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COVER STORY: Be Always One Step Ahead. An interview with Volker Palm, CEO of WAGO Electronic (Tianjin) Co., Ltd.
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Be Always One Step Ahead
An interview with Volker Palm,

CEO of WAGO Electronic (Tianjin) Co., Ltd.
BT 201907 340X458专访万可电子(天津)有限公司总裁彭夫柯先生

 

成功的关键是在做任何决定时始终领先一步。这是万可的主要原则之一,也是万可不断跟上行业趋势的原因。

万可1951年在德国明登(Minden)成立,是电气连接领域的行业领导者,业务遍及全球。如今,万可的综合自动化产品已广泛应用于造纸,纺织,铁路,汽车,造船,石化,楼宇自动化以及所有安全相关的工业领域。

万可在中国有14个分公司及办事处,拥有一千多名员工,并拥有完整的生产,销售和技术支持产业链。

本期,我们对万可电子(天津)有限公司总裁彭夫柯先生进行了专访,该公司成立于1997年,现位于天津武清开发区。在采访中这位德国出生,却在中国生活和工作了25年的有着中国心的领导详细向我们介绍了,万可的成功之道,及其领导者的积极心态。

与彭夫柯先生交流和学习是一种乐趣。正如他所说,万可及其员工,经销商和客户一起,为未来的商业发展提供了动力,从而形成一个更加成功的世界。

如果提前计划,生活并不一定很难。如果你希望像万可和彭夫柯那样取得成功,让自己聪明一点,提前行动起来,要取得成功,你需要坚持不懈,始终领先一步。完美在争取的过程中,而不在达到的结果里。

 MG 8146The key to success is to be always one step ahead of the game in any decision you make. This is one of WAGO main principles and the reason to continuously keep abreast of industry trends.
 

Founded in Minden, Germany in 1951, WAGO is an unshakable industry leader in the electrical connection area with business across the world. Nowadays, WAGO comprehensive automation products have been widely used in papermaking, textile, railway, automobile/shipbuilding, petrochemical, building automation and all safety-related industrial areas.
 

WAGO China has over one thousand staff in 14 offices, distribution agencies and with a complete production, sales and technical support.
 

We have the privilege this month to interview Mr Volker Palm, General Manager of WAGO Electronic (Tianjin) Co., Ltd., company founded in 1997 at Wuqing Development Area (UDA), Tianjin. During our conversation with Volker, German by birth, but Chinese by heart, who has lived and worked for the past 25 years in China, we discover the success of WAGO and always a positive mindset of its leader in Tianjin.

 MG 8124 副本You played a great role bridging Germany and China? What has inspired you to this path? What continues to drive your success?

 

In the early 80s, I was a young guy who happened to read an article about China's Open-Door Policy in business magazines. I figured that someone has to go there and see how China is going to develop in the future. This inspired me to study Chinese and its politics and contribute to helping build foreign relations between Germany and China.
 

Before taking the helm of WAGO's China office, what was your personal outlook in terms of growth on the automation and electronics industry?

I've known this industry for more than 25 years and luckily when I started in the 90s until today, China is still among the major growth areas in the world.
 

China will become a leader in manufacturing and at this moment most of the investment is going toward automated production lines and robots. It is also my motivation with WAGO, because it is the world leader in the Connection Technology and we have a solid presence in this market.

BT 201907 COVER 02How do you differentiate WAGO, its culture and accomplishments, among its many competitors?

WAGO invented the Spring Technology, which means you can connect a cable with our electronic products just by pushing it in, and the quality of the connection stays the same for 30-40 years. We have replaced the use of screws which may get loose.
 

WAGO is a family-based company operating for three generations and doing projects of CSR is something very natural to us. This giving culture is introduced by management to its staff, and now it has become part of their own routine to visit places where they can be of help.
 

Our job is to make sure that our employees come and leave work happy every day, because if we do this, we don’t need to worry so much about other things.
 

We try to give a good working environment and an open communication between top management and line workers, and we value all opinions.

BT 201906 COVER 01

What is an example of a real-world connectivity problem that WAGO has helped find a solution for?

The project I like most is for a car manufacturer, upgrading their technology and supplied intelligent lighting solution. We have separated their workshop into different areas, and switch the light of each area based on the use. We also could control the brightness on the light depending of the ambience lighting condition. This intelligent lighting technology saves them about 5 Million RMB per year. Now the entire car manufacturing workshop is connected using WAGO.
 

WAGO globally envisions itself to be the backbone of a smart connected world. How has your leadership of WAGO Electronic (Tianjin) been supportive of this goal? What accomplishments are you most proud of?

Many of our current marketing strategy is trying to show WAGO not only as a manufacturer of mechanical connectors, but also as a provider of solutions for industrial Internet of Things (IoT) or Industry 4.0. Our company is going towards this direction of offering solutions to our customers, especially with our automation products. In a smart connected world, it is not only about being connected, but also having smart connections.
 

Collect data from a machine, whether it is consuming energy and how much, and try to find how to improve this. We have offered this technology for instance to a hydro powered plan in Kunming in Yunnan Province when we are able to collect power generation data from each of their turbines.
 

We are doing more than just mechanical connections. We can help our customers to use the collected data to generate an analysis and make smarter decisions.

BT 201907 COVER 03What future trends in the Asian market are you currently taking an interest in?

Smart logistic. We place orders mostly online now. As there are many logistics hubs in China and in Asia, we are providing smart solutions to them.
 

We have also put interest in the Renewable Energy sector, particularly in Solar Power and Wind Power. In Asia, we also have Semiconductor Industry and this business is booming. A lot of the products that we manufacture here in Tianjin go to other countries, such as Japan, Korea, Singapore, … And we are investing in equipment to support the fast growth in these areas.
 

With WAGO China expanding to 14 offices, several distribution agencies and over 1,000 employees, how do you wish to grow further?

We have to be closer to our customers and local offices really helped to increase our orders. We are expanding our distributor network constantly.
 

I wish we could contract more employees and grow faster, but we have to be careful because labour cost in China is increasing, and we have to be more efficient at the same time and control the quality.
 

WAGO Tianjin is the biggest WAGO factory in the world besides Germany. We have 1,650 employees and the whole WAGO Group has 9,000 employees. Our sales in China are 10% of our total group sales, and our goal is to reach 15%.

2016年10月彭总拜访宝马发动机车间How do you describe WAGO's trademark of innovation and safety?

We are the inventors of Spring Connector Technology, and we have our own patent and trademark. Our competitors have copied us, but our strength is that we are the most experienced in this technology, and also always the first in introducing something new.
 

Where does Chinese ingenuity play a part to increase the WAGO Tianjin's competitiveness?

You’ve seen our factory, it’s quite big and there’s a lot of challenges every day and there’s no blueprint for a factory like ours. We switch machinery and we try new partial automation to some production lines, so our people need to invest something and find solution for some problems. We cannot depend on Germany all time.
 

Really, out of 1,650 employees, I am the only German in this company, so we depend basically on our Chinese colleagues to make our process more efficient, and even find flexible solutions for special requirements of our Chinese customers.
 

As for our Japanese customers, we have to meet their high-quality requirement, and our factory is very good in finding flexible solutions and sometimes faster than our German mother company.
 

We are happy to have a right mix of ingenious people in the company, and this we have developed within the company culture.

宝马用控制柜How do you cultivate the best of both German tradition and Chinese culture in the workplace?

We have an exchange program where dozens of German colleagues go to China, while sending a dozen of our people to visit Germany and some of our sister companies in Switzerland or US. We have some preparation classes, some cultural training for our colleagues prior to visiting our other sites. It is interesting when people of different nationalities come together and realize that they have a lot in common after all.
 

Some German colleagues also get to be amazed by Tianjin with our high-speed railway and realize that our cities here are, in fact, more technologically advanced than other parts in Germany, especially in transportation.
 

They find out too that it is very nice to stay here in China, because Chinese are very hospitable, and they usually come back. They also find that Chinese are working hard and ready to work extra hours if it is necessary to solve some problems.
 

What strategies are you currently using to hire top talent for your company? Why is WAGO Tianjin a great place to work?

This is called HR Branding or HR Marketing where we try to establish WAGO in the labour market. We do online advertisement, be present in HR job fair exhibitions all over China to show what our company offers, including our professional training program which is taken from our practice in Germany.
 

This is very attractive among our potential employees. Our target is really to hire the best talent in Tianjin, otherwise we cannot grow. We try to find people who have been working in known companies within the industry.

昆明现场照片What were the main obstacles you have encountered in 2018 and how did you overcome it?

Our biggest pains are the fast-changing government regulations, especially in the area of fire protection and environment. In general, the policies are good, but the challenge is in the process of clear dissemination across a very big country. It is not that clear on what you need to do and not enough time to find out what this policy means for our business.
 

We have to discuss with local authorities which at times don’t know how to translate this policy 100%. We spend a lot of time and money following new policies at this moment as it changes the playing field.
 

The other big challenge is of course local competition, which is also growing very fast, and so we have to develop much faster and this puts much stress on us. There are more players now, and it is good for our customers, because we need to improve faster our products.

 MG 8070Aside from being the General Manager of WAGO Tianjin, what other responsibilities do you hold?

I am in the Advisory Board of German Chamber in Tianjin. I am a father of a 21-year old daughter and a 7-year old son, and I am also an active parent representative of my son in school.
 

What top three competencies or skill sets do you think are necessary that global managers should have by 2025?

One is to have a clear strategy on digitalization. This is the main trend and a lot of people are talking about it. How to introduce the digitalization of the company is quite a difficult subject.
 

Example: For every project that we start in China, it has to answer the question of how we can introduce AI or automated solution or cloud solution to the new projects. We try to use new ways. In Germany, we have a digital manager who facilitates digitalization on an operating level.
 

Second, we have to learn how to work efficiently in teams, and we have to introduce project management training to everyone. When there is a problem, you have to solve it.
 

Third is that management should be more cooperative and less authoritative. Management style should be changed and allow staff to take responsibility and learn and take responsibility for their mistakes. We have to eliminate processes that are redundant and complex towards more agile and flexible.

 MG 8137Who has been your greatest influence?

I had a great influence from a professor of a European Business School in Shanghai who made a class on collaborative leadership. I have learned this through an Executive Training. She is American and taught us how different leadership styles are related to companies in different stages, as well as a tool for us to analyse our companies in and find areas where we need to improve to become more collaborative. This was two years ago, and we are still evolving.
 

Another great influence for me is my first boss, whose door is always open for me to ask a question, and I learned a lot from how he relates to other people due to his modern management style. I always try to be like him.
 

What personal initiative do you feel most proud of?

We have an organized training centre and a systematized training plan and I have introduced a lot of ideas to develop staff, attract new staff and keep new staff.
 

I started a performance evaluation with 14 competency models, which is used to measure ourselves. We also did a lot on branding. Usually when you have motivated people, they actually like it to take initiative.
 

It has certainly been a pleasure to listen and learn from Volker Palm. As he says, together with their staff, distributors and clients, WAGO fuel the future of business so that a more successful world takes shape.
 

Life doesn't have to be hard if you plan ahead. If you want to be successful like WAGO and Volker Palm, then do yourself a favour and outsmart yourself. To succeed, you need to be persistent and relentless, not flawless, be always one step ahead. Perfection is only something to strive for, not to attain.
 

It has certainly been a pleasure to listen and learn from Volker Palm. As he says, together with their staff, distributors and clients, WAGO fuel the future of business so that a more successful world takes shape.

Life doesn't have to be hard if you plan ahead. If you want to be successful like WAGO and Volker Palm, then do yourself a favour and outsmart yourself. To succeed, you need to be persistent and relentless, not flawless, be always one step ahead. Perfection is only something to strive for, not to attain.

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