Article by: Anna Voltren

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Innovation guaranteed

If you want to squeeze yourself into a market niche you have to remain lean and agile. And once in there you should fill it out as much as you can. This appears to be the recipe for success of those small and medium-sized companies that are seeing record successes as so-called hidden champions, and yet still remain largely unknown among the public.

There are around 1,500 of these industry success stories in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. 190 companies in Austria alone fulfil the criteria drawn up by Georg Jungwirth from FH Campus 02: they are among the top three in their market segment or at least market leaders in Europe; their annual turnover is no more than EUR 200 million, and they have their company headquarters “at home”.
 

Recognising what is needed

The diverse range of products offered by these companies to reach their leading positions is astounding: traditional Viennese company Thomastik-Infeld for instance is a global market leader in the production of strings used in string instruments. Prior to the start of World War I the founders of the company began to investigate the materials that they would require for developing new string technologies. Today, strings for string instruments are truly hi-tech products based on materials like plastics from space technology and bio-compatible substances such as titanium. Fundamental research, their own development laboratory and a team of highly specialised engineers have all been necessary elements in producing these unique and special products that receive praise literally in the highest tones from musicians all over the world.

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Human technology for knowledge workers – please, keep it simple!

Foto: photocase.com/complize

It’s classic sci-fi: technology turns against humans. Whether in the form of a spacecraft computer that can no longer be controlled, an android that suddenly begins to think on its own, or another man-made form of intelligence that no longer adheres to the rules created by mankind. The sorcerer’s apprentice – so it seems – works tirelessly on something that he eventually can no longer control.

Ok, I admit, we should remain at least somewhat realistic. Reality in the workplace is much less dramatic. But, we have all had the slightly irrational feeling that technology sometimes is working against us: A computer program does not respond; the wireless keyboard only accepts commands when it wants to; naturally the PC won’t shut down either; the cell phone that you let ring in anger does not display the missed call; and as long as the IT support is unavailable, the world as we know it stops.
 

Making technology human

Luckily, those are exceptional cases - even if they remain forever etched in our memory. Even the sceptics have to admit that modern technology functions rather smoothly most of the time. But one piece of criticism remains: it is often too complicated. Something is not right if you need days of training to get a basic grasp of how to run the lights in the lecture hall. In general, this will serve to entrench only one thing in your memory: the more complicated an application, the less useful it generally is in terms of its productivity. And so the saying goes, that everyday use is the best test of every new method, idea or device.

Help, we are flooded!

No, not again! Michael is annoyed by yet another phone call. He is being interrupted for the fourth time. "Yes, I am on it… sure, but let’s first talk about something else .. e-mail would be better .. yes, thanks. Goodbye!" What was I doing before I was interrupted? Ah, yes. The phone rings again – this time it’s his mobile phone. Not now! Michi decides to play dead. Eventually, the phone stops ringing. Perhaps now… finally, everything is quiet, now come on, try to focus! I wonder who was calling? Who cares? Forget about it! As soon as his attention shifts back to the report, an instant message pops up: "Say, how much longer will it take you?" Aaahhh! Why can’t they just leave me alone, so I can finish my work?

Many of us can sympathize with Michael. Various means of communication help us to stay connected all the time – and we enthusiastically use such tools. That’s what they are here for after all. "The advantage of e-mail is that messages can be exchanged easily." The flip side of the coin: a full inbox. "But you can just read your e-mails any time you want." Sounds like wishful thinking! Have you ever tried to ignore your e-mails for one week? Exactly!
Nonetheless, realists have realised that e-mail is a perfect tool to delegate tasks to others- in keeping with the motto: once you pass it on to someone else, you can forget about it. One could also say: management by forwarding.
 

63 times from the Earth to the moon

We often feel overwhelmed when we are flooded with e-mails. The most drastic solution is to simply delete all unread e-mails from time to time and to "reboot communication".

A few facts and figures: 210 billion e-mails are sent every day worldwide. This is true; however, the majority of the correspondence is spam. If we were to print all e-mails that are sent on one day, fold and put them in an envelope, and pile up all the envelopes, we could easily span 63 times the distance from the Earth to the moon. And we are only talking about the number of e-mails sent on one day!

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Selling sleep: Short but intensive!

Metronaps

Some swear by it, others are still sceptical: power-napping is supposed to induce quick relaxation and replenish one’s batteries for the rest of the day. From Fatigue Risk Management to stylish sleep stores in NYC – companies and workers have long tapped into the marketing potential of napping.
 

Power-napping for modern people?

A power-nap improves performance and is the perfect remedy for a concentration slump in the afternoon. An old hat? We have long known the benefits of an afternoon nap – much disliked by children but valued by older people. While a regular nap lasts up to two hours, power-napping shouldn’t take up more than 40 minutes to prevent the body from entering deep sleep, which generally occurs after one and a half hours into the sleep cycle. Entering a deep sleep cycle but failing to complete it can result in feeling more exhausted than before. That’s why experts recommend only 20 minutes of power-napping, which makes a power-nap more practical than regular sleep.

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Get energised

The advantage is obvious: due to fatigue people make mistakes, don’t work efficiently and lack motivation. Power-napping is supposed to be an antidote, helping to relax from every day stress and replenish one’s energy, with consequent improvement in reaction, attention, creativity and the ability to learn. One is relaxed, happier and performs better, ready to tackle new challenges.

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The world of megabrands: Swiss cosmopolitanism

The Swiss company that enjoys a long tradition has successfully reconciled tradition with innovation. A new brand management approach pioneered in 2006 even fuses both aspects: tradition of innovation.
 

Schweizer Kreditanstalt

The bank boasts indeed a long tradition: Credit Swiss was founded in 1856 by Alfred Escher under the name Schweizer Kreditanstalt (SKA), transforming the city into the leading banking and economic hub of Switzerland. The aim of its foundation was to further develop the railway network and promote industrialisation in Switzerland. Innovation was adopted as the corporate strategy early on. The first periodical banking publication appeared in 1895, titled "Effekten-Kursblatt", under the auspices of SKA.
 

Global Player

Much has transpired ever since the foundation stone was laid for Credit Swiss: areas of operation were added; new branches were opened – first in Switzerland, then globally. Mergers and acquisitions further spurred SKA's growth, one of the most instrumental steps for spawning the co-operation with First Boston Corporation in 1978. Almost ten years later, SKA acquired the controlling interest of the company.

Trends

The world of megabrands:Harrods

You have never been there? In London, yes, of course, but you could never motivate yourself to enter Brompton Road 87 – 153? You have definitely missed out on something! A thrilling shopping experience indeed! The department store with a long standing tradition located in the exclusive district of Knightsbridge is not only reputed to be one of the largest but is also one of the most exclusive stores in the world. This becomes obvious optically as well, day and night, when 12,000 lights illuminate the storefront, 300 of which are allegedly replaced every day…
 

A man, a word - Harrods

Harrods came to life – as is often the case – thanks to one man. In 1834, Charles Henry Harrod opened a small grocer’s shop in Stepney, East London, specialising in – ­ tea. In 1849, the shop moved to its current location in Knightsbridge, where the legendary food hall with its art nouveau ambience still forms the heart of the department store. Subsequently, its miraculous rise began – the store space increased along with the product range that included soon not only fruits and vegetables but also medicine, perfumes and stationary.

The business prospered, but it had not yet claimed the fame that it enjoys today. Ironically, it became famous thanks to a tragic incident: On December 6, 1883, when the warehouse was fully stocked for the holiday business, a fire broke out and destroyed the entire building.

Nomen est…?

Ok – admittedly, it is not that simple for everyone – but being born with the last name Bene makes it rather easy to find the right name for one's own company. But there is a long list of impresarios who were not blessed with such a promising last name and still succeeded in turning their name into an internationally acclaimed label. Fashion icons the likes of Lagerfeld, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana or YSL are just a few to name. Not to mention the classics of the last century such as Levi's. (Did you know that the company founder of one of the big American labels, Levi Strauss, was a German immigrant, who ventured across the big pond when he was 18 to join in the gold rush?)

For Mercedes it was not the last name, but the moniker of Emil Jellinek's daughter, the motor sport aficionado who was destined to take over the distribution of Daimler's sports car. Adidas was born as a result of combining company founder Adolf Dassler's nickname "Adi" and the first syllable of his last name.

In 1943, Ikea was made up of – a well known fact by now – the initials of the company founder (Ingvar Kamprad), the initial of the farm he grew up on (Elmtaryd) and that of the nearest village with a post office (Agunnaryd). C&A are the initials of the first names of the Dutch founder brothers Clemens & August Brenninkmijer.
 

More than just a name

Software developers John Warnock and Chuck Geschke used more personal references for their company Adobe, which was founded in 1984, and named it after the "Adobe Creek", where one of their homes is located. In 1910, Audi was inspired by the Latin homework of the son of automotive engineer August Horch, who was looking to rename his company "August Horch & Cie" founded in 1899.

The world of megabrands: You can never go wrong with 2 knit stitches.

A world brand rooted in family tradition? Yes, indeed! Rosita Jelmini and Ottavio Missoni met in 1948 at the Olympic Games in London – back then, she studied modern languages and sat in the audience, while he was an ambitious athlete at Wembley Stadium, where he won the 400m obstacle race for his team. She comes from a family that collaborated with the Torranis in the textile industry, producing yarns, embroidered fabrics and silk scarves. One year prior, he had joined forces with his friend Giorgio Oberweger in a small workshop, designing and manufacturing the track suits for the Italian Olympic team.

It is not much of a surprise that upon getting married, Rosita and Ottavio set up a small knitwear workshop in the basement of their new home in Gallarate. Rumour has it, in the beginnings they only had two machines and were only able to knit cross stripes. Everyone has to start out small….
 

Colours like music

The Missonis brought fresh colour into the post-war black-and-white landscape. They combined dyed yarn in a vibrant, elegant and harmonious style – often featuring the characteristic stripe pattern – longitudinal, cross, diagonal, zigzag and later even flaming stripes. Just like famous designers they did not change their style each season, but rather developed it further. The signature has remained the same. This was often the only way, sometimes chosen intentionally, sometimes unintentionally, to successfully position the label. Continuity creates community and helps clients to stay true to themselves.

The world of megabrands: H&M – Inspired by the Stars

You want to look like Claudia Schiffer or Heidi Klum? Or seduce in such erotic and stylish fashion as Madonna, Kylie Minogue or Johnny Depp? No problem! Fashion by H&M comes with said exclusive illusions.This is the business idea: Fashion and quality at the best price. You think this is too simple and trivial? Correct – the simplest concepts are usually those that have the biggest impact….

Who knows, whether Erling Persson was aiming for international success when he opened his first store for women's wear in 1947 under the 'Hannes' label (in Swedish 'hers') in Stockholm. After acquiring the hunting gear store Mauritz Widforss in 1968, men's wear was added to the portfolio along with the second name of the label that has continued to expand across Europe – and now also worldwide. Currently the label owns 1,400 shops. In recent years expansion focused on establishing points-of-sale in North America and in 2006, the first shops were opened in the Middle East (Kuwait and Dubai). H&M also operates shops in Hong Kong and Shanghai and is planning to open more in Tokyo by 2008.

The company, one of the leading European businesses in the industry, generated 68.400 billion Swedish krona (7.3 bn. euro) in revenue with 60,000 employees during the fiscal year 2005/06.
 

Something for everyone and still unique

Young, trendy, affordable and still so hip that even major stars are sporting it – this is how H&M promotes its fashion in the highly competitive and shrinking textile market. More than 100 designers collaborate to ensure that the two red letters do not simply chase recent trends, but become trendsetting. Fur this purpose prominent design icons were hired such as Stella McCarthney, Viktor & Rolf or Karl Lagerfeld, who provide authentic glamour feeling to mostly young consumers and turn the uncomplicated, urban image into lifestyle for every wallet.

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