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While Isabel Grieshaber’s rise to the position of CEO at VEGA Grieshaber had never been in her plans, her first seven years in the role would suggest that taking the reins of the process instrumentation manufacturer may have just been her destiny.
Not only has the company made a number of important advances, but Grieshaber earned important recognition of her efforts in the form of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year award in the Family Business category at the end of 2022, a win she was only too happy to share with her team.
When quizzed on why she stands out as a leader, she highlights two key attributes.
“I’m a very, very curious person and I’m very open to all kinds of ideas. So even though it might sound not doable in the first place, I keep asking questions – what are they trying to achieve with it? What goals are behind it? And so on – and try to establish it in something doable or manageable,” she tells The CEO Magazine.
“You always need to be present and to be there for people and always be on the spot, even if you are not in the mood at the moment. So you will rarely find me at my desk or at my office. Most of the time, I’m somewhere in the company talking to people and I’m trying to understand what they need to bring them further.”
The award is another feather in the cap for the family-run business, which has grown to become an unexpected success story. It was founded by Grieshaber’s grandfather Bruno in the Black Forest region of Southern Germany in 1959, then run by her father until she took the reins in 2016.
“We didn’t really ever have a mission here for the company,” Grieshaber explains. “We grew from a very, very little business to this over 2,000-employee company that’s acting worldwide.”
Such an expansion can bring with it some growing pains, but VEGA has always gone to great lengths to carry its people on the journey with it.
“Under my dad and also under my grandfather, VEGA always took a lot of care for the people and let them participate,” she says. “And I didn’t want to lose that.”
That’s why, one year ago, Grieshaber pulled together a team made up of people from all levels of the company. The Home of Values project aimed to establish a set of core values to make life easier and more secure, she says.
“That’s actually what we do,” she says.
“We do that with our product because they measure values and they protect a lot of process automation facilities and bring actual security,” she continues. “But we also do that for our people through the values that we live here in the company, the values that we show to our customers, and also to our suppliers and even to our market companions.”
The project is a huge campaign that will last for four years, according to Grieshaber. Each year, a quarter of all VEGA employees worldwide will be brought to the home office for a three-day event based on the four core values: curiosity, simplicity, humanity and connectivity.
“Those four core values, they were in the company already,” she says. “It’s not something that we invented. We just brought them out.”
As a sign of VEGA’s desire to push the boundaries, it took a daring move at a difficult time: switching to a direct-selling model during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving behind its traditional way of selling through representatives.
“That gave us a huge opportunity in the American market,” Grieshaber says, adding that the United States is now one of VEGA’s top markets.
“We’re talking directly to our customers to better understand their needs, to not have someone sitting in between trying to sell the most expensive product rather than selling the best solution for the customer,” she says.
The company is also growing its network of production facilities, taking its tally to three.
“We decided to build a totally new production facility for the Chinese market just to supply the market better and faster since we saw that there are a lot of political issues all the time, and it’s very, very hard to support them with our two production facilities now in America and in Germany,” she says.
“We decided to really focus on this market as well since it is so important for us. It’s one of the fastest and biggest-growing markets.”
Over the last 12 months, the company has unveiled new offices in Ohio in the United States as well as the United Kingdom and South Africa, strengthening its global presence.
Meanwhile, on the product front, VEGA will concentrate on pushing its new cloud-based sensors and services as well as its new range of pressure products.
“We see there is a huge potential to grow there as successful as we are in radar,” she says.
While expansion brings with it a series of challenges, particularly with ongoing supply chain issues, Grieshaber is optimistic about the outlook.
“We always had a very, very strong strategy on building high stock, especially on our critical parts, and now, due to COVID, even on our random parts,” she says. “That really saved us during COVID. We could deliver most of our parts, most of our products, maybe not on time due to issues with the delivery situation, but we could produce and deliver most of our parts all the time.
“This was something that my dad already established here, and I just followed up on that because it gives us a lot of security.”
Another challenge VEGA faces is the struggle to find new talent, particularly around its German headquarters.
“Here in Germany, since we are sitting in a very small town and it’s very hilly here – there are a lot of mountains in the Black Forest – it has very low population density, and here in the south of Germany we have a very, very high employment rate.”
To counter this, VEGA is planning a second facility in Germany about an hour from its existing location, with plans to break ground within the next year. The new facility will give VEGA access to a fresh pool of talent, she explains.
After all, the people have always been the backbone of the company, according to Grieshaber.
“Ever since my granddad founded the company, he gave everyone a lot of freedom. We always had a very, very flat structure,” she says. “My dad continued that, and I am doing that as well. And this is one of the biggest secrets that we have.”