Interview with Jörn Harde - CFO of Siemens Switzerland

This interview was published on 26 October 2021

Deloitte: How do you see the role of CFOs during crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic? And how were you as CFO specifically able to help your company during the crisis?

Jörn Harde: In the early days of the pandemic, we had three priorities. The first, of course, was protecting the health of our 5,000-plus staff, our customers and our partners and putting crisis management measures in place to make the necessary resources available rapidly and straightforwardly. Our second priority was to help our customers keep critical infrastructure operating and produce vital equipment, including ventilators. Only then did we focus on our third priority, financial crisis management and keeping control of our balance sheet and liquidity. That meant careful management and close liaison, both within the company and with customers, suppliers and official bodies, so that we could quickly identify and tackle discrepancies and bottlenecks.

Once we had got through that initial stage, our focus then widened as we looked ahead to identify the opportunities the pandemic was creating. For example, Siemens announced early on in the crisis that it would be supporting remote and hybrid working in future. The crisis demonstrated that we can be productive regardless of location and that staff can be trusted to work productively without being physically present in the workplace all the time. This is a positive shift in our corporate culture and one that we will not seek to reverse.

Deloitte: What lasting changes do you think the pandemic will make to the future role of CFOs?

Jörn Harde: The megatrends of digitalisation and sustainability underpin our business, and we have moved forward in both areas during the crisis. Our priority now is to make long-term use of that progress. Our aim is to preserve the greater efficiency we achieved during the crisis while also putting people front and centre of everything we do.

In terms of external relationships, this applies to digitalisation, new business models and new forms of cooperation with customers and suppliers. Customers are now more open to virtual cooperation across the areas in which we work, from energy and buildings technology, mobility and manufacturing to health services. Moves towards digitalisation are now accelerating and processes are becoming more efficient, something that both Siemens and our customers are benefiting from.

We also, though, want to maintain positive internal changes, whether in process simplification, further digitalisation of processes or new forms of cooperation. We acted very rapidly during the crisis to make changes, and we learned fast. Now we want to make that positive momentum permanent. Cooperation at the workplace is one area on which we are focusing, to boost creativity and innovation – creating more “we space” and less “me space”, as it’s sometimes described – and Siemens Switzerland is gradually adapting workplaces to reflect this.

Specifically for the finance function, our focus is on providing optimal support for these trends. I see three major issues. The first is greater use of robotics to digitalise and automate workflows. The second is the control function, developing self-analytics to provide internal platforms with the data they need. And third, we are looking at forecasting and budgeting and the shift to a rolling focus, with data-based predictive forecasting.

Deloitte: The COVID-19 crisis has prompted many companies to push forward on digitalisation, and they will go on benefiting from these advances once the crisis has passed. Which digital advances do you see as particularly promising?

Jörn Harde: In terms of corporate culture and digitalisation, I think the crisis enabled us to achieve as much in five weeks as we would otherwise have achieved in five years. But it is important that digitalisation is not an end in itself but a means to an end – improving things for individuals. Trust exists between individuals, not between algorithms, and cooperation creates emotions that give rise to new ideas. The creativity generated by spontaneous human encounters is not something you can digitalise.

But there are limits to digitalisation, and cyber security is a particular concern. Digitalisation brings new risks that need to be managed both internally and externally. Data security and data protection are very important to us, and we need to protect ourselves and our customers: customer data belongs to customers and no one else. But tackling these risks also creates new opportunities for cooperation with customers and suppliers.

Deloitte: Manufacturing is one of the sectors that may benefit most from the promised economic recovery. What opportunities do you see for your company?

Jörn Harde: Overall, we have come through the crisis in good shape – as has Switzerland as a whole, compared with other countries – so recovery is not such a pressing need for us. Demand is strong and is growing significantly in some areas. However, it is still difficult to see what the future will bring. It’s not clear whether current purchasing levels will automatically translate into sustainable growth or whether some customers are simply building up reserves against current or future bottlenecks in the supply chain.

We also benefit from the fact that digitalisation and sustainability underpin our business. I can see a number of interesting opportunities. New forms of mobility, for example, require charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, and that will be a growing market for Siemens in Switzerland and elsewhere. We are working towards a new model of cooperation that makes different demands on buildings and office space, which we can resolve with IoT technology. Globally, buildings are responsible for about 40% of all CO2 emissions, and modern solutions for using buildings and managing energy more efficiently and sustainably are crucial to tackling that.

Switzerland remains very important for us. We want to be close to our customers, so we have 20 locations around the country. And with Siemens’ global HQ for Smart Infrastructure in Zug, Switzerland is taking the lead in global solutions – and making the country even more crucial to Siemens.

Jörn Harde

CFO of Siemens Switzerland

Jörn Harde (45) grew up in Schwelm, near Wuppertal in North Rhine-Westphalia, and, on leaving school, completed a commercial apprenticeship at Siemens. He has remained with the company ever since. He worked in finance and control and also completed his studies through the Fernuniversität Hagen distance-learning university. He took on various operational management positions, including responsibility for the integration of Nokia Networks with Siemens Networks, and, later, the development of offshore wind farms in England. Having spent four and a half years as chief of staff for Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser, he became the Chief Financial Officer of Siemens Switzerland in 2018. He is married and lives in Bergdietikon. In his free time, Jörn likes to play chess, enjoys travelling to Greece, his wife’s homeland and is a keen hiker and winter skier.