Bestowing confidence

Solidarity is crucial in a crisis. Klaus Endress and Matthias Altendorf agree that its foundation has to be laid during good times.

Text: Martin Raab (text shortened)
Photography: Andreas Mader

Mr Endress, how has the coronavirus pandemic changed your life?
Endress: Being outside, getting exercise, mindfully enjoying nature: these are things I have been doing my entire life. I’m simply doing more of this because of the pandemic.

Physical distance, ideal proximity: Matthias Altendorf (right) in discussion with Klaus Endress, here on the roof terrace of the company building.

How about you, Mr Altendorf?
Altendorf: My situation is similar. I get outdoors to do my exercise and let myself be stimulated by nature. What has helped me is discipline. I have the same rhythm regardless of whether I am working from home or at the office. What I sorely miss are the cultural activities: concerts, exhibitions, theater, all of the things that usually inspire us.

How does this impact your job?
Altendorf: As the chief executive of a company, I cannot afford to lose my confidence. I have to be optimistic, yet stay realistic and objective. This balancing act becomes more difficult in the absence of interaction with the outside world. That’s why I always seek the long view: a strategy, a long-term goal. This long-term perspective helps me to stay positive.

What does the pandemic mean for solidarity within the shareholder family, Mr Endress?
Endress: We held a meeting between the inner circle of family members and top management right at the beginning of last year. After that, practically all in-person encounters were canceled. There is a large flow of information, but the physical presence is missing. That wears you down!

Mr Altendorf, how is the coronavirus changing the world of Endress+Hauser and that of the customers?
Altendorf: I see four major elements. One point is the future of sales, the interface to the market and customers. In the image of the tree that Mr Endress likes to use, this is the crown. We need a larger surface that can absorb the sunlight in order to close the gaps and achieve a greater presence. In this case we have to utilize every available opportunity in the interaction between the analog and digital worlds.

Endress: Digitalization and online platforms create additional access to the market and customers. The further we branch out, the better it is for us. The digital world will not replace the physical sales environment, however. People always need people. The terms ‘knowledge’ and ‘warmth’ are incredibly important: knowledge can be digitally transported, but warmth requires closeness. When the media says home working is the future, that’s wrong. Employees miss interacting with other people when they work from home.

In normal times, a place for personal encounters: the headquarters in Reinach, Switzerland.

Altendorf: The way in which we work together will nevertheless change – and that’s another element. When people are all physically present in a room, collaboration is different than if they are collaborating in a mixed or fully digital environment.

You talked about four elements…
Altendorf: A third element is the meaning of work. Particularly in Western societies, people are searching for meaning. For a long time we were concerned about the possibility of not finding enough qualified employees; today I’m convinced there will always be enough people who want to work for Endress+Hauser – as long as we provide what they are looking for. Added to that is the way we deal with people. But most of all, what we do is exciting because we deal with fundamental global challenges. Our activities have great value, not just for the company, but also for society.

And the fourth?
Altendorf: The fourth element is robustness of supply chains. With countries closing their borders, supply chains have been interrupted. Endress+Hauser was able to ensure the availability of materials, but many of our customers experienced difficulties. That will lead to new thoughts about how supply chains will be organized.

Endress: What it all boils down to is an incredibly high degree of flexibility that everyone must have!

Prior to Covid-19, protection of the climate and the environment dominated public discourse. What happens next?
Altendorf: People have developed a different awareness of issues such as health, nutrition and protecting the environment. And climate change is not going away. It’s something that must and will occupy all of us as humans. Government policies create the framework, such as the European Union and its climate objectives. And I see lots of efforts by industry to reduce the carbon footprint.

Endress: Coronavirus will help us to become more sustainable.

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