The TOP 100, a prize for Germany’s most innovative small and medium sized enterprises, was recently awarded for the 24th time – and RECARO is proud to be among those chosen. The announcement followed a multi-stage selection process that assessed the innovation management practices of nominated companies and their degree of innovative success.
Michael Heimrich, Head of Innovation Management at RECARO Child Safety, and Timo Lenzen, Head of Platform Development at RECARO Aircraft Seating, accepted the prize from science journalist and TOP 100 mentor Ranga Yogeshwar at a gala event on June 23, 2017. The event, held in Essen’s Colosseum Theater, was part of the 4th German Mittelstands-Summit for small and medium-sized enterprises and was moderated by German news anchor Linda Zervakis.
Within the RECARO Group, a culture of innovation is actively promoted, while innovation management is conducted systematically. Instrumental to this are collaborative arrangements with a network of institutes and research facilities, as well close cooperative relationships with innovation managers in the RECARO Child Safety and RECARO Aircraft Seating divisions. Appropriate structures and tools are used to motivate employees to find the best possible interdisciplinary and cross-divisional solutions for products, processes and organizations.
The combined innovative strength of the RECARO Group is reflected, for example, in the 743 ideas that were submitted by colleagues in the RECARO Idea Challenge. This inhouse competition enhances the networked cohesiveness of employees, sites and business fields, while strengthening the overall innovative prowess of the RECARO Group – an objective being systematically pursued within the Group. “It’s easy to take new ideas off the table, but doing so can end up being a very big mistake. Recognizing a good idea is more difficult, and promoting it can be even more so – but it’s very much worth the effort. Now and in the future, I’d like the RECARO culture to be one in which ideas – even ones that seem odd at first – are welcomed and systematically processed,” confirms Martin Putsch, Shareholder and CEO of RECARO Holding.
Indeed, there are numerous successful RECARO Group innovations in the marketplace that emerged from this ongoing process. The latest of these – the Zero.1 Elite child seat – is a true world first, in that it merges two products – an infant carrier and a child seat – into one.
Michael Heimrich, who was previously Head of Innovation Management at RECARO Holding, is now in charge of product design and innovation management at RECARO Child Safety. He spoke with us about the matter of innovation:
Mr. Heimrich, how do you define innovation?
An idea only becomes an innovation if it is successful in the marketplace. In this respect, it’s always important to recognize the needs of customers and offer them a better solution than the competition. Ideally, you’re the first one to recognize that a problem exists. Coming up with a good solution requires creativity – but equally important are good execution, quality and price. You also have to develop the right storyline to communicate the idea to retailers and customers. On top of all this is the importance of executing at the right moment. So, innovation isn’t just the job of the creative department but a company-wide effort that must be made collectively and must entail an intensive exchange of information between departments.
What does innovation mean at RECARO?
The world is changing – and faster than ever. Our challenge is to face this change head-on. At RECARO, we understand that an open mind and a wealth of ideas are the key to doing so successfully. Innovative culture does not function independently of corporate culture. It helps that we consider innovation to have been a RECARO tradition for the past 111 years. Indeed, innovation is firmly rooted in our corporate culture. We think ahead, just as the company founders did.
What distinguishes a good culture of innovation?
The ability to innovate can’t be prescribed; it has to be nurtured. I believe that the right work environment is decisive to cultivating a good culture of innovation. Employees need to be provided with an environment that allows them to develop a passion for their work, come up with their own ideas, and experiment. Naturally, a prerequisite for such an environment is an interest and curiosity on the part of their colleagues and superiors, as well. How they relate to one another should foster trust, and employees should feel appreciated and valued for their initiative.