Since the beginning of the year Oliver Schatz has led Robert Bosch Kft.’s development centre in Budapest as the successor to Jan Peter Stadler. Previously he was technical director of Bosch-Sensortec, a Bosch subsidiary making sensors for portable devices such as smartphones, for seven years. He spoke to The Budapest Times about his first impressions of Hungary, the company’s purchase order situation and its efforts to attract new employees.
What are your first impressions? Are there differences between developers in Germany and Hungary?
That’s difficult to judge because development for consumer goods is very different from in the automotive field. In other words, I have two changes behind me: from the consumer field in Germany to the automotive field in Hungary. The consumer world was very hectic. Time to market was everything.
The automotive field is also a consumer field. You have to bring new products onto the market quickly there too.
A significant difference is that if you order a new car today, you do that according to your personal requirements and wishes. The automobile producer then gives you the deadline by which you will get the car. If there is a delay of two months, then you might gnash your teeth but the main thing is that you get the car. In the consumer world mobile phones are sold for the Christmas trade. Only technology freaks wait longer. The broad mass of people will simply buy a different product if there is a delay with the expected device. The whole development cycle and the pressure are very different for that reason. But that’s the same in Hungary and in Germany.
What impressions do you have of your employees here?
I can sense the enthusiasm of our over 800 developers for technology, perhaps even more so than in Germany in certain things. In addition it is clear that they are highly competent. I was in Budapest in 2004 and developed a branch of my then sensor development department. I interviewed a lot of potential employees and directed staff from Germany. Some of them are still here. It’s interesting in comparison that it was relatively difficult at that time to get open answers from Hungarians. They were very reserved. The interviews and the very cautious approach to working were unusual for me. Now I’m amazed by the change. The people are dynamic, professionally competent, want to get things moving and can really sparkle, which I hadn’t perceived so much before. The reserve of earlier is barely present any more, which is surely also because of the change in behaviour on the German side.
In what way?
At the beginning the German side was also somewhat reserved because of uncertainty about what skills to expect here and what responsibilities can be assigned. Now there is a sense of the Germans and Hungarians working as equals and there is even fully self-sufficient development here right through to the end customer. In 2004 our development centre operated rather as an extended workbench. Trust grew progressively. There are now Bosch projects with the central technical knowledge located here in Hungary. There are product fields that are predominantly covered here in technical terms, such as the automatic parking system. There are whole regions that in certain fields are looked after technically from Hungary, such as Asia. My aim is to advance this even further and to bring even more fields of responsibility to Budapest.
That presumably means Hungary has developed a good reputation within the Bosch Group and you no longer have to fight for new orders to the same extent that the founder of the centre, Henk Becker, did ten years ago.
Yes, earlier a lot of persuasion was needed before internal customers were willing to assign projects to Hungary. That’s no longer necessary to such an extent. We want to go further in that direction and improve even more. In this fast-paced world, expansion of fields of responsibility includes meeting development deadlines better. I’m helped there by my experiences in the consumer field, where it was vital both to keep to deadlines and deliver high quality.
What else is on your agenda?
Improving efficiency and bringing even more projects to Budapest without a proportional increase in the number of employees. That’s only possible by means of even greater efficiency and rational use of capacity. In addition, we want to avoid recursions to an even greater extent. Our aim is for our developments to be successful in the first cycle where possible.
Will there be an increase in the number of employees all the same despite better use of existing resources?
Certainly. In September we hired our 800th engineer. As head of the development centre, i.e. in the next three to five years, I would like this number to exceed 1,000. Ideally this step will take place during the first half of my time here but it depends ultimately on the quantity and size of the projects that we receive.
Can you still find suitable staff in Hungary to meet that growth pace?
It’s gradually becoming appreciably more difficult. We have to be increasingly active, which includes cooperating more closely with universities. Against that background, for instance, last autumn we founded a Robert Bosch competence centre together with the University of Gödöllõ and Budapest University of Technology and Economics. We both contribute to the practical training of students and have projects carried out that are useful for us. A further aim, naturally, is to draw the attention of potential future employees to us and create ties with them. We want to expand the work of the centre progressively.
What other steps do you take to ensure the supply of new employees?
We also make an effort to increase awareness of Bosch as an employer among those who have already begun their careers. This involves presenting Bosch as an interesting and diverse company with considerably more to offer than just fridges, windscreen wipers and spark plugs. Unfortunately Bosch is still associated too strongly with these and similar product groups. Far too few people are aware that Bosch is also a high-tech company and has a wide spectrum of high-tech products. We’re among the shrinking number of companies in Europe that have their own semiconductor factory. We’re also very strong in fundamental research but always with the prospect of specific products at the end. Another way to ensure that we have sufficient new employees is to target women. I think there’s still a lot of potential in Hungary in that respect.
How male-dominated is Bosch currently?
Bosch’s development departments are unfortunately still a male domain and not only in Hungary. That’s not because we are unwilling to hire women. On the contrary. The reason is that hardly any women apply. Clearly, in terms of the working environment, we are still not sufficiently attractive to women. The way that the outside world perceives Bosch and in general women’s image of engineers also play a role. I would like to get more women involved in development here in Hungary too.
What characteristics of female employees do you value?
I find that women tend to address topics more calmly. In development teams with women there is less jockeying for position and other unhelpful interactions. In my last areas of responsibility I had fields run by women that did very well, perhaps better even than comparable fields run by men. Essentially women can be just as good engineers as men and typically bring many useful soft skills to the job.
How satisfied are you with the training level of new employees?
The basis is good. However, I still see room for improvement in terms of intercultural topics and problem-solving abilities.
What is the situation with regard to practical focus?
I also think there’s room for improvement in that respect. That was another reason for founding the competence centre. In addition, we invest in laboratories at universities where Bosch tasks are also performed. Students can acquire experience in using our equipment and we get tangible results. These offers are very well received by students and the universities also realise that such cooperation makes a lot of sense and urge their development. We simply specify contractually that we require a certain usage of the equipment for our projects. Otherwise the universities have a relatively free hand in the use of the laboratories set up with our help. Since we in turn receive non-monetary benefits from the universities, it’s an investment that pays off several-fold.
How is your purchase order situation?
Currently we’re almost overwhelmed with inquiries. There are several reasons. One is our wide range. In terms of development we cover almost the entire automotive field of Bosch here. It doesn’t matter so much if there are occasionally fields with fewer orders. From windscreen wiper systems to high-tech sensor developments, we can tackle a great many development topics here. Another reason for our good order situation is surely our relatively attractive staff costs. This recommends us for jobs especially in economically difficult times, especially as more intensive development is required precisely then to stimulate demand. In other words both economically difficult and good times have a beneficial effect on the volume of jobs we have.
Which Bosch sites is Budapest in competition with?
We aren’t in competition with any other Bosch sites in the region or worldwide because the others have a predominantly regional presence. Large developments are naturally made in Germany and then there are also local development centres, such as in Asia and America, that develop for the given local market. If the decision is made in Germany, for instance, that a windscreen wiper system should be constructed for the global market and that development should be performed in Budapest, we don’t need to compete with anyone. In over ten years we have proven that we are good, cost-effective and happy to take on new tasks. This is rewarded by Germany in the form of repeated new orders. Bosch is large but there is no rivalry between the individual development centres for jobs. I simply look in my portfolio here to see in which fields I currently have free capacity and where I could take on more jobs, and inform the contact person in Germany. I also endeavour with further arguments to make use of existing capacity with new orders as quickly as possible or to develop new capacity.
Can it happen that developments in Germany are halted in a certain phase because continuation in Hungary is cheaper?
Rarely, because the projects tend to be additional ones. Moreover, the implementation of certain projects in Germany is sometimes limited simply by the availability of engineers and we or other development centres automatically get a look in.
Despite the stream of skilled workers from the EU crisis countries, are engineers in short supply in Germany?
Yes, definitely. I know this is the case from my experience. On many occasions I desperately looked for the right people in Germany but couldn’t find them. Good development engineers are still very much in demand. This is one reason why we are pushing the topic of gender diversification. A look at the population pyramid makes clear that in the future we cannot anticipate an increase in the number of male career starters. For this reason it’s only natural to look out for new employees in social groups that until now may not have fitted the traditional image of an engineer.
It’s an enviable situation to receive so many inquiries. Is it the case that you cannot take on every order in Budapest because of staff limits?
So far it has tended to be the exception that we haven’t been able to take on a potential order because of our staff situation. All the same we need to increase our efforts to attract even more good people. A lot is still possible there but we are already on a very good path. When I came to Budapest I was amazed by the inventiveness and the methods that are used to draw people’s attention and provide them with ties to us. The “Goldberg challenge” will take place shortly. Over 40 ten-member teams from universities, each led by a Bosch mentor, is constructing a so-called Rube Goldberg machine. Goldberg was an American cartoonist and engineer who constructed machines designed to perform sensible tasks in the most complicated way possible, such as a tennis ball that rolls and hits something, which sets something else in motion and so on, simply to operate, say, a light switch at the end. The teams have been working on their projects for months and those who make it into the final round will construct their machines and compete with one another. The showdown will be on 27 April. The aim is to make it into the Guinness World Records. This requires over 300 different steps to be performed successfully in sequence. We also organise many more such things. The aim is always the same: to acquire good people and to observe and train potential new employees in team work.