“aktuell”: Professor Viessmann, the anniversary year 2017 was marked by a series of top-class events. What do you personally remember most?
Professor Dr. Martin Viessmann: The visit by our chancellor Angela Merkel to the inauguration of the “Technikum” will certainly go down in the history of our company. I was deeply impressed by her speech, in which she highlighted our path over the past 100 years. The moment of the century, when 15 000 employees and their families joined in with our anniversary song at the same time, was very emotional for me. And I was delighted that the international companies also celebrated with great enthusiasm – for example, in China, where I was at the time.
Max Viessmann: I found ISH to be a game-changing event. We had exciting discussions with our customers, and I noticed a great unity in that we want to jointly and resolutely make the most of the opportunities offered by digitalization. I believe that we really flipped the switch with our market partners there. We had many highlights in 2017, also overseas with the Expo in Kazakhstan or the inauguration of the plant in Lipetsk, Russia. But the thing that stands out most for me is the spirit of optimism we are seeing.
“aktuell”: This period is marked by major challenges such as the energy revolution and digitalization. How are you tackling these?
Professor Dr. Martin Viessmann: With great determination and enthusiasm, because we mainly see opportunities in these two big issues. As a technology leader, we are paving the way in the energy revolution and are already offering solutions available on the market with which every system operator can play their part. One such solution is the highly innovative fuel cell technology, which this issue of “aktuell” is focusing on. The even greater challenge, however, is digitalization, which is also a prerequisite for the energy revolution.
Max Viessmann: Yes, certainly. Whether heating and cooling technology, power supply, or transport – technology has always improved people’s quality of life. It’s no different in the context of the Internet of Things. Therefore, every Viessmann product will be digital or have digital components, as is often already the case today. Through connectivity, the need for a heating system update or a new system can be determined based on data. If you focus on the possibilities digitalization presents, our market partners have excellent opportunities to expand their own business. But if they fail to do so, digitalization harbors a great risk, as new, agile players are moving into our markets and trying to occupy customer interfaces at low cost and high speed. We have to find answers to this, and I think we are well on the way, with tools such as the heating calculator or Vitoguide.
A different corporate culture cannot simply be ordered
“aktuell”: You are talking about external opportunities. How quickly is digital transformation progressing in the company?
Max Viessmann: First of all: for us, digitalization is not an end in itself, but the prerequisite for achieving sustainable growth together with our market partners in the future. We are not only using digital solutions to become better at what we do. Above all, we are using them to be different to how we were in the past.
Overall, we are driving digitalization forward on three levels: on the one hand, we are creating a forward-looking, entrepreneurial culture and digitalizing all relevant internal processes in the existing core business. On the other, we are developing new digital products and entrepreneurial models that expand the existing core business. And, finally, we are investing in new business areas, in particular in “deep-tech”, which includes artificial intelligence. We are aware that digital transformation can only succeed if we make our employees fit for the challenges that lie ahead. There is little point in telling employees that everything is different now. It is much more important that they are part of the process.
“aktuell”: That sounds like a comprehensive cultural change. How far is Viessmann with this?
Professor Dr. Martin Viessmann: Indeed, we are working very hard to change our corporate culture, specifically in such a way that it not only allows creativity and personal responsibility, but also fosters these and thus propels innovation. We need to move away from a hierarchical management culture towards a permeable organization that encourages pioneers at all levels. That means, away from waiting for decisions “from the top” towards more personal responsibility. Away from the dominance of the headquarters towards more freedom in the regional markets. Away from a purely engineering-driven company towards a customer-oriented company. And, last but not least, away from dubiousness towards enthusiasm for the new, especially the digital.
My son emphasized how crucial it is to get employees on board in this fundamental change. The changing of an established, practiced corporate culture cannot be “ordered” from above. Nor can it be achieved by glossy brochures, but only by internalizing and living by values. We have made considerable progress in this regard: the spirit of optimism expressed in our anniversary motto can be felt throughout the company. I am therefore very confident about the future – not only in view of the course we have set.
“aktuell”: Does this confidence also apply to our industry? Which topics are becoming important, and how can our market partners adapt to them?
Max Viessmann: Our industry has always adapted to people’s needs – Viessmann is a prime example of this: we have always mastered changes big and small, even entire structural changes. However, this was mostly about improving a part of the value chain, for example, improving production by introducing lean production.
Digitalization, however, is different because it affects everything. Markets, opportunities, and risks change in very rapid succession, and our aim is to play a central role in this speed of change together with our market partners. One example: in the past, our customers from the heating trade delivered the product and largely left the life cycle to the end customer. Today, they can offer additional services, for example, through networked heating systems. Ideally, therefore, they are able to detect a fault in the heating system before it malfunctions and the system operator is left in the cold. With Christmas coming up, this is an ideal situation, don’t you think?
The path we at Viessmann are taking is “digitalization made in Germany.” Based on partnership, sustainable, and committed to mutual success.
“aktuell”: Much is changing, also in politics. What expectations do you have of the future government in Germany?
Professor Dr. Martin Viessmann: If the energy revolution is to succeed, it is crucial that the modernization backlog in existing buildings is cleared. This in turn requires a reliable framework. Fair competition for the best technical solutions must be possible; only then can the great innovative power of industry be harnessed. It is also important that policymakers set the course for digitalization. This includes not only the rapid expansion of broadband Internet access. It is also important for digitalization to become even more widespread in education. This should begin as early as elementary school or – through playing – in kindergarten, and should continue into university and working life.
“aktuell”: And finally, one personal question for you both: what are your wishes as Viessmann starts out in its second century?
Professor Dr. Martin Viessmann: It is our common goal to ensure that Viessmann remains an independent and autonomous family-owned company in the long term. Above all, we want to be a reliable partner for customers and employees. By working in partnership with specialist tradesmen to make the most of the opportunities that lie ahead, we will further strengthen our market partnership that has proven a success over many decades. The successful transition to the next generation is a key factor in this, and I am grateful that we are on a very good path here.
Max Viessmann: It fills me with great joy that my father puts his trust in me and that I can shape the change with him. We are both aware that our culture has to be strategy-driven, and change here is essential. I am thrilled that our employees are very committed to the process and are increasingly helping to drive change themselves.
But you asked me about my wishes. I would like our industry to look back at this time in many years to come and say: we showed how to do “digitalization made in Germany” the right way – based on partnership, sustainable, and committed to mutual success.