When Jürgen Ries first joined ASYS Group, he brought with him a valuable lesson from his previous role at Siemens. He explains that he had been working at Siemens’ digital factory, which was famous for its slogan, ‘If you stop improving, then you stop being good’.
“After I left Siemens, that became the main theme I used in my work,” Jürgen tells The CEO Magazine. “It’s always about improvement in the way you work and how you educate yourself.
And it’s something that has always driven me.”
After 12 years with Siemens, Jürgen moved on to Germany-based technology company ASYS Group, focusing on Key Account Management. The company manufactures a range of equipment for the solar, electronics and life science industries, including automatic label applicators and printing platforms.
While in Germany, Jürgen saw an opportunity to expand the company’s base in China. He would later take up the role of Managing Director of its Chinese division in 2011.
At the time, ASYS Group’s main business in China was in the solar industry, and Jürgen recalls that when he first moved there to enhance the business, the market crashed. “It was fairly challenging because when I came over to set up the company, our complete business model in China crashed because we didn’t have other industries like electronics or semiconductors yet,” he says. “So I had to more or less run a company without any active solar projects.”
But Jürgen persevered and worked hard to make sure the company succeeded. “Within the time that I’ve been here, we’ve grown to 12 times our original size and are now a reasonably big and profitable business in China,” he says. “It was definitely a huge challenge setting up a company in a new environment and selling equipment in a tough market. But I loved it because, for me, it’s interesting that we got to see a lot of different industries and have exposure to different kinds of customers and projects. Building this up from scratch was definitely challenging but at the same time, a great experience.”
Jürgen was also instrumental in establishing the company’s semiconductor industry in China – a major component used in electronics. “Globally, ASYS was not doing any kind of semiconductor solutions, so three years ago, I saw the potential in China for semiconductor chips,” he says. “I was looking at our products and what we could modify in terms of regimens and processes that can use semiconductors.
“We approached the first accounts here without any support from Germany – it was purely a local business development. And within two years we managed to get into three of the top five chip manufacturers from China. Now we are in the top 10 customer groups of semiconductors.”
Over the years at the helm of ASYS Group China, Jürgen continued driving home the lesson on continual self-improvement. “I always try to empower the people,” he says. “I try to make it clear to them what their responsibility is and how far they can go in making their own decisions. I want them to be able to work independently; to have their own ideas and a sense of responsibility for their business unit or customer.”
Jürgen acknowledges that when you get new people on board, you have to teach them how to follow certain processes, but it should not be about micromanaging. “For me, it’s definitely about trusting the people I have in my team; giving them some guidance but letting them have their own learning curve. It also means giving them regular feedback on what is good, what is bad and how we can improve.
“I want our people to have a sense that whatever we do in our corporate life – how we talk to a customer or how we design the machines – if there’s anything that’s not running well, we need to address it. As I said, you have to keep improving otherwise you stop being good.”
Today, ASYS Group is poised for a promising future. “I’m extremely proud of bringing the whole organisation up to the level that we are at today,” Jürgen says. “The base we have built over the past few years is really strong. And my experience in management has taught me that if I’m out of the company and it performs amazingly, then I have done my job perfectly.”