Mathias Brand took over the management of Kilchenmann AG from Ulrich Jost on 1 April 2020. In view of the eventful year, it is not surprising that the interview planned for the first 6 months had to wait until the new year.
What has impressed Mathias Brand in the last 9 months, in which areas he wants to develop Kilchenmann further, which management style he lives by and what a perfect summer day looks like for him - we found out all this and much more from him.
Mathias, please tell us something about your life before Kilchenmann.
To summarise very briefly: In the course of my work for various companies - such as Alpine Energie AG, Cablex and ARGE CPC - I travelled a lot abroad and also within Switzerland. From the construction of a mobile phone system in the desert of Oman to various national road projects in Serbia-Montenegro to the management of the construction commission for the Ceneri Base Tunnel, I was able to supervise and accompany an enormous number of challenging and complex projects. All of this was very instructive and highly exciting. The disadvantage of all these activities was that I was often away from home - I regularly left the house on Sunday evening and only returned on Friday evening. When our son was born in 2008, I no longer wanted to travel so much, which is why I changed jobs from Alpine Energie AG to Cablex.
You talk about this time having shaped you. What do you mean by that?
A very special, but also depressing experience was the post-war period in Serbia-Montenegro. We experienced a lot of misery and were - quite frankly - not always free of fear. The beautiful and impressive thing, on the other hand, was the friendliness of the people, which I was able to experience everywhere - especially, of course, in Ticino in the last few years when working on the Ceneri Base Tunnel.
Let's move on to Kilchenmann: How would you explain Kilchenmann's offer in an elevator pitch - i.e. in 3 sentences?
Kilchenmann offers professional audio, video and multimedia technology - both for fixed installations and mobile. So if you as a customer want to combine image, light and sound professionally and in the highest quality and have them installed in such a way that everything works together perfectly, you have come to the right place.
What excites you about this company?
There are many things. But first and foremost, I would emphasise the enormous passion that the Kilchen men and women have and live for the company and their job. I have rarely experienced that in this form, and it motivates me every day. To be honest, I am proud to be able to lead such a team.
Why don't you tell us something about how you experienced the first few months - it wasn't exactly an easy year in many sectors because of Corona.
At Kilchenmann, things literally took off in 2020 - with both positive and negative omens. We all know that in the Corona year all events had to be cancelled, which of course also had a big impact on Kilchenmann. So I came into the company at a very unsettled time with plans and ideas about the future and had to deal with other issues first. At the same time, due to the Covid 19 restrictions, it quickly became clear to the employees that we had to move forward in digitalisation. So new questions and challenges arose that we had to tackle together. One example is the question of how we can bring events into the virtual world or how we can support our clients with fixed installations to collaborate digitally in the home office. It's not done with a microphone and a monitor. Image, light and sound have to be combined into a single unit that is easy to operate. As we all know, video conferencing has experienced a boom - and with it many technical questions have been raised that we had to answer and solve. We have all experienced how we did not see or hear each other or wanted to share documents at video conferences. This in turn shows that professional video-audio technology is anything but simple.
Let's look into the future: where is Kilchenmann heading?
Like many companies, Corona gave us a digitalisation boost. We were already ready with a digital strategy a year before and wanted to start adapting both the organisation and the processes accordingly in 2020. Because of the extraordinary situation, this all happened a bit faster now. The necessity of the adjustments was obvious due to the situation, so we did not have to do much convincing among the employees. Nevertheless, a cultural change takes time because every individual is different. Some lead the way, others follow. This is not meant in a judgmental way; each path has its justification and its meaning. Our task is to make a common path out of this. We haven't quite reached our goal yet, but we are on a very good path, or rather in the consolidation phase, in which we are not losing sight of digitalisation, are at the forefront of new technologies and are playing a pioneering role. The team is pulling along and that's fun.
What leadership principles would you have wished for from your former bosses? And which principles are important to you in your role as CEO today?
When I was not yet CEO and had superiors of my own, I always wanted my boss to give me great freedom so that I could move and develop within my field of activity within certain guard rails. At the same time, he should be there for me when I needed him. Communication at eye level with a grounded personality was also always important to me - so I'd rather not have a boss who sits on his high horse and doesn't let the staff get close to him. I hope that I live up to the expectations I had of my bosses back then. In no case do I want to be a snooty boss who doesn't see eye-to-eye with his team or is not approachable. For me, it is important to come across authentically to the employees and to stay down to earth. Everyone should be able to talk to me, from apprentices to fitters. That's probably also a leftover from my apprenticeship. I had to do all the work that an apprentice is given, but I was always treated with respect. This genuine appreciation has left its mark on me.
And how do you react in difficult situations?
We live for our customers, want to maintain the forward culture and achieve our goals. For success, of course, you have to work. Because, as we know, nothing comes from nothing. The employees have to know that and sometimes there are situations where you have to be tough. But that also works very well if you remain correct and decent. Everyone has their role, their tasks, their competences and their responsibilities - but everyone is also equally important. For me, leadership is not a theory, but a passion. That is my role now and I want to carry it out just as well as all the other employees carry out their tasks. Because without them, the company would be nothing. The ultimate goal is that the team enjoys working at Kilchenmann. And we don't achieve that by leading in a choleric manner. In my view, it's much more about getting the employees on board by showing them transparently what goals we are pursuing.
How do you make sure that you don't get lost in the day-to-day operations and that you can take creative breaks?
I am working on implementing a universal, or at least similar, agenda across the company at Kilchenmann. What do I mean by that? The idea is that Tuesday, for example, is the day when internal meetings take place. So that meetings are not on the agenda every day. That way you can concentrate on your work. For me, Monday is reserved for my own and VR topics - and is therefore also the day on which I can think about things and develop ideas. I also like to stay in my home office so that I can take deliberate breaks from thinking, for example. And during a real break, I also go jogging from time to time.
A completely different, hypothetical question: you have an empty diary for once. What do you do with the day?
It depends on whether my wife is working that day or not. If she's free, we'll certainly do something together. Or I visit a customer. And my favourite thing is to walk spontaneously through the aisles at Kilchenmann, talk to people, ask how they're doing.
A final question: In job interviews you are often asked what your strengths are. What are you particularly good at and what are you not so good at?
I'm less good when it comes to waiting. I tend to be impatient when it comes to progress. But I've learned that as a leader you have to radiate calm and I don't let it show. From my point of view, that doesn't help either, because it doesn't spur on, it scares. And I don't want to stir up fear in my dealings with staff. I am good at listening - at least from my point of view - and inspiring people. And finally, humour is important to me because it makes a lot of things easier and more bearable.
Thank you very much for the exciting interview, Mathias.
If you would like to get to know our CEO Mathias Brand a little better in private: Click here for the video. Have fun!