Semikron’s CTO, Karl-Heinz Gaubatz’s early career included more than 27 years at BMW across a range of research and development positions, mainly in electronic departments. He then spent seven years working for the brand’s Formula 1 team, then seven years for the motorbike team.
He says the underlying passion has been working on new things – be it the first real steering application, the first adaptive cruise controls applications or the first engine control units, which were developed in-house at BMW for its M3 and M5 cars.
After 27 years, Karl-Heinz says it was time to move to a new company, Dräxlmaier – a family-owned company focused on wiring harnesses and interior parts, including leather pockets and seats. Here he helped with developing the battery system for the Porsche Taycan – the first 800-volt battery system on the market globally.
It was while Karl-Heinz was in this role that he got an offer from Semikron to take on the role of CTO, which he was excited about as it was still a technical role – he’d never wanted to be the CEO.
Having checked 70 years in business off its to-do list last year, the global power module supplier has won a lot of projects in the automotive area over the past few months alone. “And we plan to keep ramping up: by 2028 we are aiming to achieve around €800–€900 million in revenue from our in-house designed power modules,” he says.
The company has also bought into an industrial business packed with a lot of new technologies, he says. The business, which they call Layer Technology and Direct-Pressed Die Technology, produces high performance, sophisticated connection technologies for chips in a power module, which increase reliability and create more power from the same number of chips.
“This is the advantage with this kind of technology. We don’t need as many chips as our competitors, and this makes us very competitive and reliable with our power modules,” Karl-Heinz says.
He believes a key component of success is looking to the market and what it needs, finding a solution, then creating products that can bring in that business. Part of this is looking to the mega trends.
“Semikron was very successful about 10 years ago in wind energy when it was beginning to expand. Thirty-to-40 per cent of all windmills now have a power module from Semikron,” he says.
As with many other companies around the world, supply chain issues are currently impacting Semikron. Karl-Heinz explains that they have relied on both local suppliers and second-source suppliers – and remain open to new sources of critical materials. That said, the company’s loyalty and ethos has helped mitigate challenges in this area.
“We were very successful with our procurement department globally because we are fair with our suppliers; we are not a company who jumps from one supplier to the next. If we have a long-term collaboration with them, we stay with them.”
He says this has given them freedom to remain active during critical situations that the world is currently facing, and it is an approach they apply to their own customers, too.
We were very successful with our procurement department globally because we are fair with our suppliers; we are not a company who jumps from one supplier to the next.
“Everyone is asking for more power modules. But we treat every customer fairly, and don’t choose preferred customers and give them more than others. We make it very transparent and open, and we have come through the crisis well.”
What he doesn’t like is suppliers who seek to take advantage of situations like the pandemic and ask for more money to secure their products over other customers. “This kind of supplier, they are not a long-term supplier for us,” he states.
Connection is key
Honour is a key part of Karl-Heinz’ leadership style. He says that openness and trustful leadership is the most important thing for those seeking to be successful, as is acceptance that every team member will have strengths and weaknesses and accepting them and working with them.
“Our people are behind the success of everything, their knowledge, their skillset, their trusting long-term relationships and development,” he says.
Our people are behind the success of everything, their knowledge, their skillset, their trusting long-term relationships and development.
And when it comes to building customer relationships, it’s about building a strong, personal engagement with all suppliers and customers.
“You should be very present in all levels. If I go as a CEO or CTO to one of our customers, I will talk to all levels of staff in that organisation and listen to them and act on any issues immediately,” he says. “It’s the same way I do things with in-house staff and with the suppliers.”