Manfred Mitreiter – Attitude and Freedom

Manfred Mitreiter has over 20 years of professional experience in the field of innovation and project management. He was Head of Development for 7 years and has been Head of Business Development at Hekatron for the last 7 years. Before that, he worked at Liebherr in Switzerland. In addition, he has a personal blog with regular articles on economy, technology, and fire protection.

Innomaniacs: We are very excited, as this is an interview with a fellow blogger. You publish on your own blog called „mitreiter.de” regularly. Why do you still blog nowadays? 

Manfred Mitreiter: Because I enjoy it und I think that I have something to say. I am more of quiet guy and I rather like to write than to talk. Hence, the blog is an excellent opportunity for me. 

What topics do you cover on your blog? 

I started with technology reviews. I wrote reviews about technological products and then I also started to write about topics that matter to me. That means, I write mostly about topics that are from a business context or about innovation. In my job I am often confronted with trends and the future, and I contemplate a lot about these two topics. In the evening I sometimes sit in front of my computer and think that I should somehow keep track of what I am reading and subsequently I start to write about it. 

When did you start blogging? 

I used to have a blog before the current one, but I decided to discontinue it. My new blog is about 9 months old. 

Maybe you can give our readers a short introduction about yourself? 

I studied electrical engineering in Offenburg. While I wrote my diploma thesis, I was already working at Hekatron. That means, I have worked for Hekatron for a very long time. However, I also worked in Switzerland for two and a half years, but more or less by accident I came back to Hekatron and since 1999 I have worked solely for Hekatron. I have worked in a variety of areas at Hekatron. I started in the development department and I was head of development for 7 years. I also worked in product management and I was involved in international product management.

In 2011 I became responsible for the topic of business development and I established this business area at Hekatron. In 2014 I took over the innovation management and at the moment I am trying to establish the cooperations management, also known as partners management. As a result, I have a worked on a broad range of of topics at Hekatron. In 2008 I completed my MBA at Steinbeis Hochschule. That is my personal history in summarized form. In 1997 I founded a mechanical engineering business with two partners and stereotypically it started in a garage. Today, this business is doing well and it has 30 employees. 

In what field of engineering is that company working? 

The exact area of mechanical engineering is in pipe bending. I used to work in Switzerland at a company that produced diesel engines. This company had huge problems with acquiring bent pipes that were needed for the fuel injector rail of their prototypes. 

For the people who do not know Hekatron yet, could you please explain what your company is producing and state its core business? 

We offer technical fire protection. Our core business are fire alarm systems and smoke detectors. 

PARTNERSHIPS AND COLLABS

One month ago we had an interview with Sevilay Gökkoya from Toyota and she stated that one of the biggest trends at the moment in the automotive branch is collaborations between big players. She told us that key players in direct competition with each other are now noticing that they have to work together and form partnerships to prepare for the digital future of the industry. This trend has created strategic alliances that would not have been formed a few years back. A topic that you have also covered on your blog. Is this something that you are thinking about a lot lately? 

I am currently establishing the cooperation management at Hekatron, because we have also recognized that we cannot survive without cooperating with other firms in the future. Things change very quickly and complexity is rapidly increasing. Even the big companies have problems dealing with change and complexity by only using resources from their own value chain. As a result, they also enter partnerships and cooperate with other firms. For a midsize enterprise it is impossible to survive without cooperation in the future. Therefore, this is a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately. 

“At the moment cooperations are very present in the digital domain and this is further intensified by the digitalization.”

Can you please go into more detail and maybe tell us in what areas there will be the need for cooperations? 

At the moment cooperations are very present in the digital domain and this is further intensified by the digitalization. Everything is getting more digital and many producing firms in the industry do not have the capabilities and the know-how to in their companies to make the right steps towards becoming more digital. Moreover, they do not have the resources to quickly develop the necessary know-how and infrastructure for cloud services and everything else that will come up in the next few years. Therefore, this forces companies in the industry to enter partnerships and to cooperate with others. There are also a lot of other areas in which it makes sense to think about cooperations. For instance, key areas are distribution, marketing and other areas, for example if we want to reach new customer groups for which we currently do not have the size and the leverage. 

“We think a lot about the processes of our customers and how we can give them support through digital solutions.”

What business areas at Hekatron are most digitally disrupted and how does this affect the entire organization? 

Various areas of our business are affected by digital transformation. First of all, we have to change our internal infrastructure, in order to keep up with the pace of digitalization. That means, all internal processes are becoming more and more digital. The reason for more digital internal processes is the goal of increasing the efficiency of the whole organization. In this process we are often confronted by obsolete infrastructure that has to be renewed and this requires a lot of effort and resources. At the moment, we are introducing a new ERP at Hekatron and its implementation will take between two and three years. This is an intensive project and at least one fourth of the entire organization is involved in the establishment of the new program. On the other hand, we also have to provide digital support for our clients. We think a lot about the processes of our customers and how we can give them support through digital solutions. That means, all our digital transformation efforts concentrate on areas that have connections with our products. 

How is it for you to be in a leading position when it comes to implementing innovative concepts at Hekatron? How open are the employees to innovation and are they willing to adapt to demanding changes? 

That is obviously an interesting question. Actually, one week ago I had an interview with a student who writes his master thesis on business model innovation and he asked me the exact same question. I told him that the job of the majority of people in an organization is not to be on the look out for innovation that can be implemented. Most of the time their tasks are standardized and their main responsibility is to work productively, which will ultimately lead to increased profitability of the company. However, it is essential that there are people in every corner of the business that have the freedom and attitude to think about innovation and to work on this topic accordingly. In my opinion it is not that important that the whole organization is involved in innovation. The right people have to be in key positions, in order to ensure that innovative topics are encouraged and supported financially. This often involves negotiations about budgets. 

THE CLARITY OF STRUCTURES

We met at the ZKM in Karlsruhe for this interview. What does architecture mean to you and fascinates you about the Bauhaus School? 

The architectural style of the Bauhaus School is what particularly interests me. Many of the buildings were constructed between 1927 and 1930 and when you look at them it is hard to believe that they are that old. The architectural style of the buildings was ahead of its time by at least 60 or 70 years and this is has always fascinated me. Also the clarity of the structures of the Bauhaus architecture was always very exciting for me. 

Do you still see the influence of the Bauhaus School in the present? Do you think that there will be some kind of return to the clarity and simplicity of the Bauhaus architecture? 

Yes, I think so and you can actually see it in the architecture. As previously mentioned, I am very engaged in this topic and I look closely at the architecture of buildings. Often you still see Bauhaus architecture elements in buildings that are sometimes well constructed and sometimes not. So the Bauhaus architecture is still trendy and also prefab houses show elements of bauhaus architecture elements. 

HYPE IN THE SmartHome MARKET

One topic that is of great significance for you is the SmartHome. How does the house of the future look like? 

If I would only know that. (laughs)

What are the next steps to take on the basis of current developments regarding SmartHomes? 

We have actually distanced ourselves, our smoke detectors and the topic of fire safety from the SmartHome. There was a lot of hype in the SmartHome market for about 6 or 7 years. However, there are no real developments that affect our smoke detectors. We have talked intensively with other firms that have integrated smoke detectors in their SmartHome systems. The quantity of SmartHome systems sold with integrated smoke detectors is negligible and we produce these quantities in 2 days only. That means, this market is not very attractive for us. I think that smoke detectors are not the first product that customers want for their SmartHome. Therefore, we have decided to keep a close eye on this market and its developments, but for now we do not have to act. If this market grows and becomes attractive for then we can still decide how we will respond. Currently, in my opinion the complexity of the systems is a big obstacle and there are way to many interfaces and incompatibilities that make things difficult for us. 

“The quantity of SmartHome systems sold with integrated smoke detectors is negligible and we produce these quantities in 2 days only.”

That means, there needs to be a lot of development on the interfaces and the systems that are being built at the moment, until it makes sense for you to enter the market… 

Yes, there need to be somewhat similar interfaces. However, I do not believe that this will happen in the future. This is a topic that I have studied for more than 20 years and I have to say that in the last 20 years no real standardization of interfaces has occurred. In fact, even more standards have been created. If there are more than 100 standards at some point then there is no real standard at all. Nevertheless, I could imagine that some big player with an “iPhone idea” for the SmartHome enters the market, resulting in a much clearer route for interfaces. I do not know who this player will be, but I think that this will lead to a lot of right things happening. 

Is there any political or innovative obstacle that you would wish yourself and that would help Hekatron to grow massively in the next 5 years? Is there something that comes to your mind? 

There is a lot that is not even that innovative. For instance, the topic of fire safety in public places does not seem to be that important for the state. Whereas, on private property it is vital for the state that there are large investments in fire safety. It is almost impossible to believe, but it is really rare that volunteer fire departments have fire detection systems. Only a few schools, kindergartens and public places have fire detection systems. The reason for this is that fire detection systems for public places would cost the state a lot of money and it rather wants to save at this end. I would wish myself that the state puts the same emphasis on fire safety in public places as in industry and private places. I mean there are a lot of children and pupils in public places that have to be secure in the event of fire. A political change would mean a lot of new business for us. 

RETHINKING PUBLIC SAFETY 

What else are you working on at the moment? 

We are working on some technical concepts with the aim of getting people faster out of burning buildings. In the event of fire the biggest problem for the fire brigade is to bring the people out of the burning building. The systems involve adaptive escape route apertures that use light, sound and speech to clearly show people the fastest and most secure way out of the building. This system helps to prevent that people try to escape in the wrong direction and run towards the fire and smoke. These systems are available in the near future, however, there are no provisions of law that dictate their implementation in public places. Fire safety in public places is a topic that requires laws and regulations by the state. If there are laws then fire safety regulations are followed, but if there are no laws then nothing is really done about it. This lack of fire safety in public places is a huge problem and I would wish myself that more would be done for the safety of people in the event of fire. Today our interview location is not very busy, but when it is more busy in a building like this and you do not really know the escape routes then it can become difficult to get out when there is fire. 

“If you work with girls and boys that are from 7 to 12 years old then you have to clearly address things. I have noticed that things are often not clearly addressed at the workplace and I have learned how to do this differently.”

I heard that you are a coach in your free time. Does being a coach influence the way that you act in your organization? 

Officially, I cannot call myself a coach. I do not have a certificate for that, but I am a supervisor of an under 13 youth football team. I have been doing this for about 5 or 6 years now. Actually, I followed my son as a supervisor, as he was moving up the youth teams. I really enjoy being a supervisor and I like to work with young people. I think that I have learned a lot of things through this that have useful implications for my job at Hekatron. If you work with girls and boys that are from 7 to 12 years old then you have to clearly address things. I have noticed that things are often not clearly addressed at the workplace and I have learned how to do this differently. In the past I was a guy that talked around problems and I understood that this does not work when you work with children. Thus, being a supervisor has helped me to clearly communicate that there are things that I want, but that there are also things that I do not want. 

What does innovation mean to you?

I have intensively thought about the question of how an organization can be made ready and secure for the future. Innovation is often only related to products, but I have a wider focus. In my opinion innovation is more about the future of the business and this involves innovation in every corner of a business. That means, there needs to be innovation not only for products but also when it comes to employees. Processes always allow for more innovative solutions and approaches. 

HELP CLIENTS WITH youMOVE

Can you give us some examples, maybe from your own processes? 

 “when our customers cannot grow then we will also stop growing”

We as a goods producer are obviously involved in product innovation. However, we also think about the shortage of skilled labour. Nowadays, we sell our products for instance to electricians who then install them. At the moment the electricians have the problem that they cannot find any skilled workers that they can employ. As a result, their business cannot really continue to grow and when our customers cannot grow then we will also stop growing at some point in the future. Nevertheless, our aim is to grow and therefore we have developed a concept that helps our customers to attract new personal. We have created a project in collaboration with our clients. We asked them where they need support from us, in order to do more business and to continue to grow.

They told us that they need workers that can perform simple installation tasks. Currently, these workers are not available on the job market because they need a certain basic training that allows them to install our electronic products in Germany. These workers do not receive this basic training and the electricians have to send their best personal for simple tasks, such as installing a smoke detector. Obviously this is a huge problem for our clients. Therefore, we have developed a certified training course in collaboration with the IHK. The name of the course is “Mounting Assistant for Fire Alarm Systems.” Our clients can send young and old personal that is not sufficiently qualified to this training course. The workers will complete the training course for a certain fee. 

A training course is usually two to three months? 

The program consists of three modules and each of them lasts for two weeks. One module is located at the IHK, the second at Hekatron and the last one takes place in the respective company. The name of the program is “youMOVE” and you can find all relevant information on our website. Our clients can send their personal to this program and they will receive the exact qualification and training that is needed. I hope the development of the program has helped our clients with the lack of skilled employees. Moreover, I hope that this helps to ensure that both our clients and Hekatron can continue to grow in the future. So this is a completely different topic that has nothing to do with smoke detectors. In this case we have concentrated our focus on a completely different area, namely the demographic change. 

INTERVIEW/PHOTOS by Marvin Kleinemeier