Giving a Strategic Helping Hand to New Ideas

SHB student designs innovation process for multi-departmental platform projects

Innovation, technological progress, and fostering new ideas based on existing competences – key factors that motivated HOERBIGER Holding AG (Zug, Switzerland) to adopt a new approach in its corporate business development (CBD) department in 2014. The challenge faced by the group was also taken on by Sigune Suttner as part of her MBA degree at the School of Management and Technology at Steinbeis University Berlin (SHB).

HOERBIGER is considered a hidden champion in compressor technology, drive engineering, and hydraulic systems. Its key markets lie in the energy sector with an emphasis on the oil, gas, and processing industries, as well as the automotive sector and mechanical engineering. The firm decided to launch interdepartmental expansion initiatives to achieve profitable, sustainable growth, by continuing to explore new markets even beyond its core business.

The corporate business development project spanned a number of areas including mergers and acquisitions, with a focus on inorganic growth, although there was also a special project team focusing on organic growth. Working for this special project team, Sigune Suttner was faced with the task of putting new structures, processes, and tools in place to create a balanced portfolio of innovation projects revolving around new technologies, products, business models, and markets. The aim was to drive innovation from a top-down perspective – starting with the market and technology trends – but also bottom-up, by building on existing know-how and technology. Company competences and different areas of the business needed to be transparent and accessible to others, potential synergies needed to be leveraged, and strategic know-how needed to be expanded.

For her project, Suttner drew on insights gathered from the theory learned during her degree, which ran in parallel to her full-time work. Already at the start of the project, she succeeded in developing a concept for an innovation system that took four different aspects of innovation into account: the strategy, the processes, the organization, and company culture. The aim was to foster innovation, provide inspiration for visions, and underscore corporate thinking. A central pillar of the system would be a holistic process of innovation, establishing a framework for growth and innovation projects. The MBA student developed this process by drawing on theoretical concepts and “best-in-class” examples from industry, also working in close collaboration with different departments and corporate divisions. The starting point for the process is the growth and innovation strategy. This goes hand in hand with an analysis of market and technology trends. Next comes a so-called search field analysis, identifying and selecting promising ideas and business cases before working up specific business scenarios. Finally, the innovation projects have to be launched, basic prototypes need developing, and then products can enter serial production before being transferred to the operating units.

Suttner concentrated on the early phases of the process and examined innovation sourcing. This plays a crucial role in subsequent implementation since these phases lay a foundation for new growth by supplying expansion options. The first step is to define overall directions, generate ideas, and then translate concepts into concrete innovation projects. The priority here is to consider and address market risks and technical uncertainties. As a result, the student’s process offers a modern tool kit of methods, with plenty of leeway to pinpoint powerful ideas. It also makes it possible to establish systematic procedures, evaluation models, and methods of quality assurance, thus paving the way for efficient implementation.

Looking back, Suttner’s project was a complete success. The early phases of the process were harmonized based on a uniform procedure across the entire group. It now provides a basis for collaboration across different departments and divisions, opening the door to knowledge- and ideasharing. This creates synergies and “multiplies knowledge” across the company. The processes and procedures themselves are designed to be quick and cost-effective, with a focus on breakthrough innovations and networking. The approach makes it possible to introduce existing technologies to new markets and scale up new technologies in existing ones; it also allows for completely new technologies in new markets. Suttner’s project thus made an important contribution to the innovation portfolio of the CBD department, offering a variety of ideas and projects at various stages of completion, many with the potential to deliver profitable and sustainable growth to the corporation. One of the first market-ready products in the portfolio is currently being prepared for introduction.


Sarina Gehrung
School of Management and Technology at Steinbeis University Berlin (Filderstadt/Berlin)