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Posted on 06 July 2019

At Semikron, personal responsibility and trust are the values that matter

 

Peter Frey, General Manager Semikron International, talks to us about ‘‘pleasant problems’’, the strengths and weaknesses of his firm, and reveals what he dreamt of being as a young man.

2009 was a tough year for the entire industry. How do you see the state of affairs in the electronics industry at the moment?
We look less at the general situation on the electronics market as a whole, but concentrate more on the power semiconductor sector. And as things stand, we have far more pleasant problems to deal with, such as trying to keep up with the demand for all of our product lines.

Do you believe that this will remain so over the medium term, or could this just be a short-lived trend?
We have the advantage that our semiconductors are used in many different applications, meaning we are present on many different markets. We see two different developments here: on the one hand, renewables such as wind and solar power are booming. This is a medium and long-term trend. In contrast, the medium-term objective for the drives market, i.e. for the traditional industry, is warehouse replenishment.

What is your firm’s main stronghold?
Semikron has a very wide product range covering everything from chips to system solutions and not just components. In recent years we have been focussing on the improvement of the structures used to market our solutions and systems worldwide. A further merit is the different sales channels we use. In fact, we run our own sales network based on Semikron subsidiaries across the globe with Semikron staff on-site. And last year, hand in hand with Sindopower, we went live with our B2B eCommerce portal for power electronics, a move that has proven to be very successful.

Where improvements are still called for?
Innovations and new technologies are our strong point -- as our company logo says. And we truly are at the forefront of many different areas and like to venture down new paths. Interestingly, this often makes our competitors frown and question us, only to realise, some years down the line, that we have achieved huge breakthroughs with our ideas. One shortcoming, however, is the market launch time for our technologies -- this could be faster, and this is something we’re working on improving.

Are there any competitor products that you envy?
We are not very well positioned in the market for low-power applications such as the consumer goods market. In fact, we barely touch on this sector. So there are certainly products in this area where we envy our competitors. Having said that, releasing ‘‘me too products’’ is simply not in line with our philosophy.

To what extent is Semikron a sustainable enterprise?
In 2011 we will be celebrating our 60th anniversary. And even after all this time, Semikron still remains a family business -- this is very unusual for companies in the European power electronics industry. Semikron boasts considerable continuity on the upper management levels -- being in the third management generation only -- and this has steered the company through many a high and low, even mastering 2009 with valour. At Semikron, we are also very proud of our financial independence, which
has proven very useful and is testimony to the consistency within our company.

How do you manage to acquire -- and retain -- highly-qualified staff?

We see our employees as talents and place huge importance on them and their personal development. At Semikron, personal responsibility and trust are the values that matter. We try to recruit young staff and give them the opportunity to learn the ropes with us, familiarise themselves with the working world and then promote them. Of course, we also maintain close relations with colleges and universities and are a member of the Nuremberg Power Electronics Cluster, which just recently received the
Competence Network 2010 award.

What do your staff say about you?
The easy and normal answer to this question is: Ask my staff. We hold intensive talks with our employees and team training sessions, which I personally take part in. This gives me the opportunity to get feedback from my staff. Normally they tell me my management style is clear-cut and fair, that I am pleasant and co-operative, and quick to focus on the important things. My staff also appreciate my ability to motivate. What’s more -- and this is an important part of the Semikron philosophy -- staff are not judged for their mistakes. Instead, we pull together and try to learn from our mistakes. What I do hear from time to time, however, is that I could be more forthcoming with praise.

How much Semikron do you take home with you at night? 

Nuremberg is not actually my home town. I am Swiss, which you might be able to tell from my accent. I am one of very few Swiss who commute in the opposite direction. My home is in Italian-speaking Switzerland, which is where I spend my weekends, and I never take my work home with me. During the week I am here and that works fine for me.

What do you do to switch off from work?
I have a big family -- two grandchildren and the third on the way! I also like to do different sports. As a user of electronic products,

Are you more - or less -tolerant of errors and malfunctions?
Privately, my biggest contact with electronics is with PCs and smart phones and yes I, too, am a victim of the problems that plague Microsoft Windows systems. Crashes, slow boot-up, and smart phone resets can be pretty annoying at times.

What would you have become if you weren’t General Manager of Semikron?
19 years ago, I started at the Semikron Group in Switzerland; then I was head of Semikron Italy for several years and am now here in Germany. If the opportunity had presented itself, I think I would have liked to have been a professional sailor. But at that time this wasn’t a particularly lucrative prospect.

What are your aims for 2010?
Personally I would like to devolve certain operative tasks to my staff to allow myself to concentrate more on strategic orientation and problems. I would also like to have a bit more free time to spend in my home town in the summer, when it is especially beautiful, and have more time for my family and sports. On the company front, the focus will be on facilitating more flexible responses to the ups and downs on the different markets. On top of this, we are working on a new technology that we plan to introduce to the first customers before the year is out, with a view to putting it on the market in 2011.

ABOUT PETER FREY

Peter Frey studied electrical engineering in Switzerland, followed by further studies in business administration. In 1991 he started his career at Semikron as head of Semikron Switzerland, taking over as head of Semikron Italy in 1998. Early 2003,
Peter Frey took over as manager of international sales and marketing at the Semikron headquarters in Nuremberg. In 2005 he became General Manager of Semikron International.

 

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