strengthen the global team approach and the know-how transfer between the companies of the Elma Group as well as related solutions for additional customer segments.
Digitization will radically change companies, economics, politics and society. It’s the very foundation for future commercial success. Digitization and networking offer great opportunities, yet they also present us with challenges. At Elma, we continued to invest in digitization in 2020, and also in automation and productivity optimization. This applies to all areas - from production to engineering, communications and administration.
How do you recover from your demanding job as CEO, especially during a pandemic?
I believe I have a special hobby: during the summer months, I am a passionate beekeeper, looking after my bee colonies. I also enjoy engaging in sports with my family; I love skiing in winter and biking in summer. On rainy days, I live out my creative side by painting and sculpting.
Thomas Herrmann holds a mechanical engineering degree from the ETH Zurich (Switzerland), with an executive MBA from the University of St. Gallen (Switzerland) and University of Toronto (Canada). He has held various management positions with Alstom Power and GE Power over the last several years, his last position there as general manager of Industrial Steam Turbines at GE Power.