Wolfgang Schenk turned 60 this year, and for three quarters of his life has been in the business of connection. Connecting trains with signal boxes, connecting miners with those above ground and, more recently, connecting some of the biggest companies in the world with industrial networking solutions. “I started my career as a service engineer, and now I have been in this business and with Belden for almost 35 years,” explains Wolfgang.
As Vice President and Managing Director of Hirschmann Automation and Control, one of 11 global brands under the Belden umbrella, Wolfgang may meet with an automotive manufacturer one day, the head of an airport the next and finish his week in a meeting about renewable energy.
Belden is one of the leading signal transmission companies in the world, offering a complete portfolio of industrial cabling, connectivity, security, and networking devices and systems for all industrial and enterprise environments. Though Wolfgang doesn’t let the technical aspect of his business get in the way of Belden’s competitive edge – human connection.
“The difference between us and our competitors is long-term experience in the industry and being very, very close to our individual customers. We try to speak the language of each customer and their business, to not only understand their objectives and challenges but also translate what value our solutions can provide for them. This is our core business.”
With the expertise and resources of all brands working together to add incremental value, Belden has become a one-stop-shop for industrial network connectivity and expects to double revenue in this area in the next five years.
Wolfgang’s longevity in the technology sector means he has seen a lot of ‘firsts’ in his career. “There has never been a boring day. There has always been a lot of activity and change, such as working on the innovation of the industrial ethernet and applications that transmit data in real-time – we were one of the first companies in the world to make these technologies a reality.
“From time to time, I ask people if they can remember what the most-used app was during the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. They start trying to figure it out and then realise that there were no apps in 2006, there weren’t even smartphones then,” he chuckles. “We seem to forget just how fast technology is changing and assume that it has always been that way.”
In Wolfgang’s 35 years in the tech sector, he has witnessed the leap from cable to wireless and even automated robotics, though falling behind in the tech race isn’t what keeps him up at night. “The biggest business challenges aren’t the technology or the products but the geopolitical factors,” he remarks. “There are a lot of uncertainties and volatility in the market at the moment.
I never imagined situations such as the US–Chinese trade stand-off and Brexit would be our top worries.” Despite the current state of world politics, Wolfgang sees many opportunities for Belden and its Hirschmann brand to grow. The company has a balanced portfolio across industries and sectors, but one area in particular is surging ahead.
“The Industrial Internet of Things is a fast-growing segment, further driving growth in end markets such as transportation. People are on the move, especially in countries like China and India where cities are growing rapidly, so they need to invest in public transportation and the technologies that enable it.”
With the world changing at such a rapid pace, Wolfgang relies on Belden’s innovative culture to stay ahead of the curve. “It’s important to have scouting functions and strategic marketing and innovation teams.
“In my direct reporting line, the most important person is my CTO, and their key objective is to innovate or search for new or disruptive technology, so we can help our customers navigate and succeed in a complex environment. We’re helping them be more prepared for the future.”
“My leadership style is team-oriented, motivational and inspiring.”
But as Wolfgang points out, no single person can predict the next revolution in technology. “My leadership style is team-oriented, motivational and inspiring. I ask my team to look at the glass as half full of success right now and see what opportunities we can identify together to fill up the other half.”