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Elevator Pitch: Looking for a Woman on the Way to the Top

by Natascha Zeljko

David Preuss, currently head of remote monitoring IoT at Schindler Digital Group AG, is – together with his employer – looking for his successor. Unusual enough, but the second surprise? Elevators are an exciting topic

There seems to be a lot to be said for Schindler as an employer when one can look for a successor together with the company.

Absolutely. This is being handled very fairly and trustfully by both sides. I didn’t decide to leave Schindler because I don’t like it here. On the contrary; I’m leaving with a tear in my eye. It simply has to do with the fact that the new job offer is very attractive – I’m going to be CIO of the Cologne-Bonn Airport and I couldn’t refuse because I’ve wanted to join this industry for a long time, otherwise I would have stayed. Schindler is a wonderful company.

“All the elevators in the world need exactly two and a half days to transport the entire world’s population of more than seven billion people.”

Let’s do an elevator pitch: what is so special about this job? Why should one apply?

One thing that speaks for itself is the connection between the physical world and the cyber world. It’s about real products that you can touch, that you can see, that you use every day, especially if you live in a big city. And to make this connection is very exciting. An example to illustrate the meaning: all the elevators in the world need exactly two and a half days to transport the entire world’s population of more than seven billion people. Secondly, what makes this job attractive is the corporate culture. Schindler combines the values of a large company, such as security, with exciting development opportunities in an agile environment. Within the Schindler Group, we are a relatively free, autonomous organization. It is, so to speak, a startup in the corporation.

And to ask the other way round: what are the most important skills an applicant would have to bring?

First of all, excellent management skills. With all these themes and discussions about AI or robotics, you shouldn’t forget that it is always people who lead a company to success. The basis for this is consistent personnel development. That means being there for the employee beyond the company when someone needs help. Let’s take the example of the family, especially when we talk about women in management positions. Job and family must, of course, be compatible. 

“We would be delighted to fill this position with a woman. We need more women in all areas. This is a social necessity that is happening far too late.”

Good catchword: what role does gender equality play at Schindler?

We would be delighted to fill this position with a woman. We need more women in all areas. This is a social necessity that is happening far too late. This untapped potential still leaves me speechless. When I start to work for a company, I try to find out from day one who my successor is. Not because I plan to leave the company, but because you have to think in perspective. I have always tried to promote women and take them with me; not because they are women, but because we need more mixed teams. But we are not there yet. At Schindler, gender equality and equal pay for an equal job are a given. Recently, I hired a woman from Nigeria. She first showed the boys who ran the show. One thing I can say is that, from my experience, women have a different drive; they work harder. And the female colleagues have a positive effect on communication within the teams, the tone of interaction changes.

What else does the applicant need to bring along?

I would put it this way: what we expect is not someone who pushes from behind, but someone who develops a pull, who succeeds in creating an atmosphere in which people want to achieve something together with you. Management is not a privilege, it is a service for people. On the other hand, this person also needs technical skills because they are very strongly anchored in the overall architecture of the company, the IT architecture. In this position, far-reaching decisions are made. That’s why it’s not enough – and I deliberately formulate this very firmly – for someone to have worked in consulting for 15 years and have had a bit of contact with technical issues here and there. The successor should have deep technical knowledge.

“I worked a lot with multinational teams spread across continents. Cross-cultural competence is not something you learn from the book, but from experience.” 

What is your background?

I am a trained linguist, studied Japanese and Chinese, and got intensively involved with IT during my studies. When starting my career, I concentrated on this area. The first four years were hardcore technology. Then came twelve years as CIO, which means I developed a deep technical understanding. Later, I did an MBA in St. Gallen and the Technical University of Munich. I worked a lot with multinational, diverse teams spread across continents. And cross-cultural competence is not something you learn from the book, but from experience. 

If you look back on your time at Schindler, what were the lighthouse projects and greatest successes?

Firstly, it was a pilot project involving the connection of the elevator infrastructure with the building management system. We integrated these two areas. To give an example to illustrate this: David Preuss comes in in the morning with his access card and when he enters the elevator, the elevator passes it on – David is now going up. The room is then automatically set to his desired temperature of 27 degrees, the blinds are lowered because David is an IT nerd, he likes it dark. The table is lowered so that David can immediately get started lying halfway at his dark workplace at 27 degrees. What I want to say: this was a very, very exciting project, because it was technically extremely demanding and highly exciting, because different skills and profiles and experiences came together.

And project number two?

That’s what’s going on right now. It is the project that will have a lasting and decisive influence on the future of the company. It’s about completely rethinking architecture with the techniques available to us today and getting the most out of it. It is unbelievable luck to be able to help shape this. 

“It’s no longer just about bringing people from the bottom up, it’s about reaching into other ecosystems.”

Your industry is playing into the hands of a major development – urban space is becoming increasingly scarce, the population is growing, which means it’s being built vertically.

That’s true. But it’s no longer just about bringing people from the bottom up, it’s about reaching into other ecosystems. An example: at General Electrics in Chicago, 30,000 people have to be transported within a very short time. When people say, “I’ll get a coffee from Starbucks before the elevator arrives,” it means a loss of value. That means the equipment has to work efficiently. And when urban space is densely populated, issues like access control also come into play. Who is entitled to go or drive where? In the past, you could walk past the reception desk, briefly raise your hand, and take the elevator almost to the boardroom. Of course, that’s over.

You spent a lot of time in Asia. That’s an interesting area when dealing with these fields.

Asia is really a good learning field when it comes to this topic, and not only from the point of view of even more extreme urbanization. I did a lot in Shanghai and Hong Kong, and Hong Kong in particular is the extreme example of urban development. Life without an elevator is inconceivable.

How great is the innovation potential still for elevators? What’s to come?

There is still a lot of air up there. There are many ways to develop business models, and these are not simply limited to the purely functional level, i.e. the elevator as a vehicle for transporting people. An elevator normally offers an area of three and a half to four square meters, which can be used for advertising. Take the new airport in Istanbul, for instance, where 600 units could, theoretically, be outfitted for such functionality. That means 600 advertising spaces in very central locations, with an extreme passage of people. This allows completely new business models to be created, such as the so-called two-sided business models. In other words, one person offers a space, a marketplace, and another can rent the space and place advertisements. This is our product, it is called “Doorshow”. But innovations are also possible in the private sector, for example in Asia, where people live in large residential complexes. Blackboards in elevators can be used to organize communities. You can exchange ideas in the following way: I have a bicycle to give away, things like that. In addition, there is a lot of development potential in the elevator car when it comes to sensor technology. Today, ecosystem partners are also interested in receiving live data from these elevators. How many passengers do we transport? Does everything run smoothly? For the customer, this means less downtime and that is, of course, a benefit. And ultimately, it’s also about comfort. You can smile at the promise “to make it a pleasant ride” if you live in Berlin and ride up ten floors. In Hong Kong or the USA, where you don’t have ten floors, but 35 or 40 or 70, the ride takes a bit longer. That’s not over in four, or ten, or 15 seconds. And it’s nice to make the journey as pleasant as possible for the passenger.

Last question: who would you like to get stuck in an elevator with?

With my wife! I know she has no fear, I’m not afraid anyway because I know how it works. Ideally, we would have just come from shopping and would have a small bottle of white wine with us.

 

Interested in joining Schindler? Read the job advertisment here

 

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