Trade and Industry Association of the Canton of Bern: Who doesn't know him? For 90 years, "Dr Chiuchemaa" has stood for expertise in light, image and sound. In the latest member portrait, CEO Mathias Brand talks about the transformation of Kilchenmann AG and which values are still highly practiced today.
Not: "The Kilchenmann AG". Nor: "Our business". But rather: "Dr Chiuchemaa". That's how it sounds when Mathias Brand talks about the company with around 300 employees, of which he has been CEO and co-owner since 2020. Whether in the Federal Parliament, at Roche and Novartis in Basel, for almost all Swiss universities or the Swiss Economic Forum SEF: "There is almost no large Swiss company that does not rely in some form on technology from 'Chiuchemaa'" in Kehrsatz," explains Mathias Brand. The company is by no means exclusively active for major customers: "We live from a large number of clients - around 4,000 in number - for whom we handle several thousand projects a year. And we approach each of these tasks with the same professionalism and passion."
Founded with passionate curiosity
The transformation of Kilchenmann AG is unprecedented in Switzerland: After all, today's market leader for innovative media and communications solutions was founded by its namesake Hans Kilchenmann in 1933 as a radio and record store. In the 1970s, Kilchenmann AG was the first address for television sets and supplied numerous Bernese communities with its cable networks. In 2023, the company has seven locations - in addition to the headquarters in Bern, these are Basel, Lausanne, St. Gallen, Zurich and Eschbach (southern Germany).
Passion, curiosity and the constant willingness to change: these attributes characterize the company both at the time of its founding and today, as Mathias Brand explains: "Hans Kilchenmann started out in the radio world via his hobby of telecommunications. Out of personal interest, he looked into the question of how to process radio signals. This thirst for knowledge and the joy of the thing were the breeding ground for everything else." Son Klaus, in turn, later wanted to learn his father's hobby professionally and completed a degree in engineering at the ETH. There he came into contact with international players at an early stage and, in the second generation, established the broadcasting offering in the company.
Letting go of the old and establishing the new
The people behind Kilchenmann AG always knew how to seize opportunities - but also had to make difficult decisions time and again. Thus, a family-internal handover to the third generation was not possible, which is why from 2000 Herbert Wenger and from 2011 Ueli Jost came into play as managing directors. They took the company to the next level with the same passion as at the time of its founding and focused on the B2B sector in a forward-looking manner. However, Kilchenmann AG had to give up the private customer division in 2017 with a heavy heart. The division had been making losses exclusively in recent years and so the step was unavoidable in order to pave the way for the company to move forward successfully. Mathias Brand says in retrospect: "This willingness to change is part of it; it's the only way to stay on the ball and ahead of the curve."
Constant change also accompanies the current management team: Mathias Brand took up his post in 2020 in the middle of the pandemic. During this time, as we all know, all events fell away due to the Corona restrictions, and instead companies shifted their activities to the virtual space in droves - professional equipment and expertise were suddenly in high demand. "It's not enough to put down a monitor and a camera: For a video conference to run perfectly, you need both the right technology and the right know-how." And this includes new services such as Kilchenmann-as-a-Service or cybersecurity, which the company is driving forward with its own IT team: "The pandemic raised awareness of the fact that not only well-meaning people are cavorting online. So the key question for us was: How can we build our customers' IT solutions and networks in such a way that no one is guaranteed to be able to eavesdrop or steal data? Based on this need, we developed new services and are now leading the way in Switzerland.
Creating trust thanks to reliability
So it is also no coincidence that the Swiss Confederation, for example, repeatedly relies on Kilchenmann AG. "We feel very honored to be entrusted with the operation of the media center or to have been able to carry out the extraordinary sessions on the BERNEXPO grounds during the pandemic." Kilchenmann AG has worked hard to earn this trust: "We stand for a high level of reliability, even though our employees usually work in the background at events. And that's a good thing, because if we're visible, it usually means that something has gone wrong." But that's very rare: "A microphone system operated by us works perfectly 99 percent of the time." Nevertheless, anyone working for Kilchenmann AG needs good nerves and a great deal of flexibility: "It's important to be able to function on the dot," emphasizes Mathias Brand. "Long system failures are not tolerated, because the customer loses money on an ongoing basis."
Accordingly, it is crucial that the company demonstrates a good error culture. And it was precisely this that led Mathias Brand to join Kilchenmann AG. "In over 25 years in the infrastructure business, I have implemented various projects with Kilchenmann AG. When, exceptionally, something didn't go so well, the company impressed me deeply with the way it dealt with challenges. The CEO was always immediately on the spot and there was an unconditional effort to solve the problem as quickly as possible and to the full satisfaction of the customer. This highly professional approach was the decisive factor in my leaving my traditional industry and subsequently becoming acquainted with a world that is both shirt-sleeved and digital."
Actively living the change
The technical development that Kilchenmann AG is following is rapid. It is therefore all the more important that all employees are part of this transformation. This process is a huge "pants unzipper," says Mathias Brand. "Who wants to change and who wants to stay with the existing? It's a matter of finding that out on an ongoing basis and aligning it with the needs of the market." Here, the company again benefits from the fact that change has been an active part of the company since its founding. "The curiosity and passion of Hans Kilchenmann are still central values for us today, which are lived by the employees." Some of them have been with the company for decades: "We have numerous employees who are celebrating their 30th or 35th anniversary with us - that makes us extremely proud. At the same time, we have many young recruits and thus have a great mix." According to Mathias Brand, this loyalty can be explained by the company's original positioning in the retail trade and the great loyalty that goes with it: "People come to us because we are number one in our sector and offer continuity as well as the best projects in Switzerland." At the same time, the company is strongly anchored in Bern, whether through its membership of the HIV section of Bern or as a technical partner of BSC YB, SC Bern and Kultur Casino Bern.
From Wabern and Kehrsatz to the whole of Switzerland and now also to nearby foreign countries - this transformation will be duly celebrated in 2023: This year it will be exactly 90 years since Hans Kilchenmann laid the foundation for the success story of Kilchenmann AG. A large team event is planned, as well as several customer events aimed at decision-makers in the respective regions. Kilchenmann AG certainly wants to provide a little more visibility for the broad solution portfolio. Nevertheless, it is ensured that "Dr Chiuchemaa" can continue to take off with top performance behind the scenes.