corporAID: The world has been in a state of emergency for a year. How did TTTech experience the crisis?
Kopetz: A characteristic of this crisis is that it has different effects at different times and is hardly predictable. There are companies with a 70 percent drop in orders and others that have grown. It was similar in TTTech's business areas. At the beginning of the pandemic, we felt the slump in the auto industry. In the fourth quarter, the crisis there was almost over again thanks to China's rapid recovery. Commercial aviation, on the other hand, is still suffering from the slump in tourism. Space travel, on the other hand, continues to be a rapidly growing market, increasingly also in the area of private players. And there is a new growth area: the so-called Urban Air Mobility, a further development of drone technology. Today almost anything that is technology based brings growth. Because that became clear last year: Technology is the big winner in the crisis. The crucial question now is: How much technology do we really have in Austria and in Europe?
Is Austria a good location for a technology company?
Kopetz: Austria has been a good location so far. Whether it remains a good location will largely depend on the lessons we learn from the crisis. Austria must set clear priorities for which technologies the country wants to stand for. With TTTech Auto, I am trying to promote autonomous driving as such a focus in Vienna. But it is not clear whether there is really any interest in determining where we want to be the leader in Austria. For example, I don't know whether there is an interest beyond TTTech in this country to play a leading role in the Industrial Internet of Things. Yes, we have a strong industry, but how well is the industry prepared for the digital world? In Austria we still have a somewhat tense relationship with technology. This also has an impact on their funding: the assumption is that technologies will catch on by themselves, and that those with the best technology will somehow make it anyway. But this access only helps the big players. Even with the EU funds for post-crisis reconstruction, it is not clear in which topics they should be invested. Slogans like green and digital are juggled around on all levels, but what is behind it? With which technologies and industries do we want to be successful worldwide?
Does globalization have to be rethought? Or will you soon return to business as usual?
Kopetz: The pandemic will have lasting effects. Borders have been closed, supply chains broken, quarantine regulations imposed. We noticed how dependent we are on global supply chains and how natural free markets were. That will certainly affect globalization. Austria in particular, as a small, open economy in the European Union, should advocate a new interpretation of globalization. An essential point will be to rely more on local presences. That saved us a bit last year. Not being able to travel is a major challenge, especially for the highly globalized technology industry. It has been shown that routine activities work well digitally, but when it comes to creative processes or new business, the digital reaches its limits. At the same time - and this was covered up a little by Corona - it is becoming more and more difficult to export technology. TTTech is very active in China, for example, and I would like to do a lot more together with China. But that in turn would have an impact on business in the USA. Europe should define an independent role in this bipolar world between China and the USA - also for the rest of the world, which does not want to be caught in this bipolarity. I am missing a European answer here, because the status quo is costing us competitiveness and globalization opportunities.
High technology was concentrated in the US and Europe for decades. How is that changing?
Kopetz: In the area of technology, the progress made by China, but also by other Asian countries, is impressive. There are great companies there that operate on an equal footing. The time of Europe's technological lead is over. China in particular relies on market development through technology exports worldwide. And the question now is: how long can we keep up? I still miss the ambition in European politics to open up new markets with new technologies and thus to give these new markets a boost and to build strong trading partners. While the Chinese do this very systematically, we Europeans lack the big plan, as in technology policy. We have to be much more specific in our goals and pursue them more consistently in order to continue to play an important role in the global concert.
How do you see growth and sustainability fit together?
Kopetz: For me, growth has a lot to do with the mindset. You have to discover the new and want to change things. Unfortunately, this is far too little understood and too often growth is associated with collateral damage. The focus is too much on quantitative growth. Yet the quality of growth is very strong, creating something new that is better than the old. This growth process is discussed far too little - people prefer to be satisfied with the status quo. For a company like us, an environment that allows and even wants growth is extremely important. Because technology markets are global markets that are looking for solutions that will assert themselves globally. And in order to remain globally relevant and competitive, we have to scale. For this we need a new type of growth, which of course also has to be sustainable. We are already seeing a decoupling of resource consumption through technological advances: We are becoming much more efficient, much more productive. And here it is important to promote the relevant innovations so that this upheaval continues. The corona crisis has made the discourse very one-sided. That is a mistake, because we will find that many issues that are now hidden by the crisis will continue.
What role do the Sustainable Development Goals play at TTTech?
Kopetz: With some SDGs, I am amazed that you have to talk about them - it should actually be taken for granted. It is more likely that companies that come from another era need more orientation and change here. For a company that develops software, this is comparatively easy: Our footprint is not very large. Of course, there is also a strong trend towards the SDG in our industries. For TTTech, I see the relevance of the SDGs more implicitly than explicitly. We must first see whether we can achieve a quality leap by explicitly emphasizing the SDG in our corporate goals or values. But I believe that sustainability per se is no longer a competitive advantage, but simply a must-have. Today there is no one left who seriously contradicts the fact that sustainability and business have to go in harmony. It is more a question of feasibility and its financing. And also people's willingness to change. And here I see an extreme shift for the better in the last five years.
Where does TTTech deliver concrete sustainability?
Kopetz: We benefit from many sustainability trends and at the same time support them with our solutions. I clearly see our greatest contribution in the area of mobility. There is a strong move towards CO2 neutrality not only for cars, but also for machines. On the one hand, this affects the type of drive, but also the entire value chain. We also supply software and control technologies. We are also present in many growth areas, such as wind power technology. For example, we deliver digital platforms to Vestas, the world market leader in wind turbines. Smart microgrids are another topic: How can alternative energy sources be interconnected and power fluctuations compensated for? These are crucial enablers for a green turnaround.
What changes has the crisis brought about for developing countries?
Kopetz: I see a major change here. It has always been said: You can work from anywhere in the digital sector, but it was only implemented with the crisis. With potentially huge consequences if you compare wage costs in Central Europe with those in most other countries. In addition, many training courses are online and no longer tied to a physical presence. So we are heading towards a level playing field where countries with less favorable prerequisites can catch up more quickly. As the head of government in a developing country, I would rely heavily on these new technologists. In the software sector in particular, there are incredible opportunities for companies there to quickly access global markets and bring prosperity to the country. However, this naturally creates a risk for social economies like Austria. As a company, you have to walk a tightrope here. Our field of activity is in the highly industrialized countries, our points of contact with developing countries have so far been manageable - with the exception of smart farming. But I believe that European companies could use developing and emerging countries to try out new technologies and business models. For example, for machines with simple operation and a high level of automation, with which even a semi-skilled worker can achieve greater productivity. Or you can use technology to make a leap in productivity from which customers and manufacturers benefit as part of a revenue-sharing model. This means that you are not selling the machine, but rather using the machine via pay-per-use models. The technologies would be there.
What makes your company fit for the future?
Kopetz: On the one hand, our understanding of the market and technology is central. We have fundamental know-how in the company of how things can be processed at a critical point in time, and we are always strongly oriented towards the market. We analyze market trends in the fields of application and combine technology with application expertise. And that was and is the central success story of TTTech. In addition, there is the will to invest in innovations, even at the risk that some investments will fail. A robust error culture is required in order not only to expect success, but also to be able to deal with failures. When you stop experiencing failure, it is the beginning of the end.
What drives you as an entrepreneur? And what keeps you on the ground despite your success?
Kopetz: When you see how you can move markets, technology, employees and people, it's incredibly motivating. Ultimately, what drives me is a combination of the will to make a difference and to leave something behind. You only live once, so you have to use your time and energy as efficiently as possible. Because that is a task that demands a lot. A healthy dose of realism helps me to recognize that the game starts from scratch every year. It's the brutality of the economy that keeps me down. Because there is no such thing as a sure-fire success. Sure, as an investor you can build something, then sell it and live a good life with the money. As an entrepreneur, you are challenged every day to satisfy your customers and employees. You don't even get to take off.
Thank you for the interview.
Georg Kopetz is a board member and co-founder of the Viennese high-tech company TTTech Group. He is responsible for the overall strategy of the group, marketing, sales, finance and human resources. The 47-year-old from Carinthia studied law at the University of Vienna.
Global player in time-controlled networking
The Viennese group of companies TTTech was founded in 1998 as a spin-off from the Vienna University of Technology by Prof. Hermann Kopetz, his son Georg and Dr. Stefan Poledna founded. The company's core technology at that time was the so-called time-triggered technology, which enables a particularly fail-safe and real-time capable networking of computer systems based on the global Ethernet standard. Today the TTTech Group with its four companies TTTech Computertechnik AG, TTControl GmbH, TTTech Auto AG and TTTech Industrial Automation AG is a global player in time-controlled network technologies and safety controls in the automotive, industrial manufacturing, energy, aerospace and aerospace sectors. With branches in 14 countries in Europe, Asia and North America, the TTTech Group employs more than 2.300 people from 60 nations; in 2020 the operating performance was over 200 million euros.