„We are intensely proud of our commu­nity!“

Toto Wolff, Head of Mercedes-Benz Motor­sport, and Thomas Borst, Managing Director of Sales and Marketing at the ebm-papst Group, to take stock of the long­standing part­ner­ship. And they share their recipes for success.

What common ground is there in working together?

Toto Wolff: We have been working closely with ebm-papst since 2014. They have been with us during our triple Cham­pi­onship winning success and continue to be a part of our story and perfor­mance in the 2017 season. When I look across our two orga­ni­za­tions I can see that we share a number of values. As a team, our aim is to break records and become the most successful team in the history of the sport. ebm-papst have the same mentality of being the best and staying ahead of their compe­ti­tion. We are both working at the tech­no­log­ical fore­front of our two fields and always aiming to lead the way.

Thomas Borst: We are consid­ered the bench­mark for fans and drives. Our priority is to always offer our customers the best solu­tion. This is part of our corpo­rate philos­ophy. Looking at our values and those of Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motor­sport – effi­ciency, enthu­siasm, premium quality and tech­nology lead­er­ship – we not only see points of contact. Instead, we have a 100% match! These values are what drive us, forming the ideal basis for our part­ner­ship.

How to achieve success.

Thomas Borst, Managing Director of Sales and Marketing at the ebm-papst Group (Photo | ebm-papst)

Toto Wolff: Well, first of all, I don’t like failure. In my current journey failure is easy to define: It’s not winning a race. But for me it’s about long-term success, about adding all the dots. So you have a constant long-term upwards slope. With all the little setbacks that are neces­sary. It’s not a constant graph, but the long-term trend should be upwards. You need to cope with the fail­ures in-between because they are part of the upward trend.

Thomas Borst: This long-term upward trend directly depends on how close the rela­tion­ship to our customers is. We take stock on this point regu­larly and approach our tasks with plenty of enthu­siasm. One customer took me aside and described his reac­tion in these words: “When your engi­neers collab­o­rate with us, we feel their enthu­siasm so strongly that our engi­neers are inspired in turn.” This sentence perfectly illus­trates how we create success.

What is the impor­tance of the brand?

Thomas Borst: A strong brand creates a great deal of trust. This is the basis for a successful part­ner­ship; espe­cially when times happen to be tough. The posi­tive brand claim that we strive to contin­u­ously renew in our daily work – the best aero­dy­namics- and drive-related solu­tions – encour­ages sustain­ability in customer rela­tion­ships. The brand also creates a value that our customers are willing to pay for.

Toto Wolff: Indeed, having a consis­tently high quality brand that reflects the work of a team or company is so impor­tant. It is the way people feel about your busi­ness or orga­ni­za­tion. It is what can very often give you the edge over your competi­tors and allows your employees to be clear on the expe­ri­ence they need to deliver to customers. However, a brand can only be built through deliv­ering great prod­ucts and when your customers trust your work. ebm-papst’s strong brand as a leader in the field of inno­v­a­tive fan tech­nology is testa­ment to this. We are immensely proud of our commu­nity of Team Part­ners and Suppliers and what they repre­sent, of which ebm-papst play an inte­gral role.

How does ebm-papst support your success?

Toto Wolff: ebm-papst has been a major part of our story and success since 2014. The solu­tions they are able to offer have helped us improve perfor­mance throughout our orga­ni­za­tion from improving the deliv­ered airflow in our roll hoop and side pod fans by 518 percent to energy and cost saving EC solu­tions throughout the factory. Working with ebm-papst also strengthens our aim of being the best, as we want to work along­side the best in order to achieve this.

“ebm-papst has been a major part of our story and success since 2014.”
Toto Wolff

Is there also a converse effect?

Thomas Borst: We entered into the part­ner­ship with the goal of raising world­wide aware­ness of our brand. Mercedes-Benz’s brand claim – “The best or nothing” – is an ideal bench­mark for the devel­op­ment of our own brand. Working with Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motor­sport, we can develop our brand further and continue to focus on the areas where we still have room for improve­ment. And the collab­o­ra­tion is also inspiring for our core compe­ten­cies: aero­dy­namics, motor tech­nology and elec­tronics.

The impor­tance of the team.

Toto Wolff, Head of Mercedes-Benz Motor­sport (Photo | Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motor­sport)

Thomas Borst: Customer and market require­ments are becoming more and more complex. At the same time, we pride ourselves on our inno­v­a­tive power – but it can only func­tion with teams of special­ists. With “one,” the new ebm-papst strategy, we are rein­forcing our work as a team across loca­tions. It also applies above and beyond the company itself: one key to our future is devel­oping a sense of team spirit with our customers as well. Our part­ner­ship with Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motor­sport is a perfect example. Of course every­thing wasn’t smooth sailing from the very begin­ning. But we have worked together for four years now. During that time, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motor­sport grad­u­ally increased its under­standing of our approach to things. And in the process, the team spirit I was talking about earlier devel­oped. Our spon­ta­neous provi­sion of assis­tance before the Silver­stone race a few years ago is a good example: Mark Wilson, Head of Sales for our auto­mo­tive divi­sion in Great Britain, was able to quickly help solve prob­lems with the hybrid drive’s air cooling system.

Toto Wolff: One way we are both trying to achieve success is through our people. The results of every Grand Prix weekend are due to the hard work put in by every single team member and what they have contributed to make this goal a reality.
You got to be mindful and realize the dynamics within the group that is around you and the group of indi­vid­uals that are respon­sible to make you look good. Those who are providing perfor­mance to the team. It’s very impor­tant for a Formula-OneTM team that all the different parts fit together. It’s not one part or one supplier or one partner or one driver that makes a deci­sive contri­bu­tion, it’s the whole team—and ebm-papst is part of our team.

How to cope with chal­lenges.

Toto Wolff: Person­ally, I like to bench­mark myself. I like the compe­ti­tion. What we do today needs a stop­watch and a stop­watch never lies. You come up with an expla­na­tion why some­thing is wrong or right. But in motor-racing it’s just if you are too slow or if you are fast enough. You make it or you don’t make it. That’s why sports is such a good envi­ron­ment. Because in sports you just win or lose. In busi­ness, you can get away with things, in poli­tics you can have expla­na­tions. It is a culture that you need to embrace. In a sports team you need to live words. You need to live that every day and cascade it through the orga­ni­za­tion.
I had an inter­esting encounter with our chief designer when we faced those first testing days. I was coming into the design office and every­body was busy fixing the car. It was a diffi­cult phase and he said: “That is so exciting!” And this is exactly the mindset you need to have.

Thomas Borst: Yes, that is exactly the atti­tude that we demand and encourage. We think that chal­lenges drive inno­va­tion and help to shift borders. It spurs us onward and is part of our culture, our values. At this point, our collab­o­ra­tion with Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motor­sport is an ideal plat­form from which we can develop our abil­i­ties further. After all, the complex issues in Formula OneTM are similar to the increas­ingly complex chal­lenges we face.

How impor­tant is it setting targets?

Toto Wolff: You don’t rest on your laurels, if you’re being skep­tical. You always have to bench­mark your­self against the next best. If you achieve a target, look at the one who is more successful. You need to set targets that are achiev­able, other­wise you become frus­trated. But you have to set them high.

Thomas Borst: Correct – but it is also impor­tant to set goals so that everyone knows what we actu­ally hope to achieve. As an inno­va­tion leader, our goals must meet high stan­dards. When we compare our actual situ­a­tion to our goals, we have a clear indi­ca­tion of where we stand at that point in time. Goals only take effect when they are mutu­ally adopted and written down. They are the basis for our team spirit. At ebm-papst, our founder proposed a basic goal that we always keep in mind: Each new product must surpass its prede­cessor econom­i­cally and ecolog­i­cally.

“Armed with the courage to take risks, we contin­u­ally raise our stan­dards.”
Thomas Borst

Toto Wolff: There is a story about this study – I think it’s a fake one, but it’s never­the­less good. They followed the results of MBA students for ten years. 90 percent didn’t set any targets, 7 percent set targets but didn’t write them down, 3 percent set targets and wrote them down. Those seven percent earned double of what the 90 percent did and the three percent earned ten times of what every­body else had. I’m a believer of target setting because it reminds you every day of what you want to achieve. At the begin­ning of every season we set targets for the team and for each person in the team. All those targets are being lami­nated and given to each member in his brief­case. And whether you look at this piece of paper or not, the sheer ritual of writing targets down, of finding out what’s impor­tant for the next twelve months is stored some­where. And that is quite forceful.

How impor­tant is it to manage your mistakes?

Toto Wolff: You need to be able to recog­nize your own mistakes. Only that makes it able for you to assess them, avoid them in the future and grow. Some­thing that we’re working really hard on in the team is the ability to pointing at the problem. Blaming a deci­sion rather than blaming an indi­vidual. For that you need a safe envi­ron­ment. People need to be sure that they are allowed to stand up and say: I’ve made a mistake. This is some­thing I see all of our senior guys doing in their groups. It’s an amazing expe­ri­ence when the most senior guy in a meeting starts it by saying “I screwed up”. And you can see the junior teams picking that up. Our motto is: “See it, Say it, Fix it!” When­ever diffi­cult times are coming up, I tend to use that.

Thomas Borst: On all levels, we must create situ­a­tions in which our employees have the courage to make deci­sions – even if it turns out to be the wrong deci­sion. This is the only way to learn from our mistakes. With this approach, we have created a culture that makes our company more dynamic. Armed with the courage to take risks, we contin­u­ally raise our stan­dards – which ulti­mately supports our posi­tion of inno­va­tion lead­er­ship. Customers prefer part­ners with this type of atti­tude.

How impor­tant is trust?

Thomas Borst: Every­thing depends on trust! Without trust in the abil­i­ties of our teams and the indi­vid­uals on them, we would not be able to triumph over diffi­cult phases, for example.

Toto Wolff: Yes, and trust isn’t built upon words. It’s build on actions. It grows in those diffi­cult moments, in which the other one real­izes you don’t let him down and he can rely on you.

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