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Charging Ahead

In Focus
NAME:Rolf Schwirz
LOCATION:Munich, Germany
By carving out FRIWO’s place as a market leader in digitalized battery chargers, CEO Rolf Schwirz’s leadership has energized the company and brightened its future as we transform into a more electric society.

When Rolf Schwirz joined FRIWO as CEO in 2017, it was a very different company. As a supplier of power products for electric razors, the business ran on very low margins and was highly dependent on just a few customers.

“So we started a strategic process where we asked ourselves, ‘Where do we want to take the company?’” Schwirz tells The CEO Magazine.

Thus began two significant phases of transformation. First, turning the business into a battery charger company, on the back of the increasing electrification of devices across industries, from gardening to medicine and transport. Becoming known for developing premium battery chargers, then, seemed like a sure bet.

“If we don’t succeed within 90 minutes, you can send us away again.”

Second, the acquisition in 2018 of Emerge Engineering further honed that vision into a clear strategy. The founders, two former Porsche engineers, sought to create a superior e-drive train system – responsible for delivering power from a battery to the wheels – for two and three-wheel vehicles. Its aim was to capitalize on South-East Asian markets like India, where up to 30 million of these are sold each year.

As Schwirz explains, Emerge Engineering developed a software layer that customers could convert to create their own e-drive train. “It was a very interesting approach when I look back on it,” Schwirz recalls.

“We said to the big names in the Indian market, like Mahindra, TVS, Hero, ‘Put one of your two-wheeler models in front of us, and we guarantee you that within 90 minutes, we will take away the combustion engine and we will electrify it. If we don’t succeed within 90 minutes, you can send us away again.’

“They were so inspired by this exercise, and all the customers’ reactions were that it was a great system and great solution.”

Powering Up

The move turned FRIWO from an unknown player to a name working with the biggest original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the region. Schwirz says it elevated the company, which went from dealing with purchasing teams to having direct conversations with CEOs.

This in turn paved the way for a joint venture with Uno Minda, one of the biggest automotive tier-one suppliers in India, with around US$2 billion in revenue and 30,000 employees – setting FRIWO up nicely to realize its strategy of expanding across the entire South-East Asian region.

Such a landmark shift meant FRIWO was also able to turn the tables on its relationship dynamics as a technology partner. When Schwirz joined, he says, the company would work to the specifications that OEMs would provide, based on what they wanted FRIWO to design. Now, with a better understanding of the end user, FRIWO is in a position to proactively suggest new product ideas.


“This was a good opportunity for us to learn more about what’s going on in the marketplace. We said, ‘This cannot be all’. So what we had to do was change our mindset in a way that we don’t wait for these specifications to come. We have to put ourselves at the forefront of developments, by understanding what the end users do with the products of our B2B customers,” Schwirz says.

He gives the example of an e-bike, where one of a user’s main challenges was the large size of the charger because it was difficult to take and use on vacation. FRIWO then developed a travel-sized pocket charger, which didn’t deliver the performance of a standard charger, but was ideal for charging overnight at a hotel or camping ground.

Supply Chain Clean Up

Schwirz explains that one area of ongoing focus is how FRIWO can make its supply chain and logistics process greener. “The vast majority of products are shipped by sea,” he explains. “So we are now looking at the transport providers, to see what engines they are using, and what fuel.”

He appreciates that the company is set to pay more for transport in the future, but it’s a switch that’s worth it to find a clean transport solution.

Another example of a new product the company is working on is a battery charger that is integrated with an electricity cable that can convert the 220 volts that comes from the socket to the 48 volts most commonly used in FRIWO chargers – eliminating the need for two separate products.

As Schwirz observes the wider world transforming into an electric society, he sees FRIWO becoming more relevant to more people. A future product, for example, could be energy store boxes for households that use solar power.

“We are thinking outside the box about how we can increase our contribution to the growing all-electric society,” he says.

Energizing a Company

Inventions like this are the result of a simple yet effective process. The company works regularly with a professional artist, who draws what an individual has in mind during innovation sessions. FRIWO then shares those drawings with stakeholders, customers and partners, like custom cable and connectors manufacturer Winsenda, to get feedback on which designs are the most promising.

“We have to put ourselves at the forefront of developments, by understanding what the end users do with the products of our B2B customers.”

This collaborative approach is an inherent part of Schwirz’s leadership style, something he attributes in part to his formative years spent playing football and handball. “I have to have a very good team around me, and the people I gather together as the executive team are one of the main motivations for me to work, to create energy inside a company, to change cultures and so forth,” Schwirz says.

“It is pure joy to sit together with people and hammer out a solution that meets a challenge we have on the table. And I also create some diversity. I never gather yes-men around me.”

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