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Over 10 years ago, you came from the hustle and bustle of Berlin to the relative tranquillity of WALA. How did you hear about WALA?
It was actually the WALA medicines that led me here. My kids were attending an anthroposophical paediatrician back when we still lived in Berlin. She recommended WALA medicines to us. Then, when we moved to the Stuttgart area after over 11 years in Berlin, my wife pointed out that WALA was a local employer. ‘It’s the kind of company worth working for’, she said.
You started out as a team leader - now you’re Head of Infrastructure and Supply. The term sounds rather abstract at first. What does the role entail?
The name of our division covers several different departments: Logistics, IT, Technical, Purchasing and Planning, Finance, and last but not least, Staff Catering. Of course, you might wonder: what does a division head do with so many different remits? I see myself as more of an generalist than a specialist. I firmly believe one of my responsibilities is to find someone for every job who can do it better than I can (laughs). As well as seeing, grasping and understanding the links between these very different areas and managing them with an overarching view.
You have now been working for WALA for over a decade – how does WALA differ from other organisations?
From a commercial perspective, of course, it’s the fact that the organisation is a foundation. That means WALA isn’t bound to owners or shareholders, and nobody makes personal use of company profits. The second unique aspect is collaboration. Moving forward together is a deeply rooted aspect of WALA’s approach. Of course, there are conflicts, but nobody works against each other here to advance themselves personally. Any disagreements only serve the matter at hand.
Let’s look more closely at your commercial perspective. To what extent does the concept of a foundation fit with the fact that WALA also has to run a business?
I don’t see a conflict here but positive tension. On the one hand, our foundation model does not allow us to bring investors into the company in times of crisis to get by. However, on the other hand, our independence allows us to think in the medium and long term. But, of course, as a business, WALA needs to make a profit. As this is generated by the employees, our model also allows us to pass on excess profit to those who contribute to the company's success. For us, that’s a key sign of what’s been achieved and of participation.
In terms of innovation, to what extent do modern technologies play a role at WALA?
That's another area of positive tension: for decades, we’ve had established processes that set WALA apart at its core – such as work done by hand in the garden and plant laboratory. We believe it’s good that these have remained the same. However, we also want to get IT involved wherever it makes sense, for instance. In that sense, we are very much a modern company, too. That includes digitisation on many levels, although we continue to prize personal interaction.
What is currently the biggest challenge in terms of procuring materials?
Supply chain issues are currently a major challenge. The boxes we use to pack our products are one example. If we order these from our suppliers now, it takes six months for them to arrive. You become aware of how crucial it is that processes are well-planned, even for such simple products.
Despite all this, when you consider the future – how does it look?
I don’t think we should say to ourselves that WALA is well-prepared for the future. Then we wouldn’t keep moving. But I do think we can say that we know what we need to do to be well-prepared for the future. And, of course, in many respects, there’s much to be done: from the planned extension and a variety of IT challenges to dealing with the shortage of skilled workers, just to name a few. But I think we’re well-positioned to tackle these issues in future.
Thank you for the interview.
TEXT: Rosa Thomas