We sat down with CEO Jens Breu, Iso Raunjak, Head of Distribution & Logistics Segment, and Urs Langenauer, Head of the Riveting Division. These three executives are good examples of how SFS has steadily pursued and implemented a sustainable and holistic employee development strategy, and they demonstrate quite impressively the career development opportunities that SFS offers its employees.
Sustainable leadership development
SFS: "Hello and thank you for taking the time to talk with us about your career pathways at SFS, and about the importance of sustainable leadership. All three of you began your careers at SFS when you were quite young. Today you hold Group, segment or divisional leadership roles. Looking back, how would you describe your career pathways at SFS?"
Jens Breu (JB): "It was an extremely exciting journey. And it still is. There was always a good balance, professional challenges on the one hand and employer encouragement and support on the other. I experienced personal growth and was given many (cross-functional) responsibilities. Regular discussions with my supervisors and various training and development courses always gave me a good feeling: I was being guided up a career ladder, together with my colleagues."
Iso Raunjak (IR): "I feel the same way. Looking back on my career history at SFS, I have always been given challenges and support. This certainly had a lot to do with my immediate supervisors. They pushed me, encouraged me and always gave me new challenges in the form of new tasks and projects."
Urs Langenauer (UL): "Challenge is the key word; looking back, I grew with every new assignment and project assigned to me. At SFS, the challenges you’re given are an opportunity to prove yourself and you need to seize them. These opportunities were followed or accompanied by training and development courses."
SFS: "What situations or phases at SFS had the greatest impact on you and made you the managers you are today?"
UL: "One highlight, and certainly one of the most intense periods I’ve experienced at SFS, was the time I spent in the US. SFS’ site in Medina grew tremendously while I was working there. The expansion of its production operations and workforce, and the introduction of new technology and all that entailed had a big impact on me."
JB: "I believe learning is a life-long process. A big step for me was assuming responsibility on the production front and managing a large team. Like Urs, I also experienced a lot of growth as an expat. Moving from one division or unit to another also means a lot of change: complex tasks and new colleagues, and as their manager you first have to earn their trust."
IR: "I was just 24 years old when I was put in charge of a business unit and I certainly didn’t do everything right back then. But it was a learning opportunity too and helped me to become a better leader. Learning to interact with completely different people has changed me and yes, I also believe that learning is a life-long process. I’m in the middle of another intensive learning period, as I have just assumed responsibility for the D&L segment."
SFS: "How important is sustainable talent development from your perspective?"
IR: "It’s extremely important. Foresight is required in order to have the right people ready to assume key positions at a future point in time. External or social changes – digitalization is a good example here – are important factors in this process too."
UL: "Before I joined SFS, I experienced first-hand how a high employee turnover rate and a large influx of external managers can quickly change a company’s culture. So sustainable leadership development is absolutely essential. It allows every company location to reach its full potential and it perpetuates our SFS DNA."
JB: "I concur with Iso and Urs. We need to cultivate tomorrow’s highly qualified leaders from our own ranks – not only to move forward with innovation but also to convey continuity and reliability to our customers. Many employees also appreciate the fact that they are well coached and supported at SFS, without being driven to breaking point."
SFS: "How is sustainable talent development at SFS lived and implemented?"
JB: "The issue of sustainable talent development is firmly anchored in our strategy. That’s why we always want vocational trainees to account for 5%-7% of the workforce. We also want to offer appropriate continuing education and training opportunities after their initial training. This is a continuous process designed to satisfy high demands, both internal and external."
UL: "I’m pleased that SFS strongly supports the dual education programs. At SFS, apprentices can even discover other countries and other company locations. Continuing employee education and development is not neglected either: SFS offers dedicated employees adult education opportunities, regardless of their educational background or their diplomas."
IR: "In the D&L segment, we’re working on a talent management pilot project. I hope it will enable us to better support the development and growth of our employees and further their careers."
SFS: "Do you see any room for improvement and, if so, what would you focus on?"
IR: "I think there is always room for improvement when it comes to talent development. You can’t stand still. You want to be optimally prepared for the future by a continuous investment in employee training and development."
JB: "We live change. We have a good concept, but as Iso says there is always room for improvement. We currently have three priority areas for improving our employee development strategy: first we’re working to expand mobility within the company, second we’re trying to increase the number of women in the workforce, particularly in technical fields, and third we want to promote talented employees and training programmes in general at the company’s smaller sites."
UL: "The dual education system is well established in German-speaking Europe. We should try to introduce this training model throughout the entire Group."
SFS: "Climbing up the ladder is certainly not always easy. Do you have any advice that you would like to give motivated employees?"
IR: "We learn throughout our lives. On the one hand, it’s important for employees to be open to the concept of lifelong learning, but they also have to be patient. Employee development is not a process that happens overnight after taking a training course; it happens over time."
UL: "I share that opinion. Patience and flexibility are important. This means being willing to move to a different department or site, for example, and not becoming discouraged if no suitable opportunities appear immediately."
JB: "The most important points or pieces of advice have already been mentioned by Iso and Urs. What I’d like to add is to keep your eyes on the joy despite all the work. Joy in what we’re doing for our customers, joy in working together with our colleagues, in overcoming new challenges – and using that as a trigger for further personal growth. Practice that and the right opportunities will come along."
SFS: "Thank you for your time and all the exciting and informative insights!"