How to kill a great organisation?:
Success through passion and discipline
…and what this has to do with the hard shell of a coconut.
In this episode of our podcast series „How to kill a great organization,“ Elisabeth Leyser spoke with Stefan Gubi, CEO of Windhager Zentralheizung, an Austrian family-owned company that has been successfully producing and selling sustainable heating systems for 100 years.
Gubi describes himself as a workaholic, but for whom work-life balance is very important. He began his career in the telecom industry, serving as sales manager and managing director in well-known telecom companies before taking over as managing director of Windhager in 2021.
His drive has always been to learn new areas, new things, to try new things.
Keeping the spirit fresh
„And that’s also the essential thing for me, to keep the spirit fresh, to keep the energy at a high level, and also to keep challenging yourself so you don’t stay too long in a certain area.“
Gubi then addresses the challenges that particularly affect companies in the heating sector. Specifically, there has been an extreme increase in demand for alternative heating and hot water solutions:
„The interest of consumers to supply themselves with sustainable energy, also in the area of heating, is growing. The attractiveness through subsidies, the availability of the products, the corresponding media support, and also the political general weather situation in a very positive sense have fueled this very strongly and have pushed us as an industry to the limits of our capabilities.“
A key challenge is the issue of availability, both in terms of pellets as a raw material, but especially in terms of personnel. Here, people’s expectations and needs are changing quite massively. When dealing with employees, Gubi cites communication and information as decisive factors.
Intensive communication and information for security and orientation
„The decisive factor is communication and information. The more we communicate, the more we inform, the more security we can provide, the more orientation we can give. To our employees. And that is therefore the core credo for me, the core message to my management team: talk, talk, talk, talk… conducting the dialog with the team as intensively as possible gives the greatest opportunity to identify problems early on, to be able to take countermeasures at an early stage and to convey security, even in what may be difficult times.“
Sometimes consciously pressing the „pause“ button
Gubi emphasizes how important it is to also take reflective breaks in everyday business:
„…when things are particularly hot, hit the pause button. I also try to constantly suggest to my management team to take this creative break once in a while, not to run faster and faster like the hamster in the wheel and at some point no longer be able to withstand the pressure, but to consciously take time out and work on the system rather than in it.“
Gubi sees a tremendous sense of optimism at Windhager. Not only the addition of many new employees, but also the expansion of business areas characterize the profound transformation of the company. Furthermore, the construction of a new factory means that a major investment project is on the horizon.
„Anyone who says a coconut has a hard shell has never been hungry,“ Gubi quotes a saying from his mother-in-law and relates it to an important attitude of the people in the company:
„This saying has already made me very thoughtful. And this being hungry, that’s something I always pass along in my teams. Let’s stay hungry, let’s stay alert, and let’s try not to resign ourselves to the apparent realities right away…. There will always be problems, there will always be challenges. The only thing that matters is the courage, the willingness and the consistency to work on solutions and not on problem description.“
Sustainable development is one of the most important goals for Gubi:
„I want to map sustainable business success and I would like to look back in five, ten years to something that has lasted, that is solid, that brings future and opportunities in the most positive way. That means not taking adventures, but building something very, very sustainable.“
The full length interview:
This text was translated by a machine and clearly shows that we still have a long way to go before we are in danger of being rendered obsolete by A.I..
Elisabeth Leyser: Welcome to our MetaShift Transformation Podcast. In our podcast series, we look at the factors that determine the long-term value development of companies and organizations. We talk to experienced executives, experts, owners and want to understand better and better what, from their point of view, is particularly important for sustainable success. Of course, we are also interested in how the person in question arrived at this point of view. Today, Mr. Stefan Gubi, Managing Director of Windhager Zentralheizung, is my guest. A warm welcome! Mr. Gubi has been Managing Director at Windhager since 2021, and that was the year Windhager also turned 100. So it’s definitely a company that’s already very sustainably successful. And that is exactly something we are interested in. But first I would like to ask you, Mr. Gubi, to briefly introduce yourself.
Stefan Gubi: Yes, I’ll be very, very happy to do that. Thank you very much for the invitation. Also a warm greeting to you from Seekirchen. To introduce myself briefly. Stefan Gubi, 57 years old, married, three children, a workaholic known from history. Over the years, decades, this has, thank God, somewhat reduced in the sense of: Today, in addition to an extremely high workload, especially in this industry – especially at this time, this is not something that affects only one person like me, for example, but probably affects many colleagues in different companies – I try to find a certain balance with work and family and to get both in a corresponding reasonable harmony. I am a native of Upper Austria, but have mainly lived near Vienna in Perchtoldsdorf for almost four decades, now work in Seekirchen near Salzburg, have a history that has taken me from the telecom industry – I started in an Austrian family business Schrack. Schrack was then sold, then Ericsson. My career in sales versus sales management to management at Ericsson Austria. Then did a management buy out in 1998, with the help of Raiffeisenlandesbank Oberösterreich. At the time, this was the largest management buy-out in Austria. Together with my colleague Dr. Semantic, we founded the Schrak Business Community, which then merged with Kapsch in 2001.
Stefan Gubi: Was then on the Kapsch board, then went out to accompany an entrepreneur staging in Upper Austria on behalf of the bank and then went into a very international business. Became managing director of AKG Akustik. Microphones, headphones with a world reputation. Austrian company owned by a major American corporation. Have an International Headquarters in Los Angeles. Thus began an excessive international career, I would almost say, with enormous travel. I did this for five years with great passion, great enthusiasm, one of the best professional times of my life, and then from AKG I became Managing Director of T-Mobile Austria, responsible for sales and service, now Magenta. Was then taken away from T-Mobile to Deutsche Telekom, the parent company of T-Mobile. Was then responsible in Bonn for key accounts in mobile telephony, large fleet customers worldwide. That meant I had a sales organization in Seattle and a team in Singapore for the Asian region, again a lot of travel, a lot of international business. Stayed in Bonn for five years, then went back, also for private reasons. You don’t get any younger and wanted to be closer to family, Austria and home again. Yes, and fate had it that I was approached by the owner, Mr. Windhager, in October 2020. We have met in 2013 already once briefly and I have ignited at that time to it the first spark from my side.
Stefan Gubi: I think it was similar on the other side. We also said in 2013 it is perhaps a bit too early for us to find each other. 2020 it was then so far and since January last year, as you already said, then I am with Windhager. A highly exciting, for me quite interesting, completely new company. That it is perhaps also quite essential in these meanwhile nevertheless clearly more than 30 professional years, so every 5 to 8 years the opportunity arose for me to move into new areas, to get to know new things, to try out new things. And for me that is also the essential thing, to keep the mind fresh, to keep the energy on a high level and also to challenge oneself again and again not to stay too long in a certain area. And one becomes, is an often used term, nevertheless a little bit „business-blind“ with the time and by these always recurring changes partly into highly exciting ranges to bring in to be allowed and the chance to get, I remained, I believe, to this day that, which gives me the largest joy: hungry, interested, open-minded with, but nevertheless a due measure of experience. And that’s quite a mixture, as I’ve found.
Elisabeth Leyser: Now that was really, really impressive, all the background you have. I think to myself, you are a generalist in the really most pronounced sense. I’ve rarely perceived anyone doing so many different things. And what they said, that hunger and also curiosity in the best sense. You can really hear that through. So, it sounds as if you have had a very interesting life and professional life, and I am sure that you can contribute and use a lot in your current job at Windhager. Windhager is, after all, if I look at it from my naturally non-industry perspective on the boiler company. When I imagine what the current developments are. First of all the climate issue, but now of course also the energy issue for their business. So I ask myself: How do you deal with the fact that it’s so dynamic right now, that there actually has to be such a booster situation for your company, from my point of view?
Stefan Gubi: How do you deal with that? A, this idea that you just outlined at the end, this booster situation, it is of course an absolutely correctly outlined one. It is, I think, just a highly exciting time, which is full of challenges for the industry, for our companies, not only for Windhager, which has perhaps also led to a bit of overheating of the overall situation. And indeed the whole thing already clearly before Ukraine has brought us again into an even new dimension. We had before the Ukraine, the situation by the by the promotion topic of different markets in Europe, above all Germany Austria. If our market was of course significantly stimulated, the sales figures were of course significantly pushed and the interest of consumers to supply themselves with sustainable energy also in the area of heating, increasingly greater. The attractiveness of the subsidies, the availability of the products, the corresponding media support, and the very positive political climate have fueled this very strongly and have pushed us as an industry to the limits of our capabilities. In addition, the madness in Ukraine at the beginning of the year has added fuel to the already blazing fire, creating a further dynamic that is still putting a borderline strain on the industry to this day, I would almost say. What’s the problem? The problem is the availability of the product in the sense of: We keep having material shortages that cause us to have major problems in the factories.
Stefan Gubi: Of course, we have the issue of personnel. We need more and more staff, which is becoming increasingly difficult to get. Corona was already a very difficult, limiting factor. But Corona has also brought about a complete change in the landscape. Today, we see completely different needs and completely different expectations on the part of our employees. Which also presents us as entrepreneurs with new challenges time and again. And we have the issue of uncertainty in the market caused by price explosion. We are now not only all aware of the price increases across all sectors, but everyone is affected. Do I see all of us daily due to the price increase of old goods that we are used to consume daily. This is also in my industry, in our industry. And the second one is of course availability of our core product pellets. We are very strong in biomass. We have been very strong in pellets and pellets is going through the roof right now in terms of what the price development is. Looking at it with a highly critical eye, this is one of the very big challenges for us with a very big uncertainty as far as the medium-term future is concerned. From the consumer’s point of view.
Elisabeth Leyser: So really from all sides, challenges. From all sides also, I dare to say now, really difficulties, because I know that it is difficult to find the employees you need at the moment. And when they just say that actually one of the raw materials that their heaters need or the essential raw material that the pellet heaters need, that that is now also once again in short supply. How do you deal with your employees in the company? They are also feeling the effects of this turbulence, and they are probably being challenged at every turn. And at the same time, people are also worried and anxious about the current situation. How do you ensure that you remain ready to work, that the people are doing well, that they can also cope with the transformation that they have already talked about in a preliminary discussion, in which you are inside. The changes of the companies inside is that they manage that with a steady hand.
Stefan Gubi: Well, I think the very, very crucial thing is communication and information. The more we communicate, the more we inform, the more security we can provide, the more orientation we can give. Our employees. And that is therefore my core credo, the core message to my management team: Talk, talk, talk, talk. That means responding to every question, to every topic, is not always easy, not always possible. But conducting a dialog with the team as intensively as possible is the best way to identify problems early on, to be able to take countermeasures early on and to convey a sense of security, even in what may be difficult times. This requires a second element that I see as very, very important. That is discipline. And discipline in times like these is a very important factor, because only if we are disciplined in our management, in our daily work with our teams, will we achieve the right results. That’s easy to say, hard to do, I have to say in all honesty. Because you are often overwhelmed by day-to-day business, the issues are manifold, the stress level is high. And there’s something I’ve only become aware of over the years, how important it is. The young Stefan Gubi perhaps still thought differently that the older one does today. Then there’s the issue of pressing the pause button when things get particularly hot. I always try to encourage my management team to take this creative break, not to run faster and faster like a hamster in a wheel and at some point no longer be able to withstand the pressure, but to consciously take a break and work on the system rather than in it.
Stefan Gubi: To look; where do we have optimization possibilities, where do we have to improve what? Consciously also to concentrate on the essential essential things and not to try to do everything at the same time. So communication, discipline. And the third element for me is leading by example. I believe that the more authentically I, as a manager, live the things I communicate and am prepared to do, the more credible I am for my employees and the more likely they are to follow me. And this example is a very, very important element for us. We have many things that we, that we have to try to do better every day. We, we have the issue of setting high standards for ourselves. I have enormous respect for a family that for 100 years, now in the third generation, has managed to hold its own as an Austrian company in a highly dynamic, ever-changing environment, to remain in existence, to develop continuously, and now has the goal of continuing this into the fourth generation. For me, this is something that deeply impresses me and was one of the main reasons why I decided to work for Windhager and say this one and a half years quite honestly:
Stefan Gubi: I am happy and proud every day to have been given this opportunity, because for me it is something that is also very, very close to my own values. And that’s why it’s so much fun to be active now. But transforming this history, these corporate values into the new times now. That is a challenge. Because we live in a society where thinking in terms of values has perhaps lost a little of its importance over the last ten years, and bringing this thinking in terms of values back to the forefront of people’s minds is something that is important to me personally. We stand for something, we stand for quality, we stand for technological innovation. We stand for being vulnerable, in the most positive sense of the word, as a company. You can call us, you can talk to us. We take concerns, problems of our employees, but also of our customers very seriously, because it is important to us. That’s something that right now in this transformation. Windhager is in an enormous mood of change. I think we outlined this in one of our preliminary discussions. We are in the process of transforming the company. We’re taking on a tremendous number of employees and collaborators. When I came, we were something like over 500. We’re now well over 600. We’re going towards 700 very quickly. And we’re, we’re also expanding our business areas. We have so far dominantly biomass, logs, wood chips, historically oil and gas from these two areas – in oil have long withdrawn us as one of the first ever boiler suppliers.
Stefan Gubi: We will reduce also clearly gas, not only because it corresponds now to the spirit of the times, but because we started to start this also before. But we have decided on a new project. Windhager will also enter the field of heat pumps. This is an exciting topic for us, because we do not come from this world, but see that there is a high necessity for us to go in this direction, as a company with it means to realign in the long term, but to meet the needs of our customers very much. Heat pump stand alone an important topic. Heat pump in combination with classic biomass solutions such as pellet heating in the sense of hybrid. A highly attractive, exciting topic for the future. That is, comes very close to our core DNA and therefore it was logical to take this step. When Windhager makes a decision like this, however, we do it all the way. We do not want to buy in heat pumps, but we want to continue to manufacture these products ourselves in the future. We also want to develop them further technologically and refine them with our core know-how. In other words, we have decided to invest massively in this area. And over the next few years, we will launch one of the largest innovation and investment projects in Windhager’s history. We are planning a new factory. We are now entering the final stages. We will go into award talks at the beginning of August, so that we can then bring this step to life.
Stefan Gubi: So challenges across many, many areas, exciting topics. Topics that also push us as management, as a company, very, very, very much to the limits of our resilience. Because, of course, we are also challenged by day-to-day business, as already outlined. But it’s still something that is one of the very nice things in life. And that is also something that moves me personally. Somewhere I read that once and they forgive it then a jump a bissl into the private. I am the lucky person who can say that he appreciates his mother-in-law very, very much. Got to know one of the disciplined the women. And I have seen with her in the house many, many years ago a saying: Whoever says a coconut has a hard shell has never been hungry. This saying made me think a lot. And this being hungry, which we’ve also touched on today. That’s something that I always give in my teams. Let’s stay hungry, let’s stay alert, and let’s try not to settle for what seems to be the realities right away. Coconut Yes, it was tough shell, but you can crack that too. You just have to know how. You just have to find the right way. That is, there will always be problems, there will always be challenges. The only thing that counts is the courage, the willingness and the consistency to work on solutions and not on describing problems.
Elisabeth Leyser: Listening to you, I simply notice a lot of passion and enthusiasm for what you do. That comes across very directly to me. I would now like to summarize the most important things I have heard for our listeners. The question was initially: How do you walk, how do you lead with a steady hand in this very challenging and turbulent situation? And that’s when I understood: For you, the most important thing is to remain in dialog, to communicate, to inform, and thus to provide security and orientation. What I also understood was staying on course. In a certain way, by deliberately placing discipline in the foreground, and discipline, I understood, means for you, even when things are particularly tight, to take a step back and look at the system and see. What can be moved there once again to optimize it and perhaps also to make the work better, more efficient however, so that it works better. Then I understood: Together with your managers, you also try to exemplify what they stand for. That gives them the credibility they need. And I also heard this from them in very close connection with the values for which the Windhager company stands. Namely, the high quality, the high quality standards, the technical innovation that always moves you the Windhager company and you probably also as a person. And the proximity to customers, to people, that is to be also really available and to be present, which they are now also expanding into a, let’s say, neighboring technology. The heat pump is of course once again additional information that is very, very interesting, because I think that as far as I understand it is then really an energy that, probably does not go out so quickly once you have done that. And I think to myself, with that, yes, they are becoming a broader and broader provider of heating solutions, of solutions for how people get heat and and hot water into their apartments and into their houses.
Stefan Gubi: Heat on the other hand, when it’s necessary, in the cold season, but also whatever that’s called. And if you now recall the last ten days us chill in the times when that is the case. We are and this is perhaps the beauty in this area – we care about comfort home. That is, we are actually. You actually think about the heating quite rarely because you assume it’s working. You come, it’s warm and everything fits. Or just the coolness in the summer. But it’s about much more. It’s about feeling good at home, within your own four walls, this comfort. And the more stressful the time becomes, the more important is the correspondence. Purely selfishly for myself, this factor of comfort, feeling good at home. And that is nice to be in this company. If we do exactly that, that is our ambition. We want to make the customers comfortable. We want them to feel comfortable at home, in which we make a small contribution. That’s cool.
Elisabeth Leyser: That is certainly very important. And as you say, it’s often not conscious. And I think right now it’s becoming particularly conscious. Inevitably.
Stefan Gubi: Yes, that’s right.
Elisabeth Leyser: At the end of the day, people are thinking about what actually was not a matter of course with us at least in our latitudes.
Stefan Gubi: Yes.
Elisabeth Leyser: You mentioned before that various aspects, yes, of which you say that makes up my work at Windhager. And those were very many topics for me, which also come out again and again in our work as actually the relevant ones. Namely, these are almost all topics that are not necessarily monetarily feasible. You talked about innovation, you talked about values. But you’ve also talked about how they lead. Of actually cultural issues in the organization, of how important the employees are for the company to be able to move forward at all. And what I experience, or what is very widespread, is that companies are defined first and foremost by the numbers and by profitability, which of course is necessary, no question. But that companies are actually viewed in very business terms first and foremost. Now our hypothesis is that the long-term value of an organization, of a company, is very significantly influenced by these non-monetary aspects. And I would like to hear how you see this and how you also see it. To assess these aspects once again in relation to Windhagen, in the context of value development.
Stefan Gubi: I think it’s quite an interesting topic that you’re taking up here, because, yes. I come from international corporations. I’m now lucky enough to be in a family business. That means my owner is visible, I can communicate with him on a daily basis if there is a need to do so, and vis a vis if I have to. That’s not the case in shareholder-driven international conglomerates, because there’s always an executive management team in place and behind it there are different shareholders who are basically pursuing the same goal: the share price has to rise, the company value has to grow. In a family business, it is not the case that this business orientation is overridden. On the contrary. But the human aspect is completely different. And of course, especially in times like these, it is extremely important that the company does not lose sight of its healthy economic basis. The healthier and more stable we are, in terms of the figures, the more sustainably successful we can be as a company, even in difficult times. On the other hand, this requires a certain sense of proportion when it comes to investments, in addition to the natural risk awareness that I hope all of us managers have developed to a reasonable degree, in order to strike a balance here. The second thing is, of course, always to make a certain demand on the organization to demonstrate a healthy form of cost awareness, but also to distinguish between the two. Can I now pass on one-to-one price developments, which the supplier situation is simply forcing on us, to my customers or not? And we have decided as a company Windhager, not this price increase, which we have to register, coming out of our Zu suppliers, one to one to pass on to our customers. Of course, we have also increased prices. Of course, we have also had to make corresponding price increases, but to a very moderate extent, because we have said that we cannot expect that, that is no longer reasonable.
Stefan Gubi: And it is for me also raise prices no management performance. That is something that is very simple, under quotation marks, the effect relatively quickly, perhaps also recognizable, but the sustainability critical. We have to look again and again, what are the other possibilities, how can we, how can we look at the whole again and again and bring about a reasonable balance between just investment and price increase, cost awareness? And this is something that I believe requires our utmost attention at the moment, including in our company. These major investments are considerable in terms of numbers, but they demand a great deal from us, because I mentioned first of all that this goal, the fourth generation, is something I am very, very aware of and I feel this responsibility every day. I will do everything in my power not to take any risks here that are not necessary. I have also not come here to be hired on a temporary basis in a role, to have the good fortune as CEO to steer this company. I once told you: I have come to stay. And I, I also see it that way, I don’t want to present nice figures for 1,2,3 years and then move on again somewhere else, but I want to represent sustainable corporate success. I would like to be able to look back in five or ten years on something that has endured, that is solid, that brings with it a future and opportunities in the most positive form. That means not taking an adventure, but building something very, very sustainable. And this issue of figures, data, facts, maintaining a balance between investing on the one hand and saving on the other is a very important factor.
Elisabeth Leyser: For example, if you want to attract employees, potential employees outside the company, and make sure that as many people as possible find the company attractive, because you want to grow and are looking for employees. What are the aspects that you communicate there and where you say. That’s what sets us apart or that’s something where you find quality when you come to us as employees.
Stefan Gubi: So I am very grateful for this question. Because you said before passion and enthusiasm. I think what is very important. Windhager is a company that passionately lives its visions and pursues its goals. We are extremely open, we are extremely dynamic. We are a family business that has now become a very large family, but nevertheless we still live this family theme very, very clearly and strongly. We have room for many new ideas, we have remained hungry, also with regard to new colleagues, to include them in our team and to include their ideas, to include their thoughts. So if you enjoy and have fun joining a company that has a long history, but at the same time is just opening up incredibly to a new generation, then it’s the right time. If you’re ready to roll up your sleeves to work on growth issues that also address our future as a society, namely: we are shaping the energy transition in a sustainable way by supplying products that do exactly these things; namely, addressing nature, sustainability. This can also be seen on the new Windhager advertising line. We are very committed to sustainability and nature. If you have fun there and say, I want to be part of that, then it’s a very exciting and interesting company. If you also want to try things out and get involved in new things, then it’s a company where I think the door is wide open. Because here we are not fixated on employees who come to stay in a certain role and task for five, ten or more years, but rather we continue to develop our employees in the same way that we develop ourselves as a company.
Stefan Gubi: So also something where I think. A very exciting topic. And what is important to me personally and this topic passion. Bring passion, bring enthusiasm. And when I conduct job interviews today. I still like to conduct them very much because it gives me the chance to get to know new people. And in this getting to know each other, I also learn a lot. But there is this classic checkpoint to these things and that is to look someone in the eye. The facial expression, but especially the expression of the eyes says very, very much about the person, about the personality, about the energy level. That sparkle in the eyes is something that I think is essential. A company does not consist of a name affixed to a building, but it is, it lives through its employees. And that enthusiasm, that passion, that’s what we’re looking for, that’s what we offer, in addition to classics, of course. Do we offer reasonable remuneration. Of course we offer modern working time models, of course we offer further training. Of course we offer a highly interesting World of Windhager, which is also the canteen under quotation marks for our employees. Of course we offer an international environment, because we are very strongly export-oriented and will continue to be so in the future. Of course, we offer classic technological aids that make work easier.
Stefan Gubi: But the crucial thing is: We are a company to attack. And we are a company made up of people. And this „it’s human with us,“ as the saying goes. We live that from morning till night. And that is something I would really like to invite everyone to take a look at the Windhager homepage, maybe even come to Seekirchen and take a look at the World of Windhager. We are looking across all areas. I am looking for technicians in development as well as in production. I am looking for logisticians. I am looking for IT experts. I’m looking for sales people. We are looking for product management. We are currently forming a powerful marketing team under completely new management since February. So Windhager is a company on the move, in the classic and truest sense of the word. And I hope that a little bit of the things that are important and hopefully can also be attractive for potential newcomers and new entrants, coupled with a „Yes to Austria“ consciousness, comes across. We will continue to stay in Austria as a company, stay in Austria sustainably. We are one hundred percent committed to production in Austria. We will not change that. We will stay very, very close to the customer. We will invest heavily in customer service over the next few years, because we want to continue to live this customer proximity, which the generation of the owner family before the current one has already exemplified. So. yes, I think it’s fun. It’s a business, but I say. Join a winning team and let’s make it even stronger together.
Elisabeth Leyser: Thank you. Now that was really a very nice way to end. I think it’s hard to resist. I have understood. One can dock with you with a lot of enthusiasm, also finds a lot of enthusiasm both for the work in general and for the topic of sustainable energy transition. And I can really imagine that it’s fun and a pleasure to be actively involved in this important change. Thank you very much for the interview. I think there was a lot to take away from it. And to you, dear listeners, thank you for listening, for being part of it. As always, we are very happy when you subscribe to us via your favorite podcast, but also when you give us a very good rating or recommend us to other people in your circle. After all, this helps us to continue to attract exciting guests and to keep exploring the topic around transformation, change, change, which is after all becoming more and more important for you. I am already looking forward to the next episode. Goodbye.