Interview with Dr Bernd Welzel, Managing Director of SERO GmbH.
Whether headlights, number plate and mirror lighting or electric seat adjustment, electronics are playing an increasingly important role in cars. SERO GmbH’s expertise as a leading supplier of electronic assemblies can also be found in numerous other products such as machines and pumps, tracking systems or WiFi modules. In an interview with Wirtschaftsforum, Managing Director Dr Bernd Welzel reports on what excites him about the reorientation of the company, which until recently was still run as a family business, and why he sees himself as a mediator between two worlds.
Dr Welzel, which steps in the company’s history have been particularly important?
Dr. Bernd Welzel: First and foremost, of course, was the founding in 1992 by the entrepreneur Armin Schröder – SERO is the acronym for Schröder Elektronik Rohrbach. In the beginning, the company was purely an electronics testing service provider. In 1998, it moved from Karlsruhe to Rohrbach and started manufacturing. Through three extensions, the original small hall grew into our current company headquarters with an operating area of 10,000 m². Strong growth began with the increasing orientation towards the automotive industry: from 2010 to 2015, we grew by 10 to 15% annually. This was also the beginning of internationalisation. In 2018, the founder sold the company to Deutsche Beteiligungs AG as the main shareholder, with the management also taking a share.
When did you come on board with SERO?
Dr. Bernd Welzel: Deutsche Beteiligungs AG brought me in as managing director in May 2019 because I had already been working in the automotive industry since 1991 and I am well connected there. The background was that the company needed to be put on a broader footing in terms of customer structure, further revenue growth and internationalisation. This will require additional locations at home and abroad, because we are now at the limit at our headquarters in Rohrbach. Our company has been run as a family business by the founder alone for more than 25 years and now one of my other tasks is to give it a classical management structure.
Will this change be accompanied by a new corporate culture?
Dr. Bernd Welzel: Only to a certain extent. I see the family business culture as a very positive thing, especially in the automotive industry, because it’s always about long-term orders and customer relationships. In this respect, I think it is important to harmonise new structures and processes with this corporate culture. The goal should be to maintain the character of the family business at the operational level, but to implement a private equity approach at the strategic level. In this respect, I see myself as a mediator between both worlds.
Is the current change in the automotive industry also affecting your company?
Dr. Bernd Welzel: As an electronics service provider, we support this change. On the one hand, there will always be lighting or electrically adjustable seats, for example, regardless of the type of drive. On the other hand, new drive concepts also require new electronic assemblies, and we are already active in this area. Overall, the amount of electronics in cars will continue to increase.
Which are your key products?
Dr. Bernd Welzel: For our largest sector, the automotive industry, we produce assembled printed circuit boards, which are then installed in a headlight or a rear light, for example, or used for heater electronics. For industrial applications, we manufacture, amongst other things, machine control circuit boards, but we also make the boxing and housing for tracking systems. Also, for heat flow meter which measure consumption on heaters, we assemble the circuit boards and manufacture the complete device. We manufacture 30 million circuit boards a year. Our goal is to increase the industrial proportion to 30%, the remainder remains in the automotive sector.
What do you think are the main reasons for the company’s success?
Dr. Bernd Welzel: Perhaps the most important reason is our high level of quality. We have an outstanding defect rate of 0.5 ppm. This is mainly due to our very highly automated assembly processes, but also to the testing of the assemblies. The fact is that errors occur when humans have to be more involved. The high level of automation also goes with a favourable cost structure.
How do you see the future of your industry?
Dr. Bernd Welzel: In the automotive sector we see further increases in electronic assemblies. Worldwide, the number of vehicles sold will increase rather than decrease. There are plenty of new developments in the smart home sector, so the demand for electronic parts will also increase here. The same applies to Industry 4.0. In this respect, I expect that the electronics industry will have a good future and that we will also continue to grow and push ahead with our internationalisation. How this takes shape specifically depends on where our customers want to see us.
Finally, tell us what drives you personally?
Dr. Bernd Welzel: I find it fascinating to lead a company to the next level and to inspire the employees in this. SERO is the smallest company I have been involved with. But to see how a small, delicate seedling develops into a magnificent plant, which is welcomed all over the world, is a very exciting task.