The term “Swiss made” carries with it a heavy responsibility when you’re the owner of a Swiss company with a long heritage. For Heinz Buhofer, the CEO and owner of v-ZUG, it is a load he’s willing to bear. He discusses leadership lessons and keeping ahead of the pack – even after a century – with The Peak.
Why is Singapore important?
It is a big responsibility because v-ZUG singapore is our first step into the south-east Asia market. v-ZUG was established more than a hundred years in Switzerland but we have increasingly become a global company. I am working with everyone to develop v-ZUG’s potential and repeat this success story. Through my visits to our various markets, I am happy to see that our teams on the ground are working to continuously deliver the best possible brand experience to customers.
What were some of the greatest obstacles you’ve faced in your business?
The challenge is to always stay at the forefront of the market. We have to constantly innovate to introduce products that bring value to our customers and enable them to do more than was previously possible.
As our products become more and more technologically advanced, there is a challenge to keep them simple to operate. People do not want to press many buttons to do something. Our solution is simplexity: to make complex and advanced technology simple to use.
V-ZUG’s appliances are simple and quick to operate, and feature automatic programmes that make life easier for customers. You can start one with the simple push of a button and the complex technology will work on your request.
In your opinion, how has V-ZUG managed to achieve and maintain the level of success it currently enjoys?
There are many factors, including design and quality. We understand that design is not just about looking good. To us, design is the art of combining function and beauty. Our products look elegant but are filled with technology that brings convenience to customers.
We truly value our customers. We see the sale of an appliance as the start of a relationship. We conduct classes to teach customers how to use, how to cook and how to maintain their appliances. There are also classes to train their helpers.
We make it possible for people to experience solutions that inspire and delight them. That is what we mean by “Swiss perfection for your home”.
Being a leader means having foresight. What do you envision to be some of the greatest challenges facing V-ZUG in the new decade?
The challenge is to maintain a forward-looking outlook, which is hard. We are constantly looking to improve, to be quicker with making decisions, and to deliver greater consistency, better control of complexity, and substantial work satisfaction.
Lip service is easy and ungrounded promises abound. In an increasingly VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world, the strength and culture of authenticity and sincerity are of eminent importance.
Who are some of your personal or business heroes?
Julius Weber was a Zurich businessman and my greatgreat-great-grandfather. In 1887, he saw the opportunity to buy a metal factory in Zug and that was how V-ZUG began. Without him we would not be having this interview. Science and art are also important in my family. Besides being a businessman, Julius Weber was an archaeologist. Also, my great uncle supported composers during the difficult times of the Second World War and my godmother was a renowned pianist in the world’s leading concert halls.
What’s your leadership mantra?
He who seeks to rule must also be able to serve. It does no harm to be reminded of this adage.
What do you do to keep yourself refreshed and able to generate new business ideas?
In today’s world, where material possessions or “to have” are often more important than what you are or “to be”, I have always found strength and stability in sharing how our business can contribute to society beyond material gains. I believe it’s not just about how much business you do but how you build an ethical and sustainable business.
I like to be considerate of other people’s opinion and try to build bridges between different views, and then incorporate them into my decision making and idea generation process. I also believe a lot in the power of awareness and being guided by intuition rather than by conscious effort alone.
This allows new ideas to come more effortlessly. I believe that more of these principles should be applied in today’s business world in order to foster a considerate society and to create a more consciously aware working atmosphere.
V-Dining Restaurant is a great concept from V-ZUG. What else is the brand trying to do to keep ahead of its competitors?
We try to understand and anticipate the market’s needs, and use our knowledge to innovate and introduce bestin-class products. For example, when we developed the gas hobs for the Asian market, we used our knowledge of induction hobs to introduce gas hobs with electronic controls.
What’s more, to be able to manufacture our products in Switzerland is our strength and priority. V-ZUG 2033 is our long-term project to invest heavily in new production facilities. The current investment phase will enlarge and renovate infrastructure, and will cost us more than CHF 100m (S$142,049,400).
Consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about sustainability. Home appliances account for a large proportion of the energy and water used. We want to help people save both by manufacturing efficient appliances.
By 2021, our manufacture in Zug will also no longer burden the atmosphere with carbon dioxide. We are already using hydro and solar power to generate electricity and we operate large photovoltaic systems at our logistics centre.
By 2033, our office and factory complex will have completed a transformation that will strengthen not only our company but the city of Zug as a whole. It will help exemplify modern city planning in different ways.
“IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT HOW MUCH BUSINESS YOU DO BUT HOW YOU BUILD AN ETHICAL AND SUSTAINABLE ONE.”
V-ZUG’S HEINZ BUHOFER ON THE CHALLENGES OF DOING BUSINESS TODAY
TEXT FARHAN SHAH