125 years of pioneering expertise

Technology drives the world. ABB is a driver of technological progress. Including the mega-trend digitalization.

The future in good hands: Peter Voser (left) and Ulrich Spiesshofer (right) are in charge of ABB. Everything began with electrification. A strong culture of innovation in the company has made it one of today's leading players in the world of digitalization.
The future in good hands: Peter Voser (left) and Ulrich Spiesshofer (right) are in charge of ABB. Everything began with electrification. A strong culture of innovation in the company has made it one of today's leading players in the world of digitalization.

Mr. Voser, as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of ABB, which is now approaching its 125th anniversary, what is the most moving aspect of this milestone for you?

Peter Voser: Every day, it delightsand fascinates me to see the innovative powers developed by what was BBC, and is today ABB, since the company was founded in 1891. Since its founding in Baden, the company has been actively involved in three industrial revolutions, in many cases in a leading position. Charles Brown and Walter Boveri were the visionary founders of an enterprise that we would today call a start-up. 

Mr. Spiesshofer, Mr. Voser, what do you think Charles Brown and Walter Boveri would say to the current corporate strategy?

Ulrich Spiesshofer: Today’s strategy is built on precisely the same entrepreneurial spirit that characterized the two founders. We continue to write new chapters in the history of our company as a leading pioneer in the technology sector. We are ideally positioned to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by Industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution. That is also the target of the third phase of the Next Level Strategy we presented at the beginning of October this year.

Could you explain that in more detail?

Ulrich Spiesshofer: Essentially, the objective of the strategy is to transform the four divisions of ABB into independently active business units. This expressly includes the transformation of our highly successful Power Grids division under the umbrella of ABB. At the same time, we will be exploiting our digital potential to the full, maintaining our clear focus on operational excellence. We will also be strengthening the awareness and perception of our global brand. The objectives of this next phase of our strategy are to accelerate our growth and generate more value for our customers and shareholders alike.

Peter Voser: We have done our homework in recent years and are now significantly better positioned in both operational and financial terms. ABB is now more customer-oriented and much less complex than before. This places us in an excellent position to act, together with our customers and partners, as a motor for progress in the digitalization of power supplies, industry and in the transportation and infrastructure segments. In this way, we strengthen the competitive capabilities of ABB and, in turn, the economy of Switzerland, the home of our company.

The fitness tracker for electric motors: ABB's smart sensor monitors the status of electric motors and can reduce downtimes by up to 70 percent.
The fitness tracker for electric motors: ABB's smart sensor monitors the status of electric motors and can reduce downtimes by up to 70 percent.

Mr. Spiesshofer, you have identified digitalization as one of the key value drivers for ABB. Isn’t that simply a buzz word?

Ulrich Spiesshofer: Certainly not. Digitalization will radically change traditional business models. Fundamentally, it enables connectivity between machines, processes, services and people. Being a pioneer in thepast does not automatically guarantee that we will remain so in the future, especially if the signs of the times are overlooked and the opportunities they bring are missed. ABB has identified the signs and is actively exploiting the opportunities they offer.

What concrete measures have been taken in the course of digitalization?

Ulrich Spiesshofer: Today, ABB is already a digital “hidden champion”. With more than 70 million devices installed in machines and factories around the globe, no other company rivals us in our ability to establish connectivity between the physical and digital worlds. Our products and services not only connect machines with one another, they also make it possible to analyze the resulting data to ultimately create concrete benefits. The enormous potential of digitalized industry is shown where people interact with machines in integrated scenarios. For instance, the extremely sophisticated sensors of our YuMi two-armed robots make them a workmate with a particularly delicate touch for their human colleagues on the assembly line for small components. Our entire portfolio of digital solutions and services is now being brought together in ABB Ability to serve all customer segments. This confirms and consolidates our position as a leading protagonist in the fourth industrial revolution. We are particularly pleased to have been able to get Guido Jouret, a pioneer of the Internet of Things, on board as a driving force for the realization of our digital strategy.

Mr. Voser, do you see the fourth industrial revolution as a threat to some jobs?

Peter Voser: Every one of the four industrial revolutions has been accompanied by reservations and fears. When emotions are set aside, these have never stood up to closer scrutiny and have never become realities. Quite the opposite: each of these technological revolutions has brought enormously increased productivity and wealth.They significantly improved standards of living, and not just in the industrialized nations, and created more jobs than ever before. Admittedly, the employment landscape changed and brought new jobs in other sectors.

You were born in 1958. So you didn’t grow up in the digital world and can’t really call yourself a “digital native”. How do you see these changing times?

Peter Voser: The way I see it, enthusiasm for new technologies has nothing whatsoever to do with age. I have been accompanied by constant change throughout my professional life and I’m pleased to be able to say, with absolute conviction, that I have been able to play my part in it at various stages along the way. Digitalization now offers even more opportunities and more access points for shaping the future. Today, Silicon Valley is not the sole source of innovation and ideas – any number of Swiss valleys, highlands, and lowlands can do the same. Our strategic partnership with Microsoft is a groundbreaking example of this.

What exactly does this partnership involve?

Ulrich Spiesshofer: This strategic partnership with the world’s largest software concern is built on many years of successful collaboration. We are working together on the creation of one of the world’s biggest industrial platforms in the Cloud. Our partnership bundles the global strengths of ABB and Microsoft, and will bring unique benefits for our customers – true to our brand promise: Let’s write the future. Together.

Today, ABB has around 135,000 employees and maintains a presence in more than 100 countries around the globe. How much Switzerland can still be found in ABB?

Peter Voser: A lot, and it’s going to stay that way! Switzerland is an important pillar of strength for us, and the home of our headquarters. We will continue to invest here, too. For example in research and development and in increasing productivity. Namely in activities with high value-creation potentials and correspondingly higher margins.

ABB is obviously becoming more of a global concern. Will ABB remain a Swiss company?

Peter Voser: For us, as a global concern, Switzerland offers so many advantages. We feel perfectly at home here, and not just at our headquarters. Our Swiss subsidiary also does a wonderful job. It’s an innovation machine that regularly brings new products with enormous benefits for our customers to the market at very short intervals. It’s also doing very well indeed.

Could this have something todo with your now being Swiss yourself, Mr. Spiesshofer?

Ulrich Spiesshofer: (with a smile) No, of course not, although I do take pride in now having Swiss nationality. Switzerland has become a second home for me and my family. I don’t speak Swiss German yet, but my children speak it like natives.

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