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Sven Bauer only has to look to his own family to see how the definition of work has transformed across generations.
“My grandparents had to work hard if they wanted some place to live and something to eat,” he tells The CEO Magazine. His parents, he continues, had it a little bit better.
“They only worked five days a week, rather than six, and could have a holiday and a car. My generation has had to work to earn money and create our own thinking, but we have more independence and we don’t have to work too hard if we don’t want to, only if we’d like to.”
Yet what he’s witnessing with the next generation, particularly in his native Germany and Europe as a whole, is completely different.
“They already have cars, and probably two houses gifted from their parents,” he says. “They never have had to work for money, so they only go to work if they think it makes sense.”
It’s exactly this perspective that makes Bauer’s BMZ Group so successful in the current talent crisis.
“We try to catch this cohort with a different way of thinking,” he says. “Make good things, not stupid things.”
The good things that Bauer is referring to are lithium-ion batteries, which were originally designed to replace petroleum-based fuels in everyday products such as garden tools and power tools.
Today they are among the most prevalent form of rechargeable battery power, particularly thanks to cell phones. But when Bauer founded the company in 1994, many questioned his thinking.
“At that time, nobody trusted batteries. Everybody thought petroleum-based fuels were good enough,” he recalls.
Bauer, who had studied both engineering and business, thought better. “The idea was to do our bit to secure the world and the resources that we have,” he says.
It’s a philosophy that has endured, even as BMZ Group has grown from a small startup in Bavaria into a multinational business with more than 2,300 employees, production facilities in Poland, China and the United States and offices in France and Japan.
“The job isn’t about earning money. People work here because it makes sense,” he says.
The other reason why BMZ Group has escaped much of the talent strain is because it has a figure like Bauer as a leader.
When he comments that today’s younger generation likes to do their own thing and shun the strict hierarchy of big business, he could easily be speaking about himself.
Just 21 years old when he founded BMZ Group, Bauer intimately understands the pushback young people can get when they start in business.
“When you start a company at that age, nobody trusts you,” he says. “I was too young for the suppliers, for investors. I had to do everything by myself. It was a really tough time.”
It didn’t help that the technology he was looking to introduce was barely known or understood. But one order was all that was needed – a milestone he was able to celebrate within the first year.
“After you have supplied a few companies, you are able to show proof of what you are capable of,” he says. “And then it moves pretty fast from one step to the next.”
Such was the cascade of orders that followed that the business doubled every year, as manufacturers made the switch to battery-driven products.
Today, BMZ Group continues to remain one step ahead of the technology curve. Beyond batteries as a sustainable swap for fossil-fuel engines, BMZ Group’s high-tech battery systems are now powering the e-mobility and smart home revolution.
Every year, BMZ Group engineers bring more than 100 new products into development.
Its agility can be maintained because Bauer believes in a flat hierarchy and encourages a sense of entrepreneurship within his teams.
“Each department runs its own business, its own thinking, its own investments, its own turnover,” he explains. “They are driven like small companies within a company. And this makes the business as a whole very fast.”
And in this market segment, that speed is critical.
“You have to be always moving and always innovating,” he says. But in order to do so, he adds, you need to be prepared to think outside of the box. “If you want to go faster and quicker, you have to do it differently.”
At BMZ Group, differently also means the freedom to make errors. “Mistakes are how you learn new things,” he says. “Innovation means mistakes.”
It’s an outlook that has allowed the business to cement its status as the first mover in garden tools, e-bikes, energy storage and more, he explains.
“We are always the first; several times we’ve been 10 years too early,” he says with a laugh.
Now in a world where no one questions the need for batteries, Bauer says that much of BMZ Group’s innovation is driven by market demands, particularly as manufacturers race to reach climate targets set by governments.
Yet the development, design and eventual hardware and software production is just the beginning of a circular economy that creates provisions for the buyback of used batteries and their transformation into second-life applications or back into raw materials.
Such a cradle-to-cradle approach is only possible because of strong relationships Bauer has cultivated with like-minded stakeholders, from clients such as Husqvarna and Hilti to long-standing suppliers such as sheet metal processing manufacturer Walter Th. Hennecke and welding manufacturer Amada Weld Tech.
Such has been the trajectory of the Group that it’s now positioned in a league of its own.
“We don’t really have competition, especially in Europe, so we are more or less alone,” he acknowledges, noting there have been challengers. “Several companies tried in the past, and they failed.”
The big companies, Bauer has noticed, have money but are too slow to keep pace with innovation. “The small ones have the speed, but don’t have the financial resources,” he says.
Experience has shown Bauer exactly where the sweet spot is. “It’s very simple: a small company but with money,” he says.
And that’s the reason why he has split the business up into a series of smaller teams, all under the umbrella of a group structure to fund them.
In August 2023, Bauer stepped down from his adjacent role as CEO of BMZ Germany to funnel his entire focus on the exponential growth – both organic and non-organic – of the global business as Group CEO. And renewable energies are at the center of this future vision.
“Our global strategy is to shift everything toward batteries for storing sun- and wind-driven energy,” he explains, adding that his teams are already fully overloaded with projects. One example is working to stabilize the energy grid.
As they do, BMZ Group continues to prove the detractors wrong and harness battery technology to make the impossible possible.
“Nobody believed us when we said that a bus would be able to cover distances of 340 kilometers in a day on just one charge, but we made that battery,” he reflects. “Our job is to train people to understand what is helpful for the long-term future.”
If there’s one example that showcases the impact of BMZ Group on everyday life, it’s one of the most famous household innovations: the Dyson handheld vacuum cleaner.
“At the time, nobody thought that a hand vacuum cleaner could do a good job,” he says. “We were able to demonstrate just how well it works with batteries.”