Interview with Franz Biegert, Managing Director and Geschäftsfϋhrer at LICOS
Career planning as a sustainable process
Franz joined the LICOS business in July 2003. He started as the process planner for the Laser Cutting system – recruited to optimise the process and generate increased business for the machine to fill spare capacity. This was Franz’s first experience of being accountable for a profit centre, “I ran the Laser Cutting department like a small business – it was a great learning ground”, he said.
When LICOS set up in Atlanta, USA, Franz was appointed as the business leader responsible, giving him the opportunity to experience working internationally. Later in 2011, following the global financial crisis, Franz was given the chance to lead the Supply Chain business for LICOS. At this time he took full responsibility for Purchasing, Logistics, Inventory and Internal Sales (including invoicing and delivery papers); in short, process ownership from Goods In straight through to Customer Delivery.
Following Concentric’s acquisition of LICOS in 2013, Franz was promoted to Plant Manager in 2014, and later to Geschäftsfϋhrer in 2015. Career planning is a necessary process for sustainable businesses. Franz explained, “We have always talked openly about the company, future business plans and discussed personal strengths, development needs, career aspirations and opportunities with our employees. A great advantage about a growing business like LICOS is the opportunities it can offer for personal growth and development.”
Leading an acquired business in Concentric
Franz, who likes to talk in pictures, continued, “Today my job as Geschäftsfϋhrer is to keep everything balanced – like a see saw in a children’s playground. I keep the balance between the Markdorf plant and the wider Concentric group, between each of the local departments, amongst the employees and between inventory levels and the fulfilment of sales orders. There are many examples where I am constantly shifting the emphasis from one part of the business to another to keep the balance so that LICOS runs efficiently and effectively.”
Franz spends most of his day with colleagues on the shopfloor and in the different departments to see where he can remove roadblocks, keep communication free-flowing and ensure that everyone is focused on getting the job done. “As a boss, I try to keep the balance between power and authority. I work on the principle that motivated and engaged employees will try and do more than even they think they are capable of! Trust and respect on both sides underpins my philosophy.”
What does sustainability mean to you?
Franz explained, “It is such a wide field that it is difficult to describe in one sentence. I think the most important aspect for a business is to have sustainable processes and products: from research and development to start of production, all the way through to shipping product to the customer. The best organisations learn from their experience and make improvements for the next production line. This is Concentric Business Excellence in practice and when we incorporate feedback from the market and our customers, this cycle creates a sustainable business.”
He added, “This has been the LICOS story – to listen, anticipate customer needs and deliver competitive high quality products to address those needs. First it was a clutch for a specific customer, then it was the bracket business, then the addition of the laser cutting business. Next came the water pump clutch and now the introduction of new technology products like the dual cone clutch as an example. The business has been delivering double digit growth on average since 2003 and if we continue with this successful formula there is every reason to believe it will continue.”
It is not Franz’s role to create new products – rather he inspires his team to “think outside the box” and motivates them to generate new ideas. Franz added, “Customers told us that they wanted a more powerful clutch but they could not allocate more space in the design. We listened and this led to the design of the Dual Cone Clutch. We anticipated this need based on customer feedback and designed a clutch for switching a compressor that had more torque and took up less space. This is sustainable innovation. And it doesn’t stop there”, Franz continued, “… just because we have customers and we are building prototypes and delivering products, as the Managing Director, I am constantly asking, ‘What else are customers telling us? What are the next problems we need to solve? Where are the next product ideas?’”
The acquisition of LICOS by Concentric AB in 2013 was perfect timing. The business was growing and our global customers wanted reassurance that LICOS had solid foundations and the necessary financial backing to be their long-term partner. Franz said, “Concentric was the perfect buyer – they understood our business model, they knew the market with all its key players and could support LICOS with the investment necessary to enable the business to continue to grow.”
In June 2017, LICOS were awarded the prestigious Horst Hartmann prize by the University of Kiel and the North German Chamber of Commerce to recognise innovation in their Supply Chain. Franz explained the value of a strong, well-managed Supply Chain Management System in delivering a successful, sustainable business. He said, “In winning the award, LICOS could show how we had made a significant and sustained improvement in inventory days (more than a 50% reduction in days) which still allows us to meet customers’ needs for on time delivery and all the while improving profitability.” Adding, “The reduction in inventory days is just one example of improved working practices – the whole Company operates like this – we constantly ask ourselves how can we improve our performance profitably and maintain customer service standards?”
What sets us aside from our competitors?
The LICOS business reviews are forward looking and concentrate on what we can do to continue to deliver a profitable, sustainable business. Franz said, “In production, for example, we have invested in new machinery which allows the team to produce more parts per shift with the same number of employees – thus increasing efficiency. This in turn allows us to develop our production team. We take time to educate them in new processes and systems and learn more about the importance of quality and lean working. It is these improvements in efficiency which make it commercially viable for us to manufacture in Germany despite the competition from low cost countries. Efficient operations are an important element of a sustainable business.”
Customers have told Franz and his team that they choose to work with us for 3 main reasons:
Water pump clutch
- Our research and development teams listen to existing and potential customers and design patented products to address their needs
- Our products offer significant advantages to the customer at a competitive price. For example, a typical truck owner will have a 5 year lease and the average return on investment for the LICOS clutch pump means that the truck owner will see notable fuel savings, compared to a standard pump.
- Capable and committed teams working on solving customers’ problems. As leaders we have an important role to play in matching our employees’ strengths to the jobs we ask them to do. We also find the balance between trust and accountability. For example, a team member who takes a call with China at 3 am German time can be sure that their commitment and flexibility does not go unnoticed. There is a strong bond of trust on both sides.
What of the future?
We take careful account of how the truck market is developing. For example, it is clear that more and more truck manufacturers are thinking about electric motors. “We anticipate that the small and medium duty truck sector will make developments in this area more quickly – much will depend on how easy it will be for these trucks and buses to be able to “plug in” and recharge. The heavy duty trucks will inevitably take more time to incorporate electric solutions (or some other efficiency and environmental solutions) into their new engine platform designs.” said Franz. “We are working to develop ideas and solutions that might address these market changes.”
Concentric competes best by delivering innovative, technology solutions to meet customers’ needs. Franz added, “In my vision, I see a day in the near future when a packaged LICOS clutch and Concentric pump sets the industry standard for truck manufacturers because of the clear advantages for the end user whether that is in fuel efficiency, reduced emissions or some other customer requirement, such as reduced noise”.