No staff, expensive energy, hacker attacks: It used to be easier to run a company. In conversation with journalists Süddeutsche Zeitung three company bosses report how they deal with the crises, why digital technologies are part of the solution and why a change of perspective can sometimes help.
Joachim Schreiner, Salesforce
Joachim Schreiner is increasingly desperate. He simply cannot find enough staff, neither for his own, rapidly growing company, nor for the many service providers who ultimately set up the software from his company for the customers. Schreiner is the German head of Salesforce, one of the leading providers of business software, and he thinks that the lack of staff in the industry is partly homemade. It bothers him that the job profiles for IT professions often still require a degree. “But their car is serviced by mechatronics technicians with a secondary school diploma, who often have more knowledge of IT than students fresh out of university.”
Such encrustations annoy Schreiner, as he claims that his company keeps changing and adapting in such a way that there are no entrenched processes and – above all – entrenched thinking. “I still wear my sneakers,” he says, alluding to the stereotype of the fresh start-up founder. He always asks when you set up new processes, “do you do it the way you did ten years ago?” His answer should be clear.
In general, the way cannot be to make it as easy as possible for the software provider itself. Instead, an entrepreneur must always ask himself: “What is the best innovation for the respective customer?” For the manager, innovation is the key to almost everything anyway. “Yes, we have a crisis,” he says, “but technology has always helped us.”
Despite all the crises and changes, does the boss actually have to appear as a cheerful panda in order to get his team carried away? Better not, thinks Schreiner, “it’s easy to turn into a dancing bear and people ask, what was he smoking?” He prefers to tackle problems aggressively. Although some things don’t necessarily have to be seen as a problem. For example, Schreiner sees the European data protection rules, often decried as an obstacle to innovation, as an opportunity. After all, there are many people in the world for whom data protection, like that of Europeans, is very important. In this way, regulation could become a global market advantage.
Markus Haas, head of Telefónica Germany
Digitization, of course, is a process that does not take place in isolation in one country or in one region of the world. Nevertheless: With a few exceptions, the big platforms such as Google, Meta, Tencent, Alibaba or Amazon do not come from Europe or even from Germany. But from the USA and China. But does it have to stay that way? No, thinks Markus Haas. The lawyer manages the business of the Spanish telecommunications company Telefónica in Germany. “Starting a platform has never been easier,” he says. By that he means above all the technical side, which his company takes care of. The network expansion is progressing well.
Haas sees opportunities above all in the metaverse, in this still vague promise of a future in which the real and virtual worlds mix, both in the private sphere and in the world of work. That’s “the next big thing,” he says, so companies can, for example, hold training courses more effectively and efficiently than before. But it is important that this new world of communication remains transparent for users, especially as far as their data is concerned and what may or may not be done with it. In addition, European values must be preserved, for example when it comes to hate speech. Here Haas sounds very similar to manager colleague Schreiner.
What Telefónica, like most companies in this country, is concerned with: the energy crisis. For example, the people of Munich are considering how they can switch the networks down at night so that communication is still possible, but not all frequencies are operated equally at full power. “That could save up to 25 percent of electricity consumption,” says Haas.
Saving is also an issue for many consumers. However, where this has not had an effect – at least not until now – is with digital end devices such as smartphones. The trend, says Haas, is toward more expensive branded devices with large screens and longer battery life. “It’s also better for sustainability,” because the devices no longer have to be replaced every year or every two years.
Albrecht Kiel, head of Visa’s Central Europe business
How much cash does he still have in his pocket? No idea, says Albrecht Kiel. “I’ve only been traveling with an iPhone and ID for years,” says the head of Visa’s Central European business. Visa, the company is best known for the credit cards that also bear the company name. The global company sees itself primarily as a technology provider for processing payments. And – fun fact – Visa has long issued more so-called debit cards than credit cards, where the money is debited directly from the account and an invoice does not come later. And yet: Kiel does not want cash payments to disappear completely, if only because of the healthy competition.
However, he considers the triumph of electronic, now mostly even contactless, payment to be inevitable. This is also the main reason why there are still physical cards at all: “They are the only tangible product” in a world that is otherwise completely virtual. According to Kiel, 30 percent of all payments made worldwide by people under the age of 30 are made via mobile devices. 4.1 billion virtual and physical cards are currently in circulation. If Visa were a country, it would be the largest economy in the world, with $13 trillion in sales.
And what is the most important thing for a technology provider like Visa? Security. The payments have to be protected, which is why billions are being invested in IT security. “Our standards can hardly be exceeded,” he says. A thousand people worldwide are solely responsible for cyber security.