From Thomas Nürnberger’s perspective, there should always be room for mistakes. As President and CEO of ebm-papst China, his pragmatic outlook allows openness and trust to flourish within the company. No-one is perfect, and though a team of like-minded individuals can come close, somewhere along the way things won’t go as planned.
Thomas uses these opportunities as learning curves. “If someone makes a mistake, they will get support,” he says. “We don’t worry about penalties. We can learn from our mistakes and identify how to avoid them in the future.”
Thomas leads with a “guide but let decide” philosophy; that is, if someone needs help, he will be there to assist, but most of the time he lets his employees determine their own path. “One of the management tactics I use is to coach people, not order them around.
I usually don’t tell an associate to ‘do this’ or ‘do that’,” he explains. “I treat others how I would like to be treated, as if I were in their position.”
A far cry from China’s typical hierarchal management style, this native of Germany says the team shows more initiative and creativity with cooperative leadership. “The sharing of information motivates me, and I like to involve my colleagues in my decisions,” Thomas says.
“I listen to other opinions and discuss the reasons behind a decision, so the team better understands, and I gain their support.”
Trust and respect are priorities at ebm-papst, and Thomas will cross boundaries, both cultural and professional, to guarantee customers and business partners have full confidence in the company’s abilities. He says it is critical as a foreign company to understand the Chinese culture and market to preserve close business partnerships. “I have to be aware of the context in which I’m working.
I have much freedom in my job to develop new strategies and implement them as quickly as possible. Every day, I work hard to gain the trust of my team, our customers, and our business partners.”
‘The engineer’s choice’, ebm-papst offers top-notch fans, blowers, motors and ventilation systems, while partnering with the best. Reliability and being future-oriented are two significant factors for Thomas in deciding which suppliers to collaborate with.
He looks for companies with similar values because when partnerships are solid, they make ebm-papst stronger as a whole. “Our target is to create partnerships on the customer side as well as the supplier side. We look for long-term and sustainable win-win situations.”
With 2,000 employees, ebm-papst China is self-sufficient and doesn’t rely heavily on the German headquarters. “We have decision power in the region, which enables us to act quickly and flexibly,” Thomas notes. “We always keep up with the speed at which the Chinese market works.”
There are three words to describe ebm-papst’s approach to business: efficiency, enthusiasm and people-centricity. First, it aims to act efficiently and effectively, as well as economically. “Only the best performance leads to success. We stand for sustainable action, and we must be faster than our competitors,” Thomas explains.
Second, its goal is to make customers excited about its products. “We strive for continuous improvement. Every new product we make must be better than the old one.” Third, it is people-centric. “We never forget the people with whom we work – whether staff, partners or customers. They are the most important factor, and central to success of our company.”
The business is bringing in record amounts of revenue, and as the income has grown, so has opportunity. China plans to increase renewable energy consumption to 35% by 2030. As a company that prides itself on developing energy-saving fans and motors, this gives ebm-papst a chance to shine.
“The government is taking a massive step towards environment protection and energy savings,” Thomas explains. “It’s an important task, and our products are the benchmark in energy efficiency. We can contribute to supporting the coal-to-gas policy of the Chinese government and its clean energy project. The market is changing, and we are here to provide innovation and quality to support the future of energy use.”
Identifying as the world’s leading manufacturer of fans and motors doesn’t come without challenges. China has a high number of competitors, many of which aren’t making original products, but ebm-papst has dedicated itself to leading the way in innovation.
“We are continuously improving our production processes, which maintains our leading position in the market. We are convinced we will stay ahead, and the original brand will always be successful,” declares Thomas.
Of course, lasting success and profitability are long-term goals, but the company is also achieving much in the short-term. Its ‘Local for Local’ strategy is designed to increase local development based on customer needs, creating the best price–performance ratio while maintaining the standard of quality. “This initiative is my baby, and I love watching it grow.
“We are constructing a new plant in Xi’an, an area with high availability of qualified specialists and excellent transport and logistical connections,” Thomas adds. “This is a significant milestone for us. Many of our efforts go into local development, and this new facility will increase production by three times the current rate.”
Thomas saw China as a chance to implement his ideas for the ‘Local for Local’ strategy when he took the position of President and CEO two years ago. Since then, he has been persistent in learning and challenging himself, principles his father exemplifies well, even as he advances in years.
“My father is 79 years old, and he never stops making new experiences for himself. The best piece of advice my father gave me: ‘Take every chance, even if it’s a risk, and be open to new things’,” says Thomas.
Since immigrating to China in 2006, Thomas’s life has been enriched, and his perspective broadened. Relocating to a foreign country has been so rewarding that he wishes he had moved earlier. “Had I realised how satisfying it could be, I would have done it sooner,” he concludes.
“I tell everyone to go abroad; make new experiences, learn about different cultures. The more you do, the more you know. No-one can take that knowledge away from you.”