INNOSYSTEC celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. To mark this joyful occasion, we have conducted an interview with the founder and CEO Peter Zerwes. This provided exciting insights and interesting background information on the origins of INNO and the person of our CEO.
Mr Zerwes, as CEO of INNOSYSTEC GmbH, you are already known to some people.
Would you nevertheless please introduce yourself briefly to our readers?
My name is Peter Zerwes, I am 60 years old, married and have 2 adult sons. I studied electrical engineering at the RWTH Aachen.
Because I personally like the mountains, I looked for my first job in Southern Germany after my studies. At that time there was the option to choose between a trainee program at BMW in Munich and a job at Dornier in Friedrichshafen. I had made the decision on a day when the weather was best. When I stood in front of the Castle of Meersburg and saw the mountains and the lake, it was clear to me that I wanted to start my career at Lake Constance.
INNO is 20 years old this year. A lot of groundbreaking things have certainly happened during this time - and are happening right now with the new building.
How did INNO come about in the first place?
INNOSYSTEC is a spin-off from a project business. I was employed by Dornier and left there after five years to take over a small computer company as managing partner. I still belonged to this company until the end of last year but have since sold my shares.
After I left Dornier, this company had received an order request shortly after I left, asking if we would like to work on a project. Through this project we got in contact with the client who had commissioned Dornier at that time. The client was so satisfied with our services that he asked us whether we could imagine to develop this topic further. Due to the overlapping of old projects in the company and the new project, we decided to found a new company. It was founded by three people: two project managers from the Dornier company and myself. So we started with INNO in June 2000. At that time, the new economy was in decline and we started out practically as a solid and old economy, because we had no investors - instead, we had an attractive project assignment directly. And so it started!
If you were faced with this decision again, would INNO exist today?
For sure! I think, from a professional point of view, this was the best decision of my life.
For a long time you have been working with only a few employees and now the number is increasing much faster in recent years.
What is the reason for this?
In the first few years, we mainly did business through projects and only took on and processed those orders that were feasible. We attached particular importance to growing cautiously. Through this project work, which gradually increased, we also developed the personnel. Now the situation is different; at some point we asked ourselves why the market is growing very strongly parallel to INNO, but INNO itself is not growing so strongly. So we came to the idea of approaching this growth strategically - with all the consequences. This meant, among other things, increasing the staff in order to be able to fill completely different positions to accompany the growth.
Is that the reason why INNO is building a new (own) building?
Exactly, that is the main reason. We in the shareholder group have considered what conditions we actually have to create if we want to pursue this growth path. It quickly became clear to us that resources are essential, and especially working conditions. We have been tenants in an industrial park for 18 years, but now we are bursting at the seams here. So it was clear that we had to change. We absolutely wanted to stay in Salem and checked whether we could rent something. It quickly became clear that this was not possible, so we decided to build our own building.
Are there still employees today who were involved when INNO started 20 years ago?
Yes indeed, there are. Two valuable employees who have really been with us from day one: one of them is now our CTO and the other is active, among other things, as a senior software developer/architect and, in the area of security, as our security officer. That is really a great thing.
What have been your personal highlights in these 20 years? Apart from the new building.
Yes, of course there have been many highlights when I look back. What I find particularly remarkable is the fact that even after 20 years we still have customers who have been with us right from the start. Thanks to many successful projects, we are pleased about the high level of continuity in our customer base. This special relationship of trust with numerous customers has repeatedly led to the fact that we have been able to acquire new customers through recommendations without having to make any special sales efforts. Furthermore, our extremely low fluctuation is for me an indication that a lot is going right at INNO.
How did you celebrate the last (probably 10th) anniversary?
We celebrated the 10th anniversary of INNO with several events, for which the whole industrial park was decorated at the time. For example, on one Saturday there was an employee family day with a large tent and some attractions for the children. The family members were able to inform themselves in the building about the work of INNO and its partners. We also initiated a public authority day, which all our customers came to Salem for. There were information stands here, which presented INNO in detail. As a supporting program, we invited guests to a boat trip from Überlingen to the island of Mainau, followed by dinner. This day, with all its impressions, remained in the participants' memories for a long time - something that became apparent again and again much later in conversations with them.
In Corona times, parties are not so easy to organise - how is INNO celebrating its anniversary this year?
Yes, that is really bitter for us. In addition to the challenges from an entrepreneurial point of view that Corona brings with it, we have to do without the celebration this year. We had a lot planned: we wanted to have a great party to celebrate the opening of the building, we wanted to celebrate our anniversary, we wanted to organize a customer day, we wanted to offer a family day - we had a lot of ideas. In the meantime, however, the decision has been made to do without all of these events this year, in the hope that - with regard to Corona - next year we will have better times and we will then really all be able to celebrate with great joy and without restrictions! So it is not cancelled, but only postponed.
In 2007 INNO became part of the PLATH Group based in Hamburg, which is now not just around the corner. How did this come about?
We had seven years of project work behind us by mid-2008, mainly with German customers. The decision was made to take our first steps in an international environment. At that time, I was working alone in sales, so it soon became clear that we could only take this step with partners, as it would have taken too much time and effort to set up our own business at that time. Therefore we looked for a partner at that time. At the same time, PLATH, who already knew us from project business, approached us, expressed interest in a cooperation and wanted to acquire shares in order to join the PLATH Group. The deal at that time was quite simple: we bring our competence into the Group with a first-class reference from the German clientele of security authorities and an attractive product portfolio. In return, we were able to benefit from the large sales team in Hamburg and thus had immediate access to the international market.
How does INNO differ from other companies - what makes INNO different?
We have tried to establish an open culture here from the very beginning, i.e. the doors are always open. We have flat hierarchies, we have always attached importance to open and regular communication and over the years we have practiced a very elaborate staff meeting, which takes place several times a year. At these meetings, information is provided to the workforce from all known areas. We involve the workforce in many decisions. We have established creativity days, where we meet every two years for a large workshop. We discuss the challenges that exist internally and develop solutions.
Our new building has also been set up in this way. The colleagues were able to get involved and formulate their ideas and wishes, e.g. open-plan offices or rather small or medium-sized offices. We also owe our townhall in the new building to the ideas of the team. I think that is already a special feature of INNO.
What has been your greatest professional challenge so far?
The biggest professional challenge for me at the moment is the restrictions imposed by the corona pandemic. There have been many challenges over the past 20 years, but most of them could be managed at your own discretion. With Corona, things look different. Right now we are facing a situation where we want to strategically build up international sales, and we are now being virtually slowed down. International travel is hardly possible or only with very strong restrictions. Personal contact with our customers is of enormous importance for our business. However, I am also proud of the fact that, despite the crisis, we have not had to introduce short time working to date. Thanks to our cautious management, we are optimistic that we will get through this crisis well.
What are the positive aspects of your (working) day?
Fortunately I can look back on 20 years in which I have always enjoyed my work to 90%. A lot of variety, this variety of topics, the possibilities to decide and also the feedback from the team; to look at the whole development of the company, with how much joy and commitment the employees work here, ... the satisfied customers ... - there are many positive aspects that simply give me great pleasure here.
Is there anything that you don't like about their everyday life?
Not having enough time to think through important and urgent issues with adequate care. Sometimes general conditions require quick decision-making. This has unfortunately increased over time. Likewise, the situation of often having a full schedule deprives you of the opportunity to work on topics in peace.
What do you wish for the future? And where do you see INNO in 10 years?
Of course I wish that INNOSYSTEC will continue to operate carefully and successfully. Above all, that the growth strategy and the corporate strategy that we have set up and have now begun to implement can be realized; that it bears fruit and that INNO with its solutions is perceived as a guarantee for reliability and security in the world, and that we can count many more satisfied customers among our customers in the future.
Thank you very much for your time Mr. Zerwes.