Perfectly capable of standing the heat, electronics manufacturer Grundig recently moved into the kitchen with a range of white goods. Director of brand management Christian Struck talked us through his management style.
Walk through the industrial eastern suburbs of Nuremberg, home of Grundig’s German headquarters, and it is clear how proud this Bavarian city is of its most successful son. Max Grundig’s legacy is immortalised in the Max-Grundig-Platz, the towering Grundig Akademie and the Grundig Stadion where the local football team plays.
Grundig’s HQ, just off the main thoroughfare of Beuthener Strasse, is a former factory – office workers now sit where video recorders were once made – and this is where to find Christian Struck, the company’s director of brand management. In the canteen at lunchtime, Struck nods to everyone and cheerfully says “Mahlzeit!” (the German version of bon appétit). “I think I am a people person,” he says as he tucks into a bowl of ice cream. “When I’m trying to work out our long-term strategy – that’s when I have to close the door and be alone.”
Struck’s role demands plenty of thinking time. He heads a team of 18 people tasked with a comprehensive company rebranding. In 2012, Grundig started making white goods – refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines and other household appliances.
For a company synonymous with TVs and radios, this new move ushered in a huge shift in strategy. “We now see ourselves as a home-electronics brand with a product for every room,” says Struck. He has been working on a new corporate identity and also guiding an external design agency based in Munich through the development of a range of new products. “It was clear we needed to move the brand in a new direction. It had to be younger and more dynamic,” he says.
For Struck, the brand’s core values are the same today as they were when Max Grundig set up the company in the aftermath of the Second World War. Its founder quickly became one of the faces of West Germany’s Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle). “Grundig is a brand for the upper-middle market,” says Struck. “Our products still have to be reachable. They are not the cheapest but they are affordable and worth the money because you know what is behind them: longevity, quality, German precision and trustworthiness.”
Despite this, Struck is keenly aware that the past alone won’t propel his vision for the brand. “You cannot rely on history,” he says. “History doesn’t make great products. You always need a vision for the future.” The company overhaul has also been a question of survival. When Struck came on board in 2007, having worked in Frankfurt for six years for firms such as Publicis and Saatchi & Saatchi, Grundig was losing ground to Asian competitors. A year later the company was bought by Koc Holding – one of the largest investment companies in Turkey and owner of electronics giant Arcelik – which vowed to restore its fortunes. “This gave us the opportunity to renew some of our products and move into the white-goods market,” says Struck.
Struck’s life now reflects the new international face of Grundig. He spends one week of every month in Istanbul, where he has a team of three people. “One of the main issues has been the language difference,” he says of his time in the Turkish commercial capital. “We are all talking in our second language so there is more room for misinterpretation. That means we have to communicate more – write more emails and pick up the phone. You have to be open.”
Openness is something Struck considers essential. “Good managers are always approachable and they have to be able to listen,” he says. For him, openness also applies to the creative process for everything from new advertising campaigns to brochures and business-to-business communications. He tries to foster and encourage the creativity of his team rather than simply instruct.
“I work with some very talented people,” he says. “I suppose my job is to lay down the parameters of the discussion and then let them have the freedom to come up with ideas. I never want to limit their thinking.” Struck’s remit may be radical but his plan is to progress slowly and carefully, presenting Grundig’s new look to markets incrementally. The brand has taken huge strides forward under Struck’s stewardship but there are still many challenges ahead.
In spite of that, the pressure of managing a team based in two countries and the global image of the historic German institution isn’t wearing him down. In fact, his mood improves as the day goes on. “I really love my job,” he says. “No two days are the same.”
What time do you like to be at your desk?
I often work late into the evenings so I normally come in at 09.00. In Istanbul it’s more like 08.00.
Where’s the best place to prepare for leadership: an MBA school or on the job?
On the job. When I was at university, management courses weren’t that popular. Also businesses are so complex – you have to adapt.
What’s your management style?
Open, approachable and empathetic.
Are tough decisions best taken by one person?
They should be decided by logic. Whether that means by one person or a group of people, it doesn’t matter – although some things need one person’s guidance.
Do you want to be liked or respected?
It is nice to be liked but respect is the most important thing. I try to be as respectful as possible with my colleagues, too.
What does your support team look like?
I don’t have a secretary or a personal assistant.
What technology do you carry on a trip?
I take my iPhone and iPad.
Do you read management books?
Yes, although I find them very repetitive sometimes so I often skip whole chapters.
Run in the morning? Wine with lunch? Socialise with your team after work?
Jogging is boring – I get on my bike at the weekend. I can’t drink wine before 18.00. And I’d like to socialise with my team more but I’m often the last to leave the office.
What would your key management advice be?
Be engaged and open. Also, be willing to take advice if it is offered to you.