“Always stay grounded” – Part 1

 

Interview with Volker Kronseder

There are probably not very many people in the international brewing and beverage industries who have never heard of Volker Kronseder. Together with his team – whom the modest, down-to-earth Krones supremo always insists on crediting – he has during the two decades of his tenure managed not only to follow in the footsteps of his legendary father and the company’s founder, Hermann Kronseder, but then to strike out on his own as well, and successfully carve out his own path. Volker Kronseder has thus transformed Krones into an internationally renowned single-source supplier, one that hardly any beverage producer anywhere in the world is willing to do without. Under his leadership, too, Krones has quadrupled its turnover. And what’s most amazing of all: he’s stayed the same decent human being he always was.

Effective 31 December 2015, Volker Kronseder will be stepping down from his post as Executive Board Chairman of Krones AG. With his family, he remains the majority shareholder in the company, and will be standing for election to the Supervisory Board. Volker Kronseder has now given an interview to the Krones magazine on some of his favourite topics: staff management, technology, China – and motorcycling.

 

 

Volker Kronseder, how do you manage to head such a large corporation, and nonetheless preserve your manifest humanity, especially in your dealings with the staff?

My motto has always been “stay grounded” – in every respect. Even as a child and a teenager, I felt arrogance was a characteristic that was diametrically opposed to my own views on how you should be dealing with people. This aversion to arrogance has become second nature, so that I don’t want to make myself out to be something special.

You once said that staff management is for you personally the most important part of your remit. Isn’t that rather unusual for an Executive Board Chairman? What important fundamental value is incorporated in your principles of good management?

My principal motivation is my sense of responsibility. This is what drives me to do the obviously right and necessary things to the best of my ability. This sense of responsibility underpins my actions and my daily work.

What does your almost daily tour of the company’s premises mean to you?

I saw my father do this, and I thought it was a great idea – I understood very well what its purpose was. But it’s only when you yourself are in a position of responsibility that you realise its true importance: it simply enables you to know what’s going on in your company, you see a lot. And I’m a person with a visual kind of memory – when I’ve seen something once, I don’t forget it. The opportunity to talk to staff from all levels of the company is invaluable to me. I get some incredibly useful feedback, and this adds up to a feeling for the big picture. This is because our people know that they can address me frankly and also raise critical points. Which means I always have an open ear for what the staff are thinking, across all the levels of the hierarchy. This provides me every day with a multitude of insights, which I correlate with the figures I get from our controlling people. Together with what my colleagues on the Executive Board tell me, this gives me a rounded picture. And when it all fits together nicely, then I feel good.

In your 20 years as Chairman, you managed to upsize the turnover from what was then 1.5 billion deutschmarks to just under three billion euros – a fourfold increase – and the number of employees from 7,800 to what are today around 12,500 people worldwide. Does the secret of your success lie in the art of delegating correctly? How important is it to trust people, and thus to be able to let go a bit?

Delegation is without a doubt one of many reasons why my team is so successful. When I say “team”, what I mean is that leading a complex company like Krones can never be a one-man show. That’s why I made it one of my first priorities to put in place a competent management team of equals. The aim is for each of my colleagues on the Executive Board to be a specialist in his chosen field, and manage his remit with a maximum of delegated responsibility. This was one of the crucial principles that I prioritised as soon as I took office. So after 20 years this quadrupling of the turnover comes about almost automatically – not least because we’ve meanwhile been able to upsize the payroll to well over ten thousand.

It takes quite a bit of courage risk-acceptance to say “We want to grow bigger”. Is from a certain juncture growth more or less mandatory? 

You have to recognise the opportunities on offer, and then decide whether you want to take them or not. If this is then courageous, that again is a different question. When you look at Krones, we have always (at least during my time as Executive Board Chairman) remained faithful to our traditional sector, the global food and beverage industries. We have never, for example, tried to gain a foothold in the automotive industry or in a different field. So for us it’s always been a calculable risk when we’ve tackled something new. We’ve been fully aware of the development options and necessities involved, and covered them by expanding our product portfolio. There are lots of trends, small trends, trends that are going to mislead you. And then there’s also the megatrends. You ignore these at your peril.

What does “letting go” mean to you? Is it difficult for you to let go, to shed responsibility?

 No, on the contrary. I’m really pleased when I can delegate a task to someone else, so that I don’t have to do it myself. I’m even more delighted when the person concerned handles things to my complete satisfaction or does them even better than I could ever have done. And I never get tired of praising this employee. I enjoy our shared success. This is in its way also a form of letting go.

How would you describe your management style, more as patriarchal, a laissez-faire style, or as a modern-day group-based approach? Because what it most certainly isn’t is authoritarian or bureaucratic.

Yes, more situational, I would say. As long as things are going well, I don’t need to intervene.

How important is charisma for the leader of a company?

Previously, I would doubtless have answered this question differently. Today, I believe that charisma does play a role. Of course, it has to be coupled with other characteristics. But a charismatic person finds it easier to push his ideas through, not least when dealing with other people. And that is probably more enjoyable for everyone involved as well.

Would you describe yourself as personally charismatic, as many observers of your company and your personality do?

No. I’m just a normal guy.

But are you prepared to accept this description of yourself if someone else says it?

 I’m not all that keen on praise. Of course, secretly you are a bit gratified. But I’m not the kind of person that hungers for it. I’m from the Upper Palatinate, and our motto there is: not being berated is praise enough.