An interview with Sylvère Leu

“Customers don’t want innovation”

As the Chief Innovation Officer of Meyer Burger, Sylvère Leu actively steers the innovation capability of the technology group, which has a focus on the solar industry. Personally, Leu is currently not chasing every new development.

Claudia Bardola

Mr Leu, what is the greatest contradiction with regard to innovation that you have been confronted with on the real market?

In reality, customers don’t want innovations, just to manufacture more powerful products faster and at a lower cost. Innovations are required on our part in order to provide this. A key part of our strategy is therefore to clarify to what extent customers are even prepared to go along with the planned innovations.

 

In what concrete ways has this contradiction expressed itself?

Many years ago, a man from China told me that he couldn’t purchase our systems because our technology cannot be copied. He had no intention of recreating our system, but was afraid of becoming too dependent on us because competitors are not capable of creating comparable technologies.

 

Do it alone or work together wherever possible – what is your approach?

Both are necessary. Today, nobody can be in control of every area at a high level. Even as technology leaders, we need development partners. As a rough estimate, one third of a new development is based on ideas that are derived from collaboration with customers. One third is contributed by external scientific and industrial partners, while we create one third in our own laboratories.

1/4 For the Meyer Burger technology group, which has a focus on the solar industry, development partners are a central factor for enhancing innovation capability.

2/4 Problem solver Leu works a lot and enjoys doing so: “When you put your heart and soul into your work, you do it easily and well.”

3/4 Always with him and much used – innovator Sylvère Leu records flashes of inspiration and creative ideas in his little black notebook.

4/4 Sylvère Leu is available to his company almost 24 hours a day – even during the holidays: “I haven’t been brave enough yet to leave my mobile phone at home. At the same time, it soothes my conscience to have contact with the company, my home base, so to speak, while I’m on holiday.”

1/4 For the Meyer Burger technology group, which has a focus on the solar industry, development partners are a central factor for enhancing innovation capability.

And how do you personally handle technical innovation? Do you have all the latest gadgets and smartphones, or do you prefer an old mobile phone and paper diary?

I no longer own a paper diary, but to be honest I don’t participate in every new development and innovation, but use my devices for a relatively long time. Partly for ecological reasons, but also partly so that I am not constantly having to learn new things..

 

Who is Mr Leu, the manager?

Networked, but at the same time adapted to the situation.

«Many years ago, a man from China told me that he couldn’t purchase our systems because our technology cannot be copied.»

So how do you approach new challenges?

I am the analytical type, who always tries to understand things first. Afterwards, I have to try them out to see what and how something actually works. For example, after four years as an electrical engineer, I wanted to understand the economic side of production better, so I completed an additional course of studies in economics at the HSG Saint Gall University. At Zurich Technical University (ETH), one learns to think convergently – a change to the system has a specific effect. Business managers, on the other hand, think divergently. They run through as many versions as possible in order to assess the spectrum of possible effects. I find such differences fascinating..

 

You sound like a born problem solver.

Yes, and that’s why I can’t imagine working outside the innovation area. I find a great deal of excitement and satisfaction in finding precisely the moment at which an idea gels and needs to be implemented.

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