Tasks, opportunities and visions:
Interview with Dr. Witt, COO of Jagenberg AG
Dr. Stephan Witt, 48, has been part of the executive board of Jagenberg AG as COO since July 2021. In the first part of our interview, the head of operations talks about new tasks, important company topics and the growth of the Jagenberg Group.
Hello Dr. Witt. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. You have now been part of the Executive Board and Chief Operating Officer of the Jagenberg Group for just over three quarters of a year. How have you experienced this time?
I have been with the Jagenberg Group for more than six years now, and as Managing Director of Kampf Schneid- und Wickeltechnik I was responsible for the operational business for a long time. In that position I got to know many employees and the other managing directors. We organised the orientation and structure of the group together in various committees. In this respect, the transition was not a jump into cold water, but rather a change. Of course, the office in Krefeld and the immediate environment were new at first. But on the whole, I knew what it was all about from day one and was quickly able to familiarise myself with the important issues.
What are the important issues you are working on?
Basically, there are three major issues that I deal with at the group level.
On the one hand, as COO I am responsible for the operative business in the Industrial Solutions division. This includes maintaining the individual companies of the group's own responsibility and at the same time ensuring coordinated action. To this end, we meet regularly in strategy meetings, for example, as I already knew them from my time before in the group. Of course, my focus is different now. But we still discuss the strategy and its results for the independent action of the companies, taking into account the defined guard rails. For me, this trust in the companies is crucial for our joint success.
Another exciting question I am dealing with is: How do we want to develop the group and its business areas? Jagenberg Converting Solutions, founded a year ago, is an ideal example here. Because turnkey plants for battery production as well as surface and decor applications are still quite new for us. In this way, we are responding to the demands of the markets.
The area also includes looking for and integrating new suitable companies and technologies for the group.
And thirdly, I am concerned with the external image of the group, which is a novelty. While we traditionally presented ourselves as a "diversified group of companies", we are now focusing on synergies. Our common denominator is the processing of web-shaped materials - for example for electronic components, packaging and medical as well as battery technology. Admittedly, for the companies the joint appearance and the common brand image means a caesura at first. This was not easy for everyone, because it also meant giving up something familiar. Here, our task as the Executive Board consisted to a large extent of listening and explaining the idea behind our CREATE.FUTURE.TOGETHER. mission statement and the overall appearance. It was important for us to take all employees with us as much as possible, to take away their fears and to show them the advantages that such a change brings with it.
We succeeded very well. The common brand is well anchored and we are in the process of implementing the first major trade fair appearances as a recognizable sign after the Corona lockdowns.
"For me, trust towards the companies is quite decisive for our joint success."
Dr. Stephan Witt, COO Jagenberg AG
Apart from the topics themselves that you are working on: How does working as a member of the board differ from your work as managing director?
It differs spatially and also in the way we work together on a daily basis. When it comes to the fundamental orientation of the company, I coordinate very closely with Dr. Bröker. Together we also represent the group externally. This includes meetings with politicians, bank representatives, the owner Mr. Kleinewefers, the supervisory board and all other stakeholders. As a result, communication and responsibility are inevitably different, they are less direct. Looking inwards, I see my role vis-à-vis the companies in the group as advisory, more as a pilot for the companies than as a captain, if you like.
So in comparison to the traditional understanding of leadership, you see yourself more as a team player?
In my opinion, this classic model with leaders and top-down decisions no longer works. The dynamics and complexity of business life are simply too great. Instead, you have to involve employees according to their competencies and motivate them to participate in change and take personal responsibility. At Kampf, we have seen the effective and sustainable results of involving all stakeholders bottom-up. Of course, we had to provide some framework conditions. But creating free space proved to be exactly right and at Kampf, for example, it changed the project processing enormously for the better.