Over the past year, appliance company executives have faced a once-in-a-lifetime convergence of unique and pressing leadership challenges. From COVID-19 to significant economic and political uncertainty, the trends of 2020 have touched every aspect of appliance manufacturing.
This special HomeWork series features interviews with top executives from AHAM member companies to share what they have learned from the unprecedented events of the past year, as well as their insights on important leadership issues like mentorship, diversity and inclusion, and recent consumer trends.
The first installment of AHAM’s HomeWork Executive Leadership Series features Dr. Markus Miele, Executive Director and Co-proprietor, Miele.
What lessons about leadership will you take away from 2020?
2020 has so far been a year of ups and downs, and we have had to adapt quickly to new situations. And I can say today that we managed it well. At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, sales initially dropped sharply. In April, we had all our German plants in shut down for a fortnight. During this time, we took every conceivable safety measure to keep the risk of infection for our employees on their return to work as low as possible. This was very successful and, for a company of our size, we had very few people with an infection worldwide. Since May, demand for our products has risen steadily and we are currently operating at full capacity at almost all our plants. Throughout this entire period, our employees have done a great job, and they have played a major part in helping us get through the pandemic so well so far. Especially in these demanding times, communication is essential.
What is the most significant consumer trend that you have seen accelerated by COVID?
COVID has accelerated digitization in all areas of life. People spend more time at home and online. As shops were closed, we reacted and made virtual consultations possible. While working from home, people also interact more with their appliances. This has further fueled demand for our products.
How important is it for leaders to foster a culture of mentorship in their organizations? What makes an effective mentor?
Mentorship is well established and indispensable at Miele. Experienced Miele managers know how to act in specific situations in order to be successful. Mentors are part of extensive networks. In addition to their professional expertise, they possess a wealth of experience and convey cultural corporate values. A good mentor actively supports Miele knowledge management by passing on his or her experience to the next generation of managers.
Many companies have large numbers of staff working remotely. What challenges or opportunities has this presented?
At the beginning of the COVID crisis, one challenge was to provide the necessary IT infrastructure for mobile working. We achieved this in a very short time. In the meantime, we have gathered several months of experience with many employees who work from home. The first results of a survey among managers and employees in Germany, which is currently being evaluated, already indicate that this is seen as predominantly positive and that work performance is not suffering in any way. Therefore, the expansion of mobile working will be part of our “New Normal” in post-COVID times.
What is the best advice about leadership you have ever received?
My great-grandfather and his partner branded their first products with the claim "Immer Besser,” meaning “forever better.” This was and still is a commitment to the outstanding quality and durability of our products. We also apply the concept of Immer Besser to all other aspects, whether it is processes or people. And, of course, it also refers to oneself. Immer Besser is an integral part of Miele's DNA, and I personally can't imagine a better motto.
What does your company gain from its involvement in AHAM, and how do you encourage your employees to stay involved?
Miele’s association with AHAM has provide our company with practical data that we have found to be a great asset in driving and monitoring our business. We are afforded the opportunity to participate in sound industry advocacy for International, federal, state and local government relations issues. AHAM steers the synchronization of international standards, which then closely align our global product development. Last, but not least, AHAM leads the collaborative development of U.S. and International standards for safety, IoT, trade issues, environmental regulations and sustainability metrics.
As an active member, participation in the development and structure in today’s standards by Miele factory and U.S. representatives have resulted in a greater understanding of the unique developing needs of the U.S. market. Miele’s internal structure of centralized and decentralized officers provides much needed support for active participation in industry organizations that further the evolution of our successful appliance business. This is facilitated by monitoring and adapting to issues that affect our industry today and for the future.
How has a diverse and inclusive workforce helped your company to meet its objectives?
Miele is a globally active company. Diversity in the workforce contributes to a better understanding of our customers and their demands on domestic appliances. And, of course, a disability is no obstacle to employment with the company as long as the qualification of the candidate is appropriate.
If you could go back in time 20 years, what would you tell your younger self?
You work in an exciting industry where you have to adapt quickly and flexibly to new technologies and market requirements. Don't lose your clear lines and the long-term thinking that has always distinguished our family business.
What would be your dream job outside of the appliance industry?
Quite honestly: For me, there is no dream job outside the household appliance industry. I have the honor of steering the fortunes of a premium brand with an excellent reputation. Our products are respected for their sustainability and are at least as emotional as luxury cars, especially when it comes to cooking. And we face so many challenges ahead – just think of all possibilities of the smart kitchen – that I look forward to the coming years.
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