corporAID: The Corona crisis is not quite over yet. How has the pandemic affected your business?
Eva Schinkinger: The GG Group supplies the automotive industry worldwide with cables and cable harnesses. In March 2020 we were really shaken up because our major customers in China had to close their plants. As a result, supply chains have become fragile. All in all, the world is more volatile today. We saw strong fluctuations in our customer needs, which made it very difficult for us to adjust our capacities. In Austria and the Czech Republic, we then took advantage of short-time work and therefore did not have to close any plants. I would say: We got through the crisis economically okay. What we are still seeing is high volatility from supply chain disruptions. This is also a sign that the pandemic is not over yet.
Does the topic of globalization have to be rethought as a result of the pandemic?
Schinkinger: The crucial question is: Are we willing to sacrifice short-term success for sustainable management? Globalization assumes that production takes place at the most optimal location and that goods are delivered from there. In the USA, and to some extent also in Europe, there are now large investment projects in some areas in order to resettle industries or to promote their expansion. You can see that in the chip industry, and maybe that will also affect the healthcare sector. Nevertheless, I do not believe that there will be a general reversal of globalization.
The GG Group is an international company headquartered in Austria. How do you assess the general conditions?
Schinkinger: We are an Austrian company with Austrian owners, we are deeply rooted here. The framework conditions are good, but of course there is potential for improvement. This certainly includes the expandable digitization of public administration and its networking. Or the high taxation of labor. And that in the past decade we have not dealt with the subject of education as we should have done. We have a multi-class society here and leave many children from socially disadvantaged families with wide eyes behind. They don't get any opportunities, and we companies will lack this potential in the future. In addition, we do not manage to get enough children interested in STEM subjects at an early age. There are initiatives like those of the industrialists' association, but you have to apply them much more broadly.
To what extent is your industry shaped by trends?
Schinkinger: We are a supplier to the automotive industry and there is a revolution going on there. Four major trends are taking effect at the same time: alternative drive systems and e-mobility, autonomous driving and connectivity, sharing and mobility as a service, and last but not least, sustainability, which is now really a top issue for our customers. This revolution will completely transform the industry in the coming decade. This means that companies that supply combustion engines will lose a lot of market share. Now everyone has to think: What is my product of the future? What does my business model look like? We are in the third of winners because cables and wires are necessary for both energy and data transmission and we can differentiate ourselves with higher data transmission rates, for example. That gives us good prospects, at least for the next ten years.
How do growth and sustainability go together?
Schinkinger: We have targets of five to ten percent sales growth. This is reasonable, organic growth from our own resources. And growth can take place in areas that promote sustainability. Above all, we want to grow in e-mobility. And we've been moving towards aluminum for cables for years. Our USP are aluminum lines for power transmission. Since aluminum is significantly lighter, energy consumption ultimately falls, which is why demand is high.
How do sustainability processes get started at GG?
Schinkinger: We have been implementing many individual campaigns in areas such as recycling and energy saving for years. In the next financial year we want to create our own sustainability position. In this way, we give the topic a corresponding value and visibility in the company. We want to embed sustainability holistically in the corporate strategy. But it would be an illusion to think that we will be the model company in two years' time. However, we want to ensure that every employee, customer and supplier can see what our goals are for the future. What measures we want to use to move forward, how partnerships with customers or suppliers should work. And there are plenty of incentives to do so.
How do you orient yourself, where does the pressure come from?
Schinkinger: We always orientate ourselves towards our customers, who sometimes have big goals. Pressure comes from all sides, from society in general, from employees and potential employees. But also from the financing area, where we have more options if we can prove that we have achieved sustainability goals. When it comes to sustainability, there is a bundle of push and pull factors, not least of which is your own desire to want it. If we look at the energy costs, then it is absolutely rational to save energy. There are also compliance or governance issues.
The GG Group has certainly always been well positioned in terms of digitization, but has Covid changed anything?
Schinkinger: Yes absolutely. I would say Covid has changed people's mindset. We have learned how easily certain topics can be digitized if there is a willingness to do so. We still recognized a lot of potential and set up "GG goes digital". If we implement it the way we envision it today, then we will actually have digitized large parts of the company and not just automated it. Our employees will be able to concentrate on the really value-adding activities. And that will also help us to be attractive in a highly competitive job market – nobody wants to work with the technology of the day before yesterday.
What defines the innovative power of the GG Group?
Schinkinger: Technology is always strongly connected to and dependent on people and their education. There is also a need for exchange, discussion, friction and challenges. Six years ago, we put innovation management on a very broad basis, and it took a long time for the employees to understand: I'm in demand and I can contribute. We've made it a bit more agile over the past two years to make it easier and faster. In addition to this breadth, networking with external parties is also important, regardless of whether they are suppliers, universities or other educational institutions. We will also globalize our development services at our sites and enable collaboration through collaborative technologies. At the same time, Austria will remain central here in the coming years.
Innovation also takes place where you can observe changes up close. What does that look like in the area of mobility?
Schinkinger: We are suppliers and therefore observe the markets and both the established and the new automobile manufacturers and their technologies. Do we have to be on site in China ourselves? Our market and the technologies behind it are very globalized. We observe the trends and crystallize what is relevant for us. But I don't believe that we have to develop products locally in each of these markets.
How important are international locations?
Schinkinger: The three major automotive markets are China, North America and Europe, in that order. That's why our location in Mexico is very important for the North American market and is becoming more and more important. We also have our own location in the Republic of Moldova with almost a thousand employees and have had very good experiences there together with local employees and managers.
What were the challenges associated with the development of the location in Moldova?
Schinkinger: One of the biggest limitations there is the availability of qualified employees. Educational institutions in Moldova have suffered greatly since the end of the Soviet Union. And if schools and universities are not equipped, especially for technical professions, it will be difficult. That's why we, together with other international companies, participated in a technical college course there, both financially and with internships. If you want to increase prosperity in a country, it doesn't help if you have nothing but unskilled workers.
How important are the global Sustainable Development Goals SDG?
Schinkinger: The SDGs are an important basis for every strategy, whether international, national or for companies - but always at a level that you can influence. Something needs to be derived that is tangible and where we can contribute. Let's take the goal: no poverty. If I pay fairly and appropriately, then I do something about poverty.
What role do values play at the GG Group?
Schinkinger:A big one - simply because we are a family-owned company that has always thought in terms of generations. During the entire strategy process, we asked ourselves very intensively: What values do we want to represent? Today our meeting rooms bear the values as names, for example "Know-how" or "The Human Focus". And we try to live these values every day. I'm not saying that we will succeed 100 percent, but we can be satisfied.
What makes a company successful?
Schinkinger: First of all, it has to have competitive products for the market and for the customers. I need a business model for the added value for the customer: How do I create that? How do I distribute it? What is the cost structure? And then you need passion. And that at all levels, also as part of the corporate culture.
Few technology companies are still led by women. Do women lead differently than men?
Schinkinger: No, I think each individual leads differently. Everyone has their personality. There are three of us in the management and three completely different personalities. That's good. The higher the diversity, the better. And of course I support women. And I advise my employees to avoid certain trained patterns: When women give presentations, for example, they often want to make messages a little friendlier with a little smile. But the messages aren't always friendly, so I don't have to smile. I am convinced that it will be easier to combine work and family life if more women are represented on supervisory boards. And we need them, because we will all be desperately looking for qualified employees in the next five years. We have a competitive advantage here because we are already proving that this is possible.
Thank you for the interview.
Eva Schinkinger, 52, is CEO of the Austrian cable manufacturer GG Group (Gebauer & Griller). The graduate of Electrical Engineering HTL and the Vienna University of Economics and Business was hired as an assistant to the head of HR and finance in the company immediately after graduating 27 years ago. In the course of her career, the Viennese took over the management of the accounting, HR and purchasing departments before she was appointed CEO of the previously owner-managed family company in 2016.
About the Company
GG Group: expert in energy and data transmission
GG Group(Gebauer & Griller) is a global cable manufacturer based in Vienna-Döbling. Originally founded in 1940 as a trading agency for raw materials and semi-finished products, the company has developed into a leading manufacturer of cables, wires and wiring harnesses for the automotive and industrial sectors. Under the motto "Wire up the future!", the company focuses on innovation with a focus on e-mobility, autonomous driving and digitization. The main plant of the GG Group is located in Poysdorf, Lower Austria, further production sites and branches have been years of company history in Germany, the Czech Republic, Moldova, Mexico, China and the USA. With more than 4.000 employees worldwide, the family company achieved sales of 471 million euros in the 2020/21 financial year.