Central Switzerland’s Baar is where Sika has its corporate headquarters and CEO Jan Jenisch his office. The office is often empty since Jenisch is on the move a lot, spending about 160 nights a year in hotels. He wants to be close to the markets, to regularly meet with his managers at the respective regional subsidiary and to visit key clients with them. With locations in over 90 countries, there’s obviously an equivalent amount of travel. But Jan Jenisch sees another side to the traveling: “Every day, we need to remind all our co-workers of Sika’s values and also set an example. That starts with me as the CEO—and that’s why I want to be present.” This is the first time the Sika spirit surfaces. The chief is close to his team. He sometimes even compares his team to a sports team and sets ambitious goals. “We train together and go out to compete together. Everyone specifically needs to know where the path is headed and what metrics we’re using,” says Jenisch.
The Sika Spirit
A positive atmosphere and good mood within his team are vastly important to the chief. He describes these qualities as “the Sika spirit.” The corporate head meets at least three times a year with each of the 160 senior managers employed by Sika. Despite jet lag, Jenisch is soon up and running again. First appointments usually take place early in the morning, either in the factory or at the construction site. This is typical of Sika’s corporate chief.
Jan Jenisch talks about his team often and includes every single employee. The best comparison for the leading specialty chemical company is ice hockey. According to Jenisch, it’s “a team sport that’s rough but fair.” An enthusiasm for sports is also evident in the private life of the German, who has been living in Switzerland for a while. At times you can even find him in front of the TV at 3 in the morning, rooting for Roger Federer or Stan Wawrinka in a tennis match. Jenisch himself has little time to pursue sports. He settles for skiing or jogging.
Martin Schneider: How do you deal with challenges?
I view challenges as a sport, and I don’t complain. There are people who are always moaning and unhappy about something. I’m not one of those. For me, it’s a big privilege to direct such a great company along with a great team. That’s why I never adopt a negative attitude or look back but always look ahead with a positive attitude. The task of the CEO is to bring the company forward, regardless of the circumstances.
As CEO, you always feel a certain pressure. Is this even greater than usual during challenging times?
Being under pressure is a good thing because you don’t stand still but act. Stagnation and sticking with the status quo are fatal in today’s economy. If you’re interested in soccer, take a look at the final match for the 1974 World Cup, with Germany against Holland. At the time, that was quite a dynamic game. Today, the match from back then looks like it’s in slow motion. Soccer has undergone huge changes and has gotten faster. I see parallels to the economy and to corporate management in that. Just like a soccer player, we need to improve ourselves every day. If I no longer feel any pressure and don’t want to effect any more changes, then I’m in the wrong place. Staying in your comfort zone may be convenient, but it’s not at all conducive to the success of a business. In the long run, the competition will force you out of the market.
Do these improvements need to be apparent from day to day? Companies listed on the stock exchange think from quarter to quarter. Companies that are 100% family owned are more likely to be oriented toward the long term. What is Sika’s time horizon?
Our thinking is very performance oriented, and we generate the fourth year following good growth rates and margin increases. For me personally, that’s important. Together with my “team,” I want to achieve a clear improvement every year. However, we won’t make any decision today that could have a negative impact on the next ten years. We undertake projects that at first glance might make little sense short-term. But they exist because we operate long-term and because they absolutely make sense for our company and will pay off in the long run. That’s how we make a lot of decisions at Sika.
How does the near future look?
Because we’re broadly established both geographically and in terms of our product portfolio, we’re not dependent on individual investments. Every year, we open six to eight factories in emerging markets. If one of them didn’t work out well, we could absorb it, although that happens only very rarely.
My greatest challenge is that we not be satisfied too quickly. I also practice that in my role as a leader and don’t think: “Great! Now that I’m CEO of the Year, I can sit back. I want to keep the team motivated and make the right personnel decisions. Successful company leadership depends largely on passion and the quality of detailed decisions. For us to relax in that area would be bad. It’s important to me that the company can continue to develop successfully. The same applies to me.
You mentioned the award. What does the title CEO of the Year mean to you?
This award is for Sika and for all of our 17,000 employees worldwide. We’ve communicated the award internally in order to congratulate our executives and to thank them for their dedication. They and all their employees have contributed to Sika’s success and, as a result, ultimately also to the CEO award. It’s not an individual success but a team success.
How do you feel as CEO of the Year? Are you proud of your achievement?
I feel quite normal, and humility is a good virtue. For me, an award or promotion is always an incentive to deliver continued successes and to keep improving. So my top priority at Sika is to uphold our extraordinarily good company performance in the next few years as well, and in this way to produce an increase in value for our investors and shareholders.