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The principles of success

June 6, 2023
Dr. Klaus Endress has seen his family’s company grow by leaps and bounds, and he’s excited for the future

For Dr. Klaus Endress, leading Endress+Hauser after taking over from his father Dr. Georg H. Endress, who founded the company in 1953 with Ludwig Hauser, is a great honor and a great responsibility. On the Group’s 70th Anniversary and as he prepares to move on from heading the Supervisory Board, the man who served 45 years with the company discusses his father’s legacy, the Group’s success and its future.

Q: What did it mean for you to take over responsibility for the Endress+Hauser Group from your father and continue his work?

A: Please allow me to elaborate a bit on this answer, for I assumed responsibility much earlier. My father asked me when I was 16 years old if I would like to become his successor. I said, "Yes.” But, of course, this was associated with many expectations.

I finished high school in Switzerland, studied industrial engineering at the Technical University in Berlin, then went to the U.S. for two-and-a-half years for my first professional experience. Back in Europe, I worked my way up at Endress+Hauser: starting in industrial engineering, then in sales in Frankfurt, head of controlling and finally managing director of our German subsidiary based in Maulburg, Germany, which, at the time, was a combined sales and production company. In 1992, I took over responsibility for production at the corporate level, and in 1995 I became CEO of the Endress+Hauser Group. So, when I was finally entrusted with the company, I already had quite a bit of experience under my belt.

The Group had a turnover of around 420 million euros with some 4,300 employees and a sufficient result. Becoming CEO of such a company was a great honor and an equally great responsibility. Of course, I didn’t want to disappoint my father, but to continue developing his life’s work. He was the pioneer who founded the company together with Ludwig Hauser. He created something out of nothing—and I set out to make something even more beautiful out of it! I could never have done what my father did because I was not and am not a pioneer. But vice versa, he would never have been able to do what I achieved. So, it was a timely handover, just as the handover 19 years later to my successor, Matthias Altendorf.

The cooperation between Matthias and myself as Supervisory Board president further boosted the company over the past 10 years. Every successor stands on the shoulders of their predecessors. I think my father and Mr. Hauser, who also dedicated almost 20 years to the company, would both be extremely proud to see Endress+Hauser today. We have a shareholder family of more than 75 members and a family charter with established institutions that keep the family close and connected. We meet six times a year in larger groups to cultivate our commonalities and strengthen our collaboration. We live up to our common rules and values. That’s the whole secret. Of course, it’s a lot of work, but it’s also a pleasure to see it work!

Q: Endress+Hauser has continued to thrive, even after 70 years. What do you think was crucial for this success—and what is needed to succeed in the future?

A: When I started as the Group’s CEO in 1995, I asked myself where I could get inspiration, what was right and what would remain right over time, and who could support me in my deliberations and decisions. My father was no longer available. Of course, there are many books, consultants, even real gurus in this field. But I found inspiration in nature. Living nature has evolved very successfully over more than three billion years; its sustainable principles are my model for entrepreneurial action.

I like to compare our company to a tree: the crown with its leaves stands for sales as the surface to the market and customers, the roots for anchoring production and development in technology and the procurement markets. Lean but sustainable structures connect these two surfaces.

In the company, these are the innovation and logistics processes and supporting functions such as finance and controlling, human resources, IT, legal or communications. A large tree has taken many years to grow. It evolved every day, and no part has been neglected. This is perhaps the most important insight: for the company to thrive, you must develop all its parts. That’s what we’ve always done at Endress+Hauser.

We have enlarged our interface with the market and customers worldwide, opened new regions and industries for sales, expanded our portfolio, built global production capacity, and strengthened our innovative powers. And we have developed efficient management and support structures for the Group. Even in the past few years, which were marked by a lot of uncertainty, first with the pandemic and with the war in Europe, Endress+Hauser was always able to deliver. So, as we go into the future, we can build on many things we have done well in the past. As long as we maintain our focus on the market and customers and keep improving, we won’t run out of work even one hundred years from now!

Q: What is your fondest memory growing up with your father being the organization’s founder?

A: My father was quite strict; performance was important to him. But he always supported us eight children in our development. He attached great importance to a good education. He made many things possible for us, even when money was tight in the family. He always said, “Your education is the only thing no one can take away from you!”

Q: Is there a company milestone you remember your father being very excited about?

A: As the company’s founder, sales milestones were always important. In my father’s eyes, they were proof that he had achieved something, a sign of success. So, he was very pleased when Endress+Hauser exceeded the one billion euros threshold in the year before his death.

Q: What do you think your father and Mr. Hauser would say to you today about the company?

A: I am sure they would be extremely proud of what their company has become and what we, their successors, have made of it. I think they would say, “Well done!”

Q: What are the most important values and skills your father had that you’ve .continued to carry on through his legacy?

A: Many of his thoughts and values are still very much alive in our family and the company. One of his favorite phrases was, “We serve our customers and learn from them.” So, not to look at what’s in it for you, but what you can do by putting customers first. This keen focus is paramount to our success. Customers are any company’s driving force. Without ours, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Because of our customers, we can thrive.

Q: The Group announced a generational change. As you prepare to move on from your current role as President of the Supervisory Board, what does the next chapter of your life hold?

A: From next year on, I will no longer have an active role in the company after almost 45 years of working for Endress+Hauser. But I remain chairman of the Family Council, in some sense, the CEO of the shareholder family. The Family Council is the most essential link between the family and the company. Its task is to decide on important issues in the relationship between the family and the company, to accompany members in their careers, and to inspire the younger generation. Only if the family functions well can the company also function well.

Additionally, I’m an enthusiastic horseman. I have kept horses for decades, but for a long time, I didn’t have much time for this hobby. Now, I ride almost every day. Since I was 19, we have had dogs. I'm often out and about with our family dog, Maya, biking in nature. That is quality of life for me. Finally, I look forward to spending more time with my wife and grown children.

Q: What advice do you share with your children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces—the next generation of family members—coming up in the company?

A: The same I tell all young people: use the opportunities you have for a good education, gain experience, go out into the world at a young age and acquire all the skills you need to realize your goals and dreams. You must always support young people in their development.

You must give them wings and not tell them where to fly. They must figure out for themselves where to go. We can only keep the doors open for them; they need to enter them on their own. And we also must remember that our family's younger generation is essential not only when working at Endress+Hauser, but also as responsible company shareholders.  

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