Innovation Stories: Nils Wagner on change, error culture and courage

AL-D2140_CL - 1094311

Innovation Stories: Nils Wagner on change, error culture and courage

Nils Wagner, CEO of REHAU New Ventures and grandson of REHAU founder Helmut Wagner, is developing new business models with his team, building companies, looking for investors and advocating a new work culture. We spoke to him about how companies can become future-proof, what qualities employees need today - and what role leadership plays in this.

Nils, as REHAU New Ventures you support the REHAU Group with digitalization and innovation. But at New Ventures you go further and also look for your own business models.

Nils: Yes, that is a traditional REHAU core competence. We have reinvented ourselves again and again over the past 75 years. REHAU has significantly shaped the industry with new products in many areas. However, these past successes should not make us sluggish, but above all modest. At New Ventures, we are looking for opportunities in areas that are close to REHAU's DNA, such as construction and living. On a digital platform called EuerZuhause, for example, we bring together builders and prefabricated house suppliers, sell REHAU windows directly to end customers in China via new sales channels or help homeowners in the USA to get a new bathroom with a software tool. Our aim is to build up successful companies and then sell them profitably. Either to the REHAU Group or to external investors.

This way of working requires courage to do things differently. 

Nils: It's a question of culture. This applies, for example, to dealing with mistakes. What made REHAU great was that we were prepared to take entrepreneurial risks and try out new things. Even without a guarantee of success. I think we can learn a lot from American culture in this respect. If you have a CV full of successes here, you tend to be viewed with skepticism. Learning from mistakes is essential, which is why failure is part of every entrepreneurial career. In China, too, there is a differentiated understanding of entrepreneurial risks: the character for risk includes the term "danger" on the one hand, but also "opportunity".

GAZ168_DE_06_CL - 100000885

What do companies need to do to achieve cultural change?

Nils: We need flat hierarchies and a high level of transparency when it comes to information, plenty of time for communication at eye level. We have to delegate responsibility and need strong specialists who can make full use of their strengths. This has a lot to do with leadership. Today, managers can no longer act as supposedly omniscient decision-makers. They are coaches who help others to perform at their best and develop.

You've talked a lot about leadership - but what does that mean for the members of the teams?

Nils: You need a variety of skills, educational and experience backgrounds, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. This is the only way to achieve a diversity of solutions, the best of which can win. And: the teams must also accept the responsibility they are given.

Communication, leadership, diversity - are these the keys to success?

Nils: Yes. Because in this environment, where I meet people at eye level, work in a trusting manner, delegate responsibility and at the same time bear it - in this environment, I can also demand performance. In this form of performance culture, I make every employee an offer to be successful. Then the entire organization becomes successful. This also means that I give others the stage and see success as a genuine shared achievement. And it doesn't mean ducking when something goes wrong - it also means taking responsibility.

New Ventures competes with the open start-up scene in the search for talent. What does that mean for you?

Nils: That is a challenge. We need real entrepreneurs who are prepared to make their venture a success. Of course, it makes a difference whether I start my own business or am employed. We expect performance from our founders, it's not about practicing founding in a safe environment. But of course we also have huge advantages in corporate venture building: We already have certain resources and expertise on board through our integration into the Group. As REHAU, we are in the best company globally with this strategy.

The search for external investors is certainly challenging - how do you approach this task?

Nils: We are actively expanding our network, for example by attending industry events and making direct contact with institutional investors. We now also have experienced team members from the start-up environment, who in turn bring many contacts with them. In this way, we are gradually building up a pool of interested investors. However, it takes an enormous amount of groundwork, countless rounds of introductions and discussions and a lot of determination before a deal is finally struck. It is an intensive but also extremely motivating task for all of us.

Engineering progress

Enhancing lives

Maximum cart size of 3 items has been reached!

Your sample cart items: