Generations Interview

We think in longer terms, spanning generations

With Max Viessmann, who joined the company in 2015, the fourth generation has taken up the reins. In his role of Co-CEO, he guides the fortunes of the global Viessmann family in tandem with Joachim Janssen. Supporting him as Chairman of the Board of Directors is his father Martin, who boasts 40 years of operative experience. In this joint interview, father and son describe how they are harnessing the strength of two generations to shape the future of the Viessmann Group.

The image shows Prof. Martin and Max Viessmann in conversation.

As the owners of a family enterprise with a 12700-strong workforce, both of you have a tremendous responsibility resting on your shoulders. How are you able to cope with this pressure?

Martin Viessmann: We clearly have the usual conventional responsibility toward our employees, partners and customers. But, for us, it doesn’t end there. As a family enterprise, sustainability is something very close to our hearts. We want to help ensure our planet remains a safe and hospitable environment for future generations.

Max Viessmann: That’s why, two years ago, we redefined our purpose as a company: “We create living spaces for generations to come.” We enter into this responsibility arm in arm with our trade partners.

A generational change is always accompanied by a change in culture. How has this change manifested itself?

Martin Viessmann: The first major change for me was taking over the company reins from my father. It was an extremely demanding experience. He was a typical company founder – a brilliant entrepreneur who had molded the company to reflect his own precise philosophy. While reorganizing during the early 1990s, the primary aim was to make Viessmann more of an international company. A further objective was to spread the responsibilities across more shoulders. Nevertheless, I regard the current change as even more fundamental than it was then.

Max Viessmann: We are right in the middle of a historic transformation. Together with the transition to alternative energy sources, digitalization is radically changing our company – and society as a whole. We need to generate excitement about these issues among our entire family of employees and actively involve them.

Martin Viessmann: Seeing risks as opportunities and boldly facing an uncertain future is ingrained in our company DNA. This is an ongoing process where communication with our workforce is absolutely crucial. Here too, digitalization is coming to our aid by providing completely new opportunities for communication and training.

How are you communicating your messages within the company?

Max Viessmann: It’s all about breathing life into the three central attributes we aspire to – “responsible, team-oriented and entrepreneurial”. We need to explain what we hold dear, describe what each employee can contribute, and stress how important it is to have a common set of values in order to successfully implement our strategy.

Martin Viessmann: “We create living spaces for generations to come”. The “we” in this sentence isn’t just referring to Max and I – it encompasses every single employee in the entire Viessmann family. We want to encourage people to take on responsibility themselves. Each one of them can, and indeed must, help to breathe life into our company purpose.

How can you tell if your messages are having the desired motivating effect?

Max Viessmann: Every month, we metaphorically “feel the company pulse”. This involves carrying out an online employee survey and organizing our “State of the World Meetings”, in which all 12700 members of the Viessmann family can remotely participate. We discuss all open issues and help practice the values we preach. After all, you can only make the right decisions when you have the right context.

Don't you sometimes think it would be much easier to sell the company than enter into an experiment where the outcome is unclear?

Max Viessmann: Our generational change is not an experiment, it’s a decision guided by our intellect as well as our emotions. We believe this strong generational combination puts us in a great position to meet the challenges of an uncertain future and to exploit opportunities that benefit our company.

Martin Viessmann: On the emotional side, my grandfather founded the company, my father oversaw its expansion and I have continued their work. The driving force has always been a profound sense of responsibility for our family heritage. 

In addition to developing climate and energy solutions, you are also making large-scale investments in other companies, predominantly start-ups. Are you still a medium-sized family enterprise or have you already become a kind of family investor? Or put another way: How much of its core business does Viessmann need?

Martin Viessmann: We believe there is still enormous potential in our core business, and it remains indispensable for putting our company purpose into practice.

Max Viessmann: On top of this, we think it’s advantageous to tap into further business segments and broaden our horizons. That’s why we invest in start-ups that share our interests and values, and also set up start-ups of our own. Satisfying the basic human craving for warmth will always remain an important cornerstone of our strategy.