Thomas Nürnberger has been Managing Director Sales and Marketing of the ebm-papst Group since April 2021 and President of ebm-papst China for five years. In this interview, he talks about internationality, what we can learn from China and what customers can expect from him.
Mr Nürnberger, you have lived in China for the last 15 years. How much has this time shaped you?
15 years have a huge impact on you, make you more open to other perspectives and cultures and make you more adaptable. Of course, that helps when you want to do business in other regions. In China, the speed is incredibly high. The development that Germany has made in 50 years, China has made in 15. It is difficult to get into Chinese society. I succeeded in doing so because I am married to a Chinese woman. Because for the Chinese, family is very important. And the company is also a bond that holds people together. You do more with your colleagues than in Germany. I like the way of life there.
You speak Mandarin and are married to a Chinese woman. What role does diversity play in the sales of a global technology leader?
Women, men, different generations, countries, cultures, areas of responsibility, languages: Diversity is important because it brings more input and ideas into the company. With me, ebm-papst will become even more international. Language also plays an important role: we need to use English more as a corporate language. We are still at the very beginning of this. In addition, we will involve the foreign locations more in strategy development. We are already doing that.
What can we learn from the Chinese market?
Certainly the speed mentioned above. In addition, we can learn a strong customer orientation. This is not only a task of the sales department, but runs through the entire company. The willingness to try out new things is also very characteristic. This is naturally good for everything that has to do with digitalisation.
China also enjoys the dubious reputation here of being the leader in terms of product copying. As an insider, how do you see that?
Yes, there is a lot of copying in China. The government more or less allows it. However, even in China it is no longer acceptable to put products on the market under a false label. We are also taking action against this. However, copying a design, for example a wheel, is still difficult to stop. Since the Chinese are fast, this is a problem. The best way we can protect ourselves is by innovating our products and providing application support around the product. And that is certainly one of our strengths. We understand what the customer needs - and that offers added value that is not easily copied.
China is also becoming more than just the extended workbench.
In some sectors, China is even the technology leader: battery technology, drones, software and information technology - for example, facial recognition software. There, the programmes already recognise a face under the mask. China is taking a very strategic approach: There is a clear vision and five-year plans to implement this vision. Under "Made in China 2025", the topic of modern technologies in manufacturing is also increasingly coming into play. Automation is also moving into Chinese factories. Whereby there is still a big gap between the factories in the urban centres like Shanghai and those in the hinterland.
You are now responsible for global sales. How does your approach differ for China and for the Americas?
There are many parallels. In the Americas, for example, personal contact with the customer is also very important. And in both China and America, there is more demand for metal wheels in fans. The approaches are therefore similar. In Johnson City, we are currently investing in a new plant to be able to offer customers a good supply chain.
What is your sales focus when dealing with your customers?
We want strategic partnerships in which we dovetail the customer's roadmap with ours. We have already done this in the past, but we have to do it even more in the future - and more beyond Europe. We already serve the Asian market from China with specific products. We want to expand this globally. The central question there is how to meet an existing demand. We have to develop products that meet the requirements - also in terms of price. Design-to-cost and design-to-market will guide us there. Our modular solutions help us achieve this.
Do you focus on a specific application market?
We focus on our core business, which is driven by the megatrends of energy efficiency, digitalisation and indoor air quality. We have the right products for this. Therefore, we are targeting data centres and commercial air conditioning. In Europe, there is also the heat pump market. Here, there is a strong shift away from fossil combustion systems to electric systems. In addition, we are positioning ourselves even more strongly as a solution and service provider. In this way, we can offer customers greater added value in their applications. For example, by helping to improve the efficiency of an application not only through the engine, but also through the air flow. And by services, we of course also mean digital services, where we can fulfil digital customer wishes quite flexibly with our ebm-papst neo think tank.
Climate protection is one of the central issues of our time. How much does this concern you from a sales perspective?
Basically, we have been indirectly involved in climate protection for a long time. For example, in e-mobility, where we offer solutions for both vehicles and charging infrastructure. The topic of heating also plays an important role. Gas heating will not die in the next three years. Rather, we still see great potential in the direction of hydrogen and synthetic gases.
But the fact that ebm-papst not only moves air, but also takes care of its quality is new.
Well, ebm-papst moves air, but also cools and heats it. That is at least indirectly part of the quality. And we will continue to do so. There is no other way to move air efficiently. More buildings are being equipped with air conditioning and decentralised ventilation systems to improve comfort and health. Viruses, for example, will continue to occupy us. The issue of filtration plays a major role in this. Our products are the first choice for all manufacturers of filtration systems. We can draw on a lot of experience from the cleanroom sector. And in commercial buildings, air quality has a direct impact on the productivity of the people who work in them. We offer the appropriate sensor technology and data analysis for this.
What challenge are you most concerned about at the moment?
At the moment, the supply issue is the most difficult. This is the case for the entire market. In the coming years, customers will also want to be supplied even more flexibly, quickly and cost-effectively. To do this, we have to remain competitive, through innovation but also through our global footprint. By going to local supply chains, we avoid freight costs and are close to the customer. Innovation can go in two directions: You can have the best and most energy-efficient product, but you can also offer a good-enough product at a good price. We don't compromise on quality, but we tailor products to the specific needs of the markets. We are the innovation leader and this year we have not only increased our investments in concrete and plants, but also in our development.
What can customers expect from you in the near future?
We will set off a real innovation firework in the next three years. We have just started this with the latest generation of our RadiPac centrifugal fan. We are offering products more and more with digital services. And because we are the partner who understands the customer application best, we solve our customers' problems. We ensure this by having discussed and started many topics internally, but now bringing them to completion and thus to the markets. What we do well today, we want to do even better tomorrow.