Editor's Note: This is the transcript of an interview held live and recorded on Dec. 16th, 2021.
To turn this 50 minute long interview into a comfortable read, we divided it into 3 segments, each one covering a specific time frame, namely past, present and future of the company.
You are currently reading Part 2 which will cover the present state of VSF Experts, our company values, philosophy and culture - and how we at VSF actually embody these principles on a day-to-day basis.
Part 1 covered the past and history of VSF Experts - how a work-ethics related ideal sparked the creation of a new company and how it faced hopes, fears, lessons and bigger pictures on the way to reach the present.
And, last but not least, Part 3 will provide you with a bit of fun, deep insights into the personality of our CEOs and a glimpse into the future as seen through their eyes.
Q: That's really cool. I think I can speak for all of us employees when I say: we appreciate it very much. We're proud of being part of this community you guys created for us. Now we covered a little bit of the history, let's take a look at the present. Christian, if you leave out Corona and everything moving in its wake - what makes you want to get out of bed in the morning and go be a CEO?
Christian: Oh, that's easy! I still like what I'm doing so I enjoy turning on my computer in the morning and look at the stuff that I stopped doing yesterday and at what’s coming in - that's fun. I like to connect to people asking for help and, if I've been asked for help, figure out what is the best solution. If customers call us and have questions, too - so that's kind of the daily work I do and still have fun with. Not all of the tasks though, I must admit. So, there are a lot of odd and less funny tasks I have to carry out these days, but overall it's still fun to work. Maybe it’s because I like my work, that what makes me wake up, have my breakfast and then turn on the computer and enjoy spending the rest of the day in front of it, just working with our guys.
Q: Now that you’ve mentioned “fun” - I guess being a CEO isn't always all that much fun. Andy, maybe you can cover the opposite side of that coin. What keeps you up at night?
Andrew: Oh, I would say... optimal customer care. I wish I had a crystal ball sometimes, telling me in advance what our customers really want - preferably before they know themselves. Seriously, though, what bothers me sometimes is the question “How can I solve certain strategic problems” like, when I see stuff coming at us, “How can we prepare”, “How can we respond in advance”, “Did I miss anything”… That kind of inner monologue keeps me up at night.
Q: We have covered the topic of mornings and nights - Christian, what does a typical day in your life as a CEO look like? Do you always have the same routines? Like customers in the morning and finances midday?
Christian: Well, the only fixed point is our development manager daily. So, we have 30 minutes or 45 minutes every morning, that’s kind of the only fixpoint each day. The rest of the day is like, sitting in meetings, customer meetings or administrative meetings. Otherwise, i do a lot of analysis, not only in customer projects but also in our accounting systems, making sure that everyone has the information they need so they can do their job. So going through our accounting department, our payroll department and the financial authorities and other authorities… lots of stuff coming in. We have to provide data and administrative stuff, so I help our admin team a lot and make sure the numbers are correct and we provide the right answers to the to the right people. It’s not really “classic CEO stuff“ like sitting in a big chair and a secretary coming in, saying “Good morning, Mr. Friede. Today you have a 10:00 o'clock this-and-that and the next at 11:00 o'clock.” I'm managing everything by my own, all my appointments on my calendar and everything else. There's not that much I have to delegate to someone else - I know we have people taking care of certain things, but it's not like I start my day by delegating stuff away to other people. So there it is, a normal “everyday”… pretty much.
Q: Andy, we all know you as our in-house version of Taz the Tasmanian devil – whirlwinding about everywhere and nowhere at the same time. If you could stop and take a breath: what would your perfect day look like? It doesn't actually have to be work.
Andrew: I figured that one out already, so it's easy for me. So my perfect day would look like this. I would get up with the kids. Once the kids are all in school, I'll join my daily with Christian, F., and A., discuss everything. At 10:00 o'clock till 11 I’ll read a newspaper. There's a cup of coffee in there, too. From 11 to noon, I’ll write some emails and have a chit chat with friends or someone at the office or some customers. Then I go for lunch between 12 and 1 and then after some coffee I’ll join a meeting. Maybe at two. Then I’ll read more newspapers again because the news got updated ‘til three. Then I'll write some more emails and between four and five, I’ll go home again.
Q: That sounds great although rather unexpected - we've been talking and the most common picture people were drawing involved Pina Coladas and beaches! But ok! Still busy enjoying work - that's some insight, really. Now let's look a bit deeper into the company itself. Let's say VSF is like an extension of yourselves. We have quite the extensive catalogue of company values, so Christian. Which one is the most important one for you?
Christian: The company values? Hm… Respect, acceptance, and diversity.
Q: Can you give us an example on how we, as a company, live and express that value or how you nurture it in us?
Christian: The way I look at it, a company is about the people working in it. So, in the end it's about getting a sense that it’s just right to come together and do stuff together and add some meaning to it all. That what you are doing, what kind of working environment you’re in, matters and it’s a place where you feel safe, accepted and are seen as the person you are. And that's, for me, the meaning of all of this. To do something that makes you wake up in the morning and say, “I love it!” The commercial aspect is just a “side effect” of this. Of course, we all have to pay our bills and we have to make money out of it but that's not the main focus. I know that it's not the typical answer of a CEO, to say “I don't really care about the commercial aspect.” Of course, I care about the commercial aspect in a way. We have to make money and we want to be able to pay good salaries all that. The salaries also have a connection to respect, right? With it, we honor and respect what you're doing and the value you bring in and so on, that’s one of the reasons we have it so far up on the list of our company values.
Andrew: I also think that “people” have always been our key focus. What's also really important for me is the trust we can put in each other within the company. That we can rely on each other and that we solve the problems as they come, as a company. Everyone can be part of it. These are values. which are important for me. Also very important to me is, and this is something people will realize quickly when they join the company, that If you want to change something, you just have to put it up for discussion. We like to think about and decide together how we can improve ourselves.
Q: Now that you mentioned improvements - which of the values would you actually like to promote more or could be improved upon in your opinion?
Andrew: I would say the “relying on each other” piece could be improved in the. I think sharing knowledge is not our problem, but to trust in each others’ work more… not just within the teams, but across different teams. That's something I would like to see more.
Q: We also have some more difficult values - difficult to actually express, like "innovation" or "creativity". Those are not exactly things that happen on command, right? So, what would you say - How do you guys encourage us to be innovative or creative? How do you create an environment for that, nurture it? What would you say is your number one tool to help somebody be creative other than saying „Be creative, that’s an order“
Andrew: I would say, the most important thing to be creative is to be user centric, to think of the human behind everything you do. It will help you understand how we can help them and that alone will make you more creative.
Christian: I would say this also comes back to the environment. If people feel safe to speak up and feel confident that their ideas, also their odd ideas, are being heard and that no one is laughing about them. That's the kind of environment we try to build and maintain “Your ideas are important here. Give them to us straight and speak up, be part of the whole.”
Q: That's a really great approach. Thank you both! Christian, what would you say is our company's underlying mission in a nutshell?
Christian: That's probably the same answer I gave already - It's building a great working environment for people.
Q: Andy, how about you?
Andrew; The mission for the next year or two is to build in a company which delivers not only good software but creates an environment that customers can feel and recognize - great people, great output.
This concludes Part 2/3 of the VSF 10th Anniversary CEO Interview. Please look below to find the link to Parts 1 and 3!
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