Interview with Martin Goetzeler, dSpace »Be modest, but be present«

Martin Goetzeler, dSpace: »We have a number of opportunities for optimizing processes and infrastructures, in addition to expanding our international reach and positioning our brand more effectively. And when it comes to innovations for autonomous driving and e-mobility, we will continue to lead and set the pace.«

Martin Goetzeler is the new CEO of dSpace – the development and test specialist with headquarters in Paderborn, Germany.In an interview with Markt&Technik, Mr. Goetzeler outlines his approach to managing and growing this family business in terms of strategy, human resources, and public image.

Markt&Technik: Mr. Goetzeler, when assuming a leadership role with a new employer, executives usually have their own expectations of the job and the business enterprise as a whole. After five months in your new position, what has surprised you at dSpace – be it positive or negative?

Martin Goetzeler: Not much really. But that’s because I have known Dr. Herbert Hanselmann, the founder and owner of dSpace, for at least 15 years. We first met at the Baden-Baden Entrepreneurs’ Talks and have enjoyed a long-standing friendship ever since. So I already had a good idea of what to expect when I accepted the position of CEO.

You formerly held key positions in major corporations such as Siemens and Osram. What do you find fascinating about managing a business in the small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) sector with its headquarters in a somewhat idyllic setting?

dSpace is exciting because it is a high-tech business, rooted in local tradition but with a global reach. I would even call it a hidden champion. Unlike many corporate enterprises, we have flat hierarchies at dSpace, along with short and quick decision-making processes. Having close and direct contact with the company’s founder is a great advantage when making strategic decisions. What’s more, dSpace also benefits from family ownership in many different ways, such as ensured continuity and business privacy, without any undue pressure from shareholders. The culture here – the dSpace Spirit – is much different from that found in a large corporate enterprise.

How is this unique culture evident on a daily basis?

To begin with, everyone here is on a first-name basis. And in many cases, if employees have a problem or an idea, they can go directly to the company’s founder or the CEO to discuss it. Furthermore, we also hold regularly scheduled breakfast meetings for groups of up to 12 employees so that colleagues can get to know me better. Such meetings are great for promoting personal dialogue, which is very important to me.

How did Paderborn influence your decision to join dSpace – was the headquarters’ site more of a plus or a minus for you?

The main factor in my decision was the extremely exciting job awaiting me in Paderborn. And I feel quite at home here. You can reside very close to the city center, and – within just a few minutes – you can go out and enjoy the countryside. That’s a great way to relax and reduce stress. Paderborn is a city with a long history, yet it has a very young population. There are many opportunities here: excellent schools, a university with 20,000 students, sports organizations, a broad offering of cultural events, plus all kinds of leisure activities. The area’s infrastructure even includes an airport. And young families will tell you that finding affordable housing in Paderborn is much easier than it is in metropolitan areas.

At the moment you are sharing management responsibilities with Dr. Hanselmann, the company’s founder and former CEO. What does this entail? How are the roles defined?

I already took on direct responsibility for a number of specified functions and regional dSpace companies. My tasks include administrative matters of relevance to human resources, finance, and IT. This comes in addition to my responsibility for the regional dSpace companies. Dr. Hanselmann and I manage all of the other areas together. All management responsibilities will gradually be transferred to my hands – this process is scheduled for completion by the end of the year. Dr. Hanselmann will then take on an advisory role, and we both will continue to work closely on matters of strategic importance.

Quite often business founders find it very difficult to pass responsibility on to their successors. What has your experience been like?

Dr. Hanselmann purposely selected someone he knew very well for the position of CEO. Trust is essential and vital to management transitions of this kind. Most importantly, there must be a clear understanding about the matters that will require mutual discussion, shared expertise, and close collaboration in the future. I think we are on the right track.

In the press release announcing your appointment, it was said the dSpace would remain a family business and that your duties would also include preparing the next generation for assuming future management roles. What does this involve? How and when will such a transition take place?

Dr. Hanselmann and his wife Angelika, who is also a shareholder and has been with the company right from the start, have two children who are completing their studies – one in computer science, and the other in mechatronics. Their third child studied business management and is already employed at dSpace. The executive team, including myself, is expected to provide the next generation with the toolbox that is required for management or members of the advisory board. We will be working on a plan that will shape this transition. Of course, the decision to join the company, with specified roles and responsibilities, will ultimately be made by the family members themselves. No one is under pressure at this time.