Deloitte: Industrial companies are particularly well placed to benefit from the expected economic recovery. What opportunities do you see for your company?
Dr. Luc Schultheiss: We are well positioned in a number of business areas with different business cycles and different degrees of impact from the pandemic. Last year, for example, our laboratory business was able partially to offset falls in business in other areas. This year, we are seeing stronger growth in cyclical areas, such as commodities.
Deloitte: What do you think will be the lasting impact of the pandemic on the future role of CFOs?
Dr. Luc Schultheiss: The pandemic was an extreme event, but we’ve faced a number of crises over recent years, including the financial crisis. It is crucial that companies remain agile and keep costs flexible. That is something for which the CFO ultimately takes responsibility, but he or she does not operate alone: I see tackling crises as a team responsibility. For some time now, we have prioritised decentralised structures and autonomy, and this proved an advantage during the pandemic. In general, ensuring liquidity during a crisis is one of a CFO’s major roles. However, it wasn’t a problem for us.
Deloitte: And do you think the crisis will have long-term effects on your supply chains and warehousing? Do you think industries are trying to make their supply chains more resilient?
Dr. Luc Schultheiss: We never had serious problems, though our supply chains did come under greater pressure. Our logistics are very solid, and that enabled us to plan effectively. However, supply chains around the world are now under considerable pressure. We’ve also been affected by other events, such as the temporary closure of the Suez Canal. Supply chains are undergoing change, but we are confident that we can manage that change. Nonetheless, risk management will be an ongoing focus for us, as it is for other businesses.
Deloitte: The crisis has prompted many companies to take major steps towards digitalisation, a move from which they stand to benefit once the crisis is over. Which aspects of greater digitalisation do you think offer particular promise?
Dr. Luc Schultheiss: That depends on the aspect in question. During the crisis, for example, demand in the IoT increased dramatically, and we intend to continue to expand substantially in this area. Virtual formats also made a breakthrough in the area of trade fairs and exhibitions. For example, we had a virtual trade fair stand last year, which was very successful.
Deloitte: So do you think there are limits to the rollout of digitalisation?
Dr. Luc Schultheiss: More employees will definitely be working from home than before the crisis, but a physical presence in the office will still be important. There are already signs that “home office” working, as many Swiss employees refer to it, is not quite as popular as it was a year ago. People need – and seek – social contact, so working from home long term will create more health problems. And these will be both mental and physical, where people lack the space and equipment to work ergonomically from home.
However, permanent remote working also has other long-term consequences. The way the research and development or marketing and sales functions operate is a good example. It’s perfectly possible to keep in touch with existing customers via online channels but harder to acquire new customers if your interaction with them is wholly virtual.
Dr. Luc Schultheiss
Dr. Luc Schultheiss has an undergraduate degree and a PhD from the University of St. Gallen (HSG). After a number of teaching posts at HSG and elsewhere, he moved in 1999 to Endress+Hauser, where he was Director Controlling and a member of the management team of Endress+Hauser Flowtec AG. Since 2012, he has been Chief Financial Officer and a member of the Executive Board of Endress+Hauser AG.