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“Innovations can only occur in an error management culture”

30. April 2019 / general

Nicolas Durville is CEO Switzerland of Zühlke, a rapidly expanding innovation service provider that operates internationally. In the following interview, he describes the skills that employees must bring to the table in order to succeed: An inquisitive nature, courage, willingness to take risks, leadership qualities and team spirit. Durville emphasizes that in an organization driven by innovation, it is vital to promote an error management culture and to encourage continuous training and development.

Claudia Kraaz: As a partner for business innovations, Zühlke doesn’t sell a range of standard products. Instead, its employees create tailored solutions for clients. What type of skills and personality are needed for this role?

Nicolas Durville: We work together in teams on a daily basis. That is why we look for strong team players who enjoy working with clients. To partner with our clients, it is essential to have a client focus in our line of work. Employees should be inquisitive and have courage. We have intentionally defined excellence as one of our corporate values. It is therefore crucial that employees continue to engage in further training and are willing to learn. For that reason, we offer each employee 20 training days per year. Our people should look for and value diversity in their work and be able to quickly get to grips with new topics.


20 days of training per employee

What do you expect from your investment in 20 days of training and development per employee?

Technological advances are occurring at a rapid pace. For us to be able to act as a partner for business innovation, it is important that our employees have sufficient time to keep abreast of the latest trends and developments and to continue learning. The training and further development of our employees enables us to offer the entire spectrum of innovation, to deliver faster and better results, and to reduce project risks when it comes to innovation. As a company, it is only possible to achieve excellence by recruiting and continuously developing the best talents. Our training package is clearly a USP that we are proud of – and it is a major reason why talented professionals choose to work for Zühlke.


Zühlke has achieved strong growth in recent years. Are you able to hire enough qualified employees?

It is true that it is challenging to find enough qualified employees. The demand for specialists in our field is very high. We offer varied projects and invest in training and further development and that puts us in an attractive position in the market for talents, allowing us to grow continuously. We also rely on the recommendations of our employees. They demonstrate our values and act as ambassadors. Networking plays an extremely important role in this context. In the future, it will become even more important for us to build a relationship with talented employees – long before they even consider working at Zühlke.


”Our culture is shaped by the values of our employees”

A strong culture of innovation is of great importance in a company driven by innovation. What steps does Zühlke take in this area?

Our culture is shaped by the values and attitudes of our employees. During the recruitment process, we not only examine the professional skills of candidates but also consider whether they have the following key characteristics: Does the person demonstrate a certain degree of inquisitiveness? Does he or she display courage and a willingness to take risks? Does the candidate have leadership qualities? How does he or she communicate? Is the individual a team player? These characteristics are vital in order to foster a culture of innovation. Furthermore, innovations can only occur in an error management culture because people never take risks if mistakes are not tolerated. They don’t try anything new. We believe that it is important to demonstrate an error management culture. That is why we organize presentations of projects that were less successful or in which we made mistakes. This is how we signal to our employees that we all make mistakes. We view errors as an opportunity to learn and to improve. I am no exception. It is important to me personally to set a good example and admit my own mistakes and learn from them.


You have employees in eight countries in Europe and Asia. How do you ensure that the values of courage, client success, excellence and integrity are adopted in all those countries?

That is a challenge that we face as we expand internationally. We have therefore defined and implemented measures at various levels. These steps have proven effective in the past. If we open an office in a new location, at least one member of the Executive Board in that location will be a person from an established location. We also offer employees the opportunity to go on assignment to the new location for a certain period of time to gain international experience. Recruiting for new locations is always carried out jointly, so local teams work closely with recruitment specialists and employees from established locations. We focus on shared development and projects that are carried out jointly at Group level. In this way, we convey our values to the entire Group.


Nicolas Durville, born 1971, is CEO of Zühlke Switzerland. He joined the company in 2004 and is a Partner in the business. Nicolas Durville holds a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich and has completed management training courses at IMD Business School and INSEAD. As a service provider for innovation projects, Zühlke offers a combination of business and technology knowhow. The company develops products, services and business models for the digital future – from the conception phase to realization to operation. The Zühlke Group has more than 1,000 employees and has operations in Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Hong Kong, Serbia, Singapore, Switzerland and the UK.


© Claudia Kraaz

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