An interview with Dr. Christian Herzog, CEO of Baden-Württemberg International
In April, the 2020 Innovation Index once again confirmed that Baden-Wuerttemberg achieved the highest innovation performance in the EU, an accomplishment Dr. Christian Herzog – who originally hails from Berlin and was appointed CEO of Baden-Württemberg International (BW_i) a year ago – described as “fantastic” on his LinkedIn account. But despite his enthusiasm, the experienced specialist in economic development knows that remaining competitive in the long term requires even more effort. This is the issue Herzog now wants to tackle with his team at BW_i following a joint planning process. He talked to TRANSFER about the changes and challenges he foresees for the future.
Hello Dr. Herzog. Rethinking the promotion of local economies – that’s the mission of BW_i. What exactly does that mean, also within the context of so-called Location Marketing 2.0?
Our aim at BW_i is to break new ground in the promotion of local economies by establishing guiding principles based on customer-centric services and shaping the future. But before I explain how, I’d like to touch on why. Not only is the world changing, Baden-Wuerttemberg is, too. Digital transformation, change within key sectors of industry, the strong dependence on exports, sustainable business, etc. – our local economy is facing major challenges. These changes in the business environment have been rapid for some years now – and they’ve now been accelerated by the pandemic. Given this, it’s entirely logical that we also have to change at BW_i. We’ve been thinking about services as part of a planning process and discussing what the state and our customers need from an organization like BW_i. I’ll use the example of regional marketing to add more detail to what is meant by Location Marketing 2.0. Until now, we’ve marketed the Southwest of Germany as a region, but it would be more expedient to define it in terms of the topics that will be important in the future – such as artificial intelligence, or AI. So for example we’re currently in the process of forging an AI alliance with regions in Canada, the USA, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and France, and we want to position ourselves with them as relevant worldwide AI hubs. By forming an alliance based on certain topics, we’re becoming highly visible. At the same time, we’re bolstering our contacts and ties outside Germany.
Have the core tasks of BW_i changed in the course of the planning process you initiated?
Internationalization remains an important pillar within our portfolio. Our clients can continue to rely on us to take them into foreign markets of interest, by accompanying them on delegation trips or participating in trade shows. We want to strengthen how we manage new businesses settling in the area, which has also been one of our core tasks until now. As the one-stop agency in the state, we’re the first port of call for investors from home and abroad. In the future, we also want to recruit international talent for scientific institutions in the state. We want to drive the issue of innovation as a new area of focus. To do this, we’re focusing on topics and technologies that transcend different areas, forging links on an international level by lining up collaboration or setting up more broad-scale alliances such as the previously mentioned AI alliance. This involves close collaboration with our partners, such as Steinbeis and other agencies in the state.
Are you offering any new services to your partners and clients to do this? And is the current pandemic having any impact on this?
With our internationalization services, hybrid methods will be the new normal, especially given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. In the future, we’ll prepare and follow up on delegation trips by using digital technology; the actual trips to each country will be shorter and more efficient. We’re in the course of pulling together a package for our customers so we can pitch professionally through our new studio at the BW_i offices or hold matchmaking meetings. For trade shows, we’ve pulled together a remote service package for the coronavirus period so that companies from Baden-Wuerttemberg can exhibit their products at on-site trade shows in China with support from our office in Nanjing. It went down so well with our customers that we’re thinking about keeping the service going. Here’s another example, this time relating to helping companies settle in the region: One problem companies often run into in Baden-Wuerttemberg is that it can take up to five months for work permits to be issued for non-European skilled workers, which is disastrous for lots of businesses. Because of this, we’re involved in discussions with the government employment office and the Baden-Wuerttemberg Chamber of Commerce and Industry to look into accelerating the process with the support of BW_i.
Thinking about Baden-Wuerttemberg as a region of innovation – in your opinion, what can be done to promote and push innovation skills in the state?
The science and academia landscape is outstanding here. KIT in Karlsruhe and Cyber Valley have a worldwide reputation in the field of AI; we have universities in Heidelberg and Tübingen with a strong focus on healthcare and medicine. We’re world-class in lots of areas when it comes to fundamental research and development, but the biggest hurdle is still there – not just in Baden-Wuerttemberg but actually in the whole of Germany: translating all this into application. What we lack here is places to test and pilot technology. In 2016, why did Daimler unveil its model for self-driving vehicles at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas? Because there’s no testing ground here. We need to pool the joint resources of all players in the region – including Steinbeis, which has been working successfully in the area of knowledge and technology transfer for decades – and make Baden-Wuerttemberg a showcase area for innovation and technology. We also have some catching up to do when it comes to selling our innovation skills – we’re still too Swabian about this and lying low. As someone who was born in Berlin, I know that doing business involves blowing your own trumpet, so I’d appeal for more self-confidence when we go out there.
What role is “still” played by science and business in internationalization, especially given the rate at which things are currently going global?
It’s been more than 35 years since BW_i was set up as an export foundation in Baden-Wuerttemberg, so we also have to rethink the topic of internationalization. In the meantime, science and academia are generally well connected on an international level, so we’re increasingly focusing our attention on recruiting international “high potentials” such as students, PhD students, and post-docs, to come and work at universities and research institutions in Baden-Wuerttemberg. This also entails bringing researchers back from abroad to boost scientific excellence in Baden-Wuerttemberg. As for our clients in industry, big companies and hidden SME champions are already doing international business, but we still feel there are lots of small and medium-sized enterprises in the state that need support in making the move abroad. They’re planning the next stage of growth in expanding the global reach of their sales channels, and they like making use of our delegation trips and partnership fairs, and appearing in trade shows.