“Family-owned companies are islands of stability and anchors for continuity”

Interview with Marco R. Fuchs

Marco R. Fuchs, Chief Executive Officer of OHB SE, explains the appeal of space and the role which he sees our company playing both now and in the future. He particularly wants to convey to all employees across the entire group an idea of how important and decisive professional corporate structures are in this respect.

Over the last few years, OHB as an enterprise has grown enormously, evolving from a small German company into a globally active space group with some 2,400 employees. And this number is growing by the week. What should these new employees know about OHB?
Marco R. Fuchs: First of all, the fact that OHB is driven by its fascination for space. Despite the strong orientation towards public-sector orders, this is something that has never changed. Obviously, this requires employees to have a passion for this industry. At this same time, OHB has always seen itself as a relatively young company. We are still growing and do not yet have any rigid structures.

What does this mean?
That employees face great opportunities but do not have a dependable or static working environment. This offers great scope for shaping the company but is also tied to high expectations. A clear career path is not something that we can automatically offer. Although OHB has become an established company in the space industry, we still see ourselves as a company that is planning things that we haven’t done before. And perhaps even things that no one else has done before. To this extent, OHB is an innovative and dynamic company.

 

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What role does OHB’s organizational structure play in this respect? OHB SE is the holding company for the various subsidiaries.
The holding company was established to harness the possibilities for engaging in activities in different areas. OHB never wanted to confine itself to a single area. We have always made sure that we could work on space applications and beneficial space flight. The trigger for this structure was the incorporation of OHB Teledata, a company which offered services derived from space technology. The holding company structure was installed when OHB Teledata was floated on the stock market. So it was established as early as in 2001, 2002.

And for what reason?
To combine OHB’s core business in satellite systems with other activities performed by the various companies. So this structure was chosen to enable growth, and particularly swift and more diversified growth.

In the course of the years, this diversity has given our company a far broader footprint. Do you think that our employees are sufficiently aware of this diversity in their own company?
I think this is a question of perspective. The image that OHB has here in Bremen is obviously different to the one it has in Italy or Sweden. And different yet again at the MT Group in Augsburg.

What exactly do you mean by this?
We initially sought a very lean holding company as a vehicle for holding our equity interests. We wanted to be efficient and minimize hierarchies as far as possible. This has changed over time. The holding company now handles cross-sectional tasks for the group such as human resources, legal matters and treasury. Here in Bremen, the OHB Group’s image is heavily influenced by OHB System AG.

In what way?
The OHB Group is primarily equated with OHB System AG with a few extra bits tacked on, to exaggerate things slightly. At most, only MT Aerospace is perceived as being part of the group. This image is false of course. Not only economically but also structurally. The merger of OHB System AG with Kayser-Threde GmbH in 2014 clearly also contributed to the view that OHB is made up of OHB System AG and little else. This has not made it any easier to position the holding company as OHB’s roof. The merger in 2014 also resulted in a link being created between OHB System AG’s two large German sites. Within the group, this has given rise to a feeling that OHB System AG has a strong dominance. However, this is not the case: As I see it, the reports and projects of the European subsidiaries have received strong attention in the publications of the last few months.

Looking forward, space – and humanity’s ability to travel in space – will only be justified if the benefits of these activities for the general public can be demonstrated.

 

What message concerning the OHB Group’s future would you like to convey to all employees?
That activities in space are increasingly growing in importance but that it is ultimately a question of using space more effectively. This was also the idea behind the establishment of OHB Teledata 24 years ago. Satellites open up opportunities and Teledata was intended to create the content for useful applications outside the assembly of satellites. This approach continues to apply. The basic premise is that space is where our core competence in systems business lies. However, related services and applications will ensure greater relevance for us and communicate the benefits of space. And, looking forward, this will be decisive. Looking forward, space – and humanity’s ability to travel in space – will only be justified if the benefits of these activities for the general public can be demonstrated. Ultimately, we are living in a world in which these activities are primarily financed by taxpayers.

Where do you see OHB’s growth coming from?
Mostly from Europe but also from a broader value chain. To date, the focus has been on system activities. This was important in order to establish OHB. However, services are provided in many parts of the company. So we will be continuing to grow geographically and to broaden our footprint on a three-way basis with systems, products and services. This development has been going on for quite some time but will now become more visible as we move forward.

And what is your message to the employees in this connection?
System business will remain enormously important. However, we will no longer be focusing on it as closely as before. Looking forward, we will be investing time and resources to systematically expand other areas as well. The company’s ascent to the top league of systems specialists has taken its toll on its non-space activities. The time has now come to focus more closely on these again.

This development is playing out within the structural framework of a mid-size family-run company. In what way is this an advantage for OHB?
The real value is our independence. We are able to act on a less tactical basis oriented to the needs of the capital markets. As a family-run company, we are able to take a longer-term approach to corporate governance and management. Ultimately, it is the owner who has the greatest incentive for ensuring that the company is in good condition as he has the most to lose. Family-run companies avoid certain dubious things solely out of self-preservation. They are islands of stability and anchors for continuity. They take a longer-term approach which, at the end of the day, is based on human relations. This is also very much in the employees’ interests. This type of corporate culture engenders trust and reliability.

Because family-run companies are ultimately committed to other values?
Basically yes. Family-run companies also tend to be willing to work for smaller margins as long as the company is in good condition. This is because the company is seen as an institution closely related to the family. It is something that you actually own yourself and this means that you automatically take a different approach. This is of advantage for employees as the corporate structures tend to remain compact with all the unique features of a family-run company.

We must be a modern enterprise without losing our standing as a family-run company.

 

How pronounced is the family-oriented corporate culture throughout the company?
In the early years, it was great of course because everyone knew everyone else and there was a certain degree of carefreeness. On the other hand, I now appreciate the value of the professional standards applied outside the family culture which have become necessary as we have grown. We must be a modern enterprise without losing our standing as a family-run company. And what is decisive for me is that we are an independent, family-run company. The challenge is to address the heightened fluctuation and reduced scope for identifying with the company.

What ideas do you have to achieve this?
We will be taking a close look at what instruments we can use for internal communications to intensify mutual sharing among employees and locations. I am aware that in a family-run company this is a task which must primarily also be performed by the owner.

Does this also involve talking about visions?
In addition to projects that serve the necessary business goals, we should also always have a small number of projects that have a more scientific/visionary nature. This is not only important for society but also for our company: OHB employees should come to work each day with the feeling of being part of something quite special.


Personal details:

Born in 1962, Marco R. Fuchs studied law in Berlin, Hamburg and New York. He worked as an attorney in New York and Frankfurt am Main from 1992 to 1995. In 1995, he joined OHB, the company that his parents had built up. He has been Chief Executive Officer of OHB SE and OHB System AG since 2000. Marco R. Fuchs is married and has two children.