We make the lives of billions of people more secure

 

Ralf Wintergerst

Group CEO, Giesecke+Devrient

Ralf Wintergerst is Group CEO of Giesecke+Devrient (G+D). With sales of EUR 2.3 billion and around 11,400 employees across 32 countries, G+D is an international leader in the fields of payment, connectivity, identity, and digital security. In the following interview, Wintergerst talks about innovation, what G+D’s business sectors all have in common, and why he sometimes asks his employees for money.

Mr. Wintergerst, in our agile and fast-paced world, nothing is more exciting than the future, but let’s first take a look back at the past 12 months. Are you satisfied with how things went at Giesecke+Devrient in the last fiscal year?

Yes, I am. G+D performed well against a backdrop of volatile markets and political uncertainty worldwide and had a successful year overall. Planning such an outcome is a challenge because in today’s world the unexpected – and sometimes even the irrational – is increasingly becoming the norm. For companies, success therefore depends on setting the right priorities and responding quickly to changing circumstances. We were pretty good at doing that in 2018.

Do the figures reflect that?

G+D remains on a growth trajectory, as our results show. We achieved sales of around EUR 2.3 billion in fiscal 2018; 5 percent more than in the previous year. Encouragingly, all our business sectors once again contributed towards this growth and are earning a profit. But there’s another key figure that is even more relevant for our future. Our books show an order backlog of some EUR 1.7 billion – 50 percent more than this time last year. That’s also an all-time record in the company’s history. High order growth across our portfolio in the fields of payment, connectivity, identity, and digital security underscores customer confidence in G+D’s ability to deliver.

What’s the reason for that?

It has a lot to do with the commitment of our employees and how they leverage their experience, motivation, and skills for the benefit of our customers. Optimism, agility, and curiosity about the future are not restricted to startups and tech companies. That spirit is also alive and well across many areas of G+D. In addition, our customers trust our security technologies and solutions. That only happens if you really know and understand your customers and their needs.

What were G+D’s specific achievements in 2018?

Several of our business sectors received the largest single contracts in their history. Currency Technology, for example, is building a security complex for the production, storage, inspection, and circulation of cash in Egypt. Mobile Security signed a major order with French bank Crédit Agricole to develop, produce, and distribute personalized payment cards. Meanwhile, our Veridos joint venture won a contract to provide Bangladesh with highly secure electronic passports and border control systems. secunet Security Networks also continues to rack up successes and made important progress on a major project by launching its e-connector, which gives medical practices swift and secure access to a telematics infrastructure.

From solutions to product business; from technologies for identification and the cash cycle to safeguarding digital connections – G+D’s sphere of activity is huge. What holds it all together?

All of these areas are driven by technology, with security being the common denominator. That’s a key theme of our time, but by no means just a recent invention. Our technologies and solutions make the lives of billions of people more secure on a daily basis, even if most of them don’t realize it as they go about their everyday business. We’re a global leader in cash and electronic payments; we enable secure connection of smartphones, tablets, and cars in mobile networks; we protect personal identities, cross-border traffic, countries, public authorities, and critical infrastructures against misuse of data.

What does a company need to do to stay ahead in these technology-driven markets?

For us, it comes down to three things. Firstly, the focus on our four core areas of secure payment, secure connections, identity, and protecting digital infrastructures. Secondly, combining technologies, products, and services is extremely important for our customers. Nowadays, success is more about being able to offer the right combination or package rather than individual products or services. We need to identify and develop this kind of winning formula. Thirdly, it’s important for us to focus on how we work together, both within the company and with our customers. In everything we do, we strive to be reliable, collaborative, and innovative.

»Optimism and curiosity about the future are not restricted to startups. That spirit is also alive and well across many areas of G+D.«

There are few fields in which the pressure to be at the cutting edge is as high as in the sensitive arena of security. How exactly do you go about creating innovation?

First of all, we rely on traditional research and development, which is undertaken at a highly specialized level within the individual business sectors. That’s a central pillar of our innovation activities and will remain so in the future. Secondly, we are always looking for strategic acquisitions around our core business that complement or expand our portfolio. The third pillar of our innovation process is new: As a company, we are now actively engaged in the venture market and have begun investing in startups with promising technologies that align well with our business. We started last year by acquiring minority stakes in identity platform Verimi and in IDNow, a provider of online identification solutions. And, for the first time in G+D’s history, we are now able to support corporate spin-offs via our newly formed investment company, G+D Ventures.

How do these spin-offs come about?

When promising ideas emerge from within our own organization that aren’t a perfect fit with any of our four core areas. Employees can become part-owners of the newly formed spin-off company and put their own money into it. We did this successfully for the first time at the end of 2018 with Build38, a company specializing in software and app security.

What can we expect from G+D in the year ahead?

Our order backlog for 2019 is very promising and will continue to have an impact in the coming years due to the long-term nature of the orders. We are also keeping an eye on two other things. Firstly, the performance of the global economy, where the outlook is rather uncertain at present. And secondly, qualitative development of the portfolio for our markets and customers. I believe it’s much more important to make progress on that front than to focus solely on sales figures. This approach proved very successful last year and we will continue to pursue it in 2019. Our strategic orientation towards more solution-focused and digital business models plays a vital role here. This also means that the culture at G+D is evolving: We now employ more IT people than ever before, and we have specialists in nanotechnology, cyber security, biometrics, automation, and digital transformation on our team. Artificial intelligence and post-quantum cryptography are also significant fields for G+D. We can and will use this expertise to drive the business forward.

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