How to kill a great organisation?:
„Head massages instead of head hunters!“
Why an Austrian machine builder would rather offer hairdressing services than hire an HR consultant.
In this episode of our podcast series „How to kill a great organisation“ Elisabeth Leyser spoke with Andreas Fill, CEO and owner of Fill GmbH, a leading international mechanical engineering company based in Gurten, Upper Austria. The company with 950 employees supplies complex high-tech systems and individual solutions for the manufacturing industry in the metal, plastics and wood sectors.
Andreas Fill, who describes himself as an „anti-technician“, focuses on the areas of communication and employee development. He attaches the same importance to human resources development as to innovation. Here, the company also dares to go new ways.
You win or lose in the market with the employees.
Andreas Fill sees his vocation in the non-technical area, his passion lies above all in personnel topics and communication. Even in a technically driven company, Fill attaches the same importance to human resources development as to innovation:
„…that human resources development has the same importance as the development of machines and that a correspondingly large amount of resources must be invested. That was a very important realisation for me, because without the best brains you can’t create good, new creative solutions.“
The topic of personnel is becoming increasingly important for Fill:
„Because today it’s not about investing in buildings, in machines. You don’t win or lose on the market with that. You win and you lose in the market with the employees“.
We have two full-time educators
For about 10 years, Fill has been focusing on the topic of career orientation in his company and has chosen a programme where young people are invited to get to know technology, mechanical engineering, but also the company. His flagship project, however, is the Future Lab, where every day groups of visitors, from pre-school children to managers from other companies, can gain experience in different areas in workshops in the eight laboratories: Robotics, Laser Technology, AI, 3D Printing, Media, Logistics, to name a few.
Separate pedagogical concepts have been developed for each age group, and two teachers have been permanently employed for this purpose – a rather unusual path for a mechanical engineer:
„Five years ago, I would never have dreamed of suddenly opening a small school and also enabling teacher training in the company. But we have two full-time teachers in the background, and also a team to support them, because the programmes have to be further developed every day, and all the material and equipment has to be serviced.
A service centre – but for employees
Another showcase project for Fill is the „Power Cube“, a spectacular new building that is not only a logistics centre but also an office. At a height of 20 metres, in addition to a public pub, there is also a hairdresser, a beauty institute and a fitness room that can also be used for physiotherapy and yoga.
Finally, Fill talks about the need for long-term planning and that creativity and patience are required, especially when it comes to building an employer brand, which can take many years.
The full-length interview:
Elisabeth Leyser: Welcome to the MetaShift Transformation Podcast „How to Kill a Great Company?“. That is the question we are addressing in our podcast. We are interested in the factors that determine whether companies develop long-term value or perhaps fail relatively soon. And in conversation with owners, academics and experienced managers, we want to dig deeper and better understand them. We are particularly interested in what constitutes sustainable corporate success and how our discussion partners arrived at this view. Today, Mr. Andreas Fill is my guest. Welcome, Mr Fill!
Andreas Fill: Yes, hello, welcome!
Elisabeth Leyser: Yes, many things. Managing Director at Fill GmbH, a mechanical engineering company in Upper Austria. It has existed for many decades and this sustainable success is exactly what we are very interested in. May I ask you, Mr Fill, to introduce yourself briefly as a person?
Andreas Fill: My name is Andreas Fill. I am the second generation in the company. I have been managing the company since 2000 and I share the shares with my wife, Bettina, who also works in the company. I am the father of two children. My professionalism or vocation in the company is more in the non-technical area. Perhaps a little unusual in a mechanical engineering company. My hobbies are human resources development and communication.
Elisabeth Leyser: Thank you. That is also a topic that will guide us through the conversation today. Your company has been successful since 1966 and in the last few years in particular you have made an unbelievable surge in innovation. And not only in areas that are directly related to their technical core business. What should one understand from your point of view in order to really understand a lot and the secrets behind this success?
Andreas Fill: Ultimately, there are many, many building blocks here. But the realisation that innovation is extremely important for a technically driven company, but that human resource development has the same importance as the development of machines and that a lot of resources are also put into it accordingly. That was a very important realisation for me, because without the best brains you can’t create good new creative solutions.
Elisabeth Leyser: That means you say innovation needs human resources development.
Andreas Fill: Correct. And especially the topic of human resources ten, 15 years ago: Areas that tended to be outsourced are becoming more and more important. Because today it’s not about investing in buildings, in machines. You don’t win or lose on the market with that. You win and you lose in the market with the employees.
Elisabeth Leyser: That means you see the employees as the critical success factor. And as I understand the company, you are located relatively far away in a beautiful area. But normally it is not so easy to find technical staff there. And you, with your approach, manage to attract and keep really good people. How do you manage to do that?
Andreas Fill: Yes, we are at home in a rural, idyllic region, the Innviertel, in a community of 1140 souls, characterised by a lot of agriculture. But what you don’t see at first glance is that it is also very industrialised. There are global brands in the neighbourhood. Accordingly, people here are fighting for the employees of the future. Of course, demographic development is also a central issue. And where Fill clearly distinguishes itself from all other companies in the region and beyond is certainly our topic of career orientation. For ten years we have chosen a programme here where we invite young people to get to know technology, mechanical engineering, but also our company. The programme was then extended further and further, also towards primary school children. And two years ago we created our Future Lab. It is probably a unique project in Austria, where we have been fully booked for months, to my delight, where we have bookings into the autumn, where we also have bookings already for the summer of 20 23 and where we have a lot of new participants. It is a showcase project where we have at least one group of visitors in the house every day, starting with pre-school children up to 14 adult executives of a large car manufacturer yesterday. It’s a very broad spectrum that we cover.
Elisabeth Leyser: That sounds very exciting and we had a preliminary talk. And you already told me a bit about it and I immediately thought, I really want to experience that myself. In this Future Lab there are obviously also robots that you can programme yourself. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Andreas Fill: With pleasure! In the Future Lab we currently have eight labs that we offer. Robotics is one of them. And we have developed special programmes for the most diverse age groups and also for the most diverse types of schools, beginners‘ programmes or advanced programmes. Sometimes school classes come to us 4,5,6 times to do in-depth workshops. And in addition to robotics, we also have a media lab where we work with green wall technology. We have a Making Lab, where we work with laser technology and 3D printing. In healthy living, the children learn how to deal with health data. They can do dance moves with a very cool robot, the Alpha Rob, but they can also do push-ups, one-armed push-ups. We have a data lab, a smart lab, a lab where the topic is logistics, where it’s about flying drones. And a VR Lab, where the topic of virtual reality plays a very central role. But of course. I have to assume that this will be accepted. Children of pre-school or kindergarten age don’t put on VR glasses, that would simply be too early. In other words, we have developed quite great pedagogical concepts for every age. And to my surprise. There are also robotics for children aged four or five. And it’s sensational to see the enthusiasm with which boys and girls alike approach the topic of digitalisation.
Elisabeth Leyser: Amazing! That is very exciting. And as you mentioned briefly in an aside, the whole thing is also really pedagogically designed. I understand that you have permanently employed two educators. That is also very unusual and special.
Andreas Fill: An unusual path for a mechanical engineer, of course. Five years ago, I would never have dreamed that I would suddenly open a small school and make teacher training possible in the company. But we have two full-time teachers in the background, and also a team to support them, because the programmes have to be developed further every day, and all the material and equipment have to be served. In the meantime, we have paperless programmes for children over the age of ten. That means we have developed our own app and there are a lot of ideas on how we will develop the whole Future Lab in the next few years.
Elisabeth Leyser: That sounds really great and it sounds like it’s a matter close to your heart. Why is the focus on people so important to you? Has it always been that way or have you somehow developed as a person that you deal with the topic so clearly?
Andreas Fill: Well, 20 years ago I had to find my way around in my role as managing director of the company. But I have always recognised that I am an anti-technician. That I have two left hands myself, my wife is much more skilful. And I have always enjoyed working with people. It was always important to me to work in the thick of things. And especially when it came to creative processes or maybe even crazy ideas, I delivered one or the other idea. And these headlines sometimes turned into very great projects.
Elisabeth Leyser: What are your plans for the future? Where do you see Fill? Namely, now also in particular with regard to employees and their task, which they obviously fulfil in the region. In these, in a few years.
Andreas Fill: The future is, of course, investing in the development of new products, opening up new markets, always keeping our eyes open, thinking outside the box when it comes to technical development and digitalisation. Then of course. For employee retention, there are various ideas to increase retention even more. We are talking about profit-sharing bonuses from day one, and we are currently planning a very spectacular new building, the so-called Power Cube. It’s not just a logistics centre, not just five parking pockets for 600 vehicles, but also a great office. At a height of 20 metres, including a public pub. There’s just not too much in the region. We will also have a hairdresser, a barber, a cosmetics institute upstairs, a physiotherapist, who can then also use the fitness room and yoga room. And only yesterday a doctor contacted me to ask if he could also rent a room here. This means that a small service centre of a very special kind is being created here at a height of 20 metres, and these are just many, many small benefits that the employees appreciate for the most part.
Elisabeth Leyser: You say there are many small benefits. I listen to them and think to myself that this is actually a paradigm shift. I think it’s quite a critical issue that companies understand that you have to make a different effort with employees. And just the fact that they call it service centres for employees is something that I’ve actually never heard in that form before. And I’m sure it will really make it possible for them to continue to attract the best and most committed employees. And ultimately they don’t do that just as an end in itself, but because it is a powerful way of equipping their successful company. And I think to myself that this must also be noticeable to your customers. And they must perceive that you have a special culture with regard to employees. What feedback do you get from your customers?
Andreas Fill: I mentioned earlier that yesterday, for example, we hosted a group of managers from a large car manufacturer who did an adult programme in this Future Lab. This is now the second group from this company that came to you a few weeks ago. The third group will probably sign up soon. The recommendation rate is 99%. So of course they feel the theme of how we live vocational orientation. We also have customers in the building every day when we take them through the new building and through this Future Lab. Then they see the enthusiasm of the children and young people and of course feel that Fill is taking a completely different approach here. We invest money in vocational orientation and that many people are not aiming for quarters here, but that Fill is planning for the long term. And that is the beauty of a family business. We don’t plan for months, we don’t plan for years. We plan at least for three or five years. And at the next strategy meeting it’s a lot of 20 30 and we know that time passes quickly and in eight years a lot will happen. But we have also learned from the past that we have always reached the end of the road with our visionary goals sooner than we had dreamed.
Elisabeth Leyser: That means that the company really thinks in terms of generations. You also said in our preliminary discussion that you are already thinking about the day after tomorrow. And that is of course something that is very typical for family businesses, because the next generation is already known and they certainly think about their children and grandchildren when they think about the future of the company. But I am convinced, and I also see this in my work for companies, that it is ultimately precisely these non-monetary aspects such as culture, dealing with employees, but also, very importantly, innovation, „How do we manage? – All these aspects actually provide the basis for companies to remain successful in the long term and to develop positively in terms of value. And here I have the impression that a rethink is taking place, also under pressure, of course, with regard to the climate crisis. But in the end, I believe that it will be increasingly important for companies not only to think and plan for the short term, but also for generations, and since you are really taking such a special approach. Mr Fill, I would like to ask you for a recommendation. If other business leaders also want to move in the right direction. What do you think is the most important thing? What do you recommend?
Andreas Fill: Creativity is an important aspect. Take good things from other companies, but don’t copy them one-to-one. It must also always fit the DNA of the company. Patience is also required, because building an employer brand does not take months, it takes many, many years. And especially in these times, when the war of talents has really broken out, to question yourself. Do I put up bounties, do I buy employees at any price and perhaps destroy a good structure in the company? Or am I really focusing on medium-term personnel planning? Because we know that what we do today in the area of career guidance with the children will not bear fruit tomorrow. But in two or three years, the number of applications will continue to increase enormously, especially in the area of apprentices and trainees. And that’s where we will differ massively from other companies.
Elisabeth Leyser: Yes, I am quite sure that you have already laid a very good foundation and will continue to do so. At the same time, I would like to emphasise that I have noticed that you even think of your competitors when you say that you are not convinced that direct approaches, i.e. poaching employees, are a good way to go, because they might destroy a good structure somewhere else. In this sense, I really thank you very much and with special respect for the path you are taking. I am sure that this discussion is of extraordinary interest to our listeners. And I thank you, dear listeners, for your attention. We would of course be delighted if you recommend us to others. If you subscribe to our episodes and recommend them to others, this will help us to attract interesting guests and discussion partners. We stay tuned to the topic. We are about transformation, change in challenging times and the conviction that good solutions can also exist in these challenging times. Goodbye, Mr Fill. Goodbye.
Andreas Fill: Goodbye and good luck.