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“Here in Switzerland, we are in the European Silicon Valley”

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V-ZUG is constantly introducing world firsts with the “Made in Switzerland” stamp. Who is behind it, and how do you conceive a path from idea to sophisticated world-first product? We met up with Stephan Keller, Director Development Division, for a chat.

Do you remember your first working day at V-ZUG?
At reception I happened to meet a man who greeted me very warmly. I found out later that he was my deputy in the Development division. This encounter was symptomatic. Open interactions are a cultural trademark of V ZUG.

What is your main task?
A lot of my work revolves around innovations. But what is an innovation? It is important to clarify this before you can understand my tasks. It starts with an idea which addresses an issue, a customer benefit. If this idea results in a product with evident success on the market, then according to my definition, we are dealing with an innovation. Commercialisation is an important aspect of the concept of innovation. Without this and the expertise of our Development team, an idea remains an idea – and that’s not enough for success. I guide the team from idea to innovation, and that is my main task.

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How do you conceive that in practice?
During the first year and a half I was involved in bringing ideas which had already been developed onto the market. Primarily, this involved the market launch of the new oven line. The project was in the late stages of industrialisation, which I was able to be involved in. It was an important experience. One of our aims is to have a constant stream of innovations in the pipeline. Over the past year, we have restructured the pre-development system, and I would say we currently have around 20 projects in development across all departments.

These are some of the latest Swiss-made world firsts from Zug:

To what do you attach the most importance when managing your employees?
Employees should have their own ideas and express them when they see opportunities to improve V-ZUG. This means we need to give people space to think and establish decision-making rules regarding what we want to follow up and what we don’t. Ideas which we choose to follow up will be developed in an efficient process just like all other ideas. The important thing is that we always communicate well and maintain an open dialogue. Everyone must have a real opportunity to participate. This point is essential for the Development department.

What is particularly Swiss about the V-ZUG Development department?
We are well structured, agile, customer-oriented and, as is typical of the Swiss, we are quite self-critical. We place high demands on ourselves, our environment and our products. The demands that we observe in society in the context of our work are important and we fulfil them through the performance of our products. At V-ZUG, we have defined six strategic search fields which we refer to as Innovation Search Fields, and we use these to orient ourselves. Top performance is one of them. All of them are very Swiss.

How do you view V-ZUG’s development environment?
We see a lot of potential because society is changing around us. We want to keep pace with this dynamic and this change. On the one hand, there is the environment in Switzerland, which is dynamic. But the global environment is also dynamic and is becoming increasingly relevant for us. This is because we have a global presence and because global trends have a major influence on the Swiss environment. One thing we ask ourselves is how stable our business models are. Take for example Uber and Airbnb. In both cases, the companies revolutionised established business models. Within the company, we try to challenge our own business models as effectively as we can using our imagination to identify where we could be weak or vulnerable. This is a very advanced and agile way of adapting to the ever changing environments in the domestic Swiss market and in the global markets.

Why should development managers at V-ZUG’s biggest competitors envy you?
Our agility is unique among the competition and the environment is ideal. Here in Switzerland, we are in the European Silicon Valley. We have access to excellent scientific bodies. This includes the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology as well as the renowned global food industry, which is an opportunity for us due to the growing significance of convenience functional foods. We are in the middle of a market environment with the very highest standards, which helps us to demonstrate our appliances’ top performance. These are all aspects which are relatively important for success and which make us strong. We can’t forget that we have a strong, long-standing brand. This, of course, is helpful for the future. It is true that the brand is primarily known in Switzerland, but it is very stable here. I also think that having highly integrated production on site is an asset. It means we can check quickly what is possible and what isn’t. This enables a fast and purposeful approach. And we can benefit from our experience which spans over a century.

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How did you end up as the lead developer at V-ZUG?
The journey began with my mechanical engineering training (Dipl. Masch.-Ing.) at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology specialising in mechatronics (Note: Mechatronics engineers assemble electrical, mechanical, pneumatic and hydraulic components in a system), which is how I developed my technical knowledge. I then worked at Bosch for 18 years, 16 of which were spent in pre-development in the power tools division with a focus on product development and innovation at the Swiss and German sites. During this time, a Development division was also established in Asia. I spent a further two years carrying out industrial research for Bosch, which involved conducting scientific research across all company departments with the goal of identifying areas in which solutions could be created to fulfil new customer benefits. I joined V-ZUG as the Production Manager and after a year I transferred to the Product Development department where I have been focusing on the design of products ever since.

Mr Keller, thank you very much for speaking to us. We are looking forward to more world firsts!

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