DATAGROUP founder Max H.-H. Schaber has played a crucial part in determining the fate of the company until today. A time for taking stock: In an interview, the Stuttgart-based entrepreneur talks about what is important to him and what motivates him.
1983: At the early age of 27, with a fresh master’s degree in mechanical engineering in hand, Max H.-H. Schaber establishes his own enterprise – Datapec Gesellschaft für Datenverarbeitung. The first contract: an individual solution for a physiotherapy practice. Today, under the name of DATAGROUP SE, the company is one of the 20 leading IT service providers in Germany according to the Lünendonk list. DATAGROUP generates annual revenue of more than EUR 272m (FY 2017 / 2018) with over 2,000 employees.
As a member and Chief Executive Officer of the Management Board, Max H.-H. Schaber is responsible for finance, legal affairs, human resources and corporate development. In an interview with IT’s he tells us what once motivated him as a founder, what makes DATAGROUP successful today and in the future and how the company makes IT much easier.
You established DATAGROUP 35 years ago – back then under the name of Datapec. What was your vision?
I did not have one to be honest. I only wanted to be self-employed. Because it was important to me to be my own boss, to be able to do what I consider right.
What did you learn from your start-ups? What would you advise to a young person who wants to establish a company?
You certainly take a risk when establishing a company. But you don’t look at it like this at the age of 27. This is the advantage of young founders. You have no family to provide for, you do not worry about a failure. If something goes wrong, you simply start all over again. This is the over-riding message I want to share with young people and founders: Don’t let yourself get discouraged. Even the smallest failure receives a thumbs down. We must remain immune to this; we must be able to take blows. There are far more “quitters” than losers.
What has motivated you, back then as well as today?
The daily business is pushing me ahead. When being self-employed, you take on all roles at the beginning – developer, finance specialist, head of sales etc. You gain an extremely broad perspective. In turn, many things are easier to recognize: What else is interesting? What brings more success? A lot of decisions were taken out of necessity, because something did not work anymore – for instance, when margins in IT retail fell rapidly, we sold this business. But there is also this strong will to create!
The IT world becomes more and more complex. How does DATAGROUP make IT simple?
In the end, we simply tried to precisely describe the complexity of the IT world and to break it up into small chunks. This description is predominantly reflected in the CORBOX, our modular all-in-one solution for carefree IT operations. Companies can choose from combinable services which optimally support their business and they receive all IT outsourcing services from a single source. The customer does not have to go into the smallest details but can simply say: Organize my IT operations! This makes it a lot easier.
You started your career as an engineer, you studied mechanical engineering – and today you are a visionary and strategist of an IT service provider with over 2,000 employees. How does this fit together?
An engineer is rather closely related to IT, especially in my generation. During my student days we did not have any IT specialists yet. When you were looking for a certain control as an engineer, as in my case, you had to build it yourself. I really enjoyed it! My first job was in an engineering office which was specialized in processing laboratory data systems. Which was simply perfect.
What differentiates DATAGROUP from other IT service providers?
We define IT services as a product so that every customer knows what to expect and every employee knows what to do: I personally think that this makes us stand out already. A lot of companies make the mistake to be imprecise in this respect.
Why should people work for DATAGROUP?
Very spontaneously: Because it is fun! Because we try to impart a sense of joy in work – by avoiding to put an emphasis on the division of labor; instead we give our employees responsibility, communicate appreciation, have a positive error culture. We have initiated large-scale projects for this, for instance “Master of Leadership”. A still young project for us, which is based on the idea that the better the company the better its managers.
Which characteristics are most beneficial to have a career with DATAGROUP?
Openness, industriousness, courage … Almost everything is possible at DATAGROUP with these characteristics. Some of our employees who started out as apprentices in our house have leading positions now.
All of DATAGROUP’s sites are exclusively in Germany. Don’t you think it would be more profitable to relocate services such as programming or call center abroad?
We once analyzed how much it would cost us to have Indian programmers provide services to customers in Germany. In fact, the all-in-costs are not materially different. I do not know though if it will remain the same forever. We have far too few people in Germany which are trained in MINT* subjects (*mathematics, information technology, natural sciences and technology, editor’s note). It may well be that we have no choice but to go abroad someday. However, we rather think of nearshore solutions, meaning countries and regions such as Lithuania or Eastern Europe in general or Ireland.
How would you describe your leadership style? What kind of leadership culture have you established at DATAGROUP?
I personally think I have an authoritarian-participative leadership style. We are generally trying to have an appreciative but quite authoritarian leadership style in the truest sense of the word – Authority through professionalism but also through personal strengths such as articulateness or the ability to motivate others. I believe that, more than ever, leadership will decide a company’s fate. What will be most important in this respect is to provide space for the development of people so they can develop and use their strengths.
A current study attests DATAGROUP a disproportionately high customer satisfaction. What is the reason?
First of all, there is the eye level: We take our customers seriously but in return want to be taken seriously as a service provider as well. And this also defines the target group which we address – large Mittelstand companies with revenue starting from EUR 100m p. a. There’s a great mutual appreciation and a culture of working together to find solutions. Another reason is, without a doubt, that we only have German-speaking employees at the service desk – people who are socialized here. And: The customer gets the telephone number of the CEO. You can call me directly. Even though this very rarely occurs.
Acting or reacting: How do we systematically think ahead as DATAGROUP does in its business strategy?
I will answer this question with an image: I should know in which direction the wind blows, I should be aware of the currents and where I want to go. In general, we always define the targets in teamwork. The DATAGROUP 2025 vision, for instance, is the joint effort of the upper management level. We take plenty of time for this and put even more work into it. This is the reason for its success: We stand behind it 100 %.
On a more personal level: What hobbies do you have as a balance to work?
I like to play golf, unfortunately not enough and I am not good at it. And I am a passionate skier, at which I am better. I exercise regularly to keep myself fit: Four to five times a week I use the home trainer at home while watching international TV shows. At present, I am very interested in “Black Mirror” – a British series about possible developments in the future. This is a must-see for everyone in our industry! I also like to go to the movies. I am always fully immersed in a film.
What is particularly important to you in your life?
Interior design is extremely important for me. I attach great importance to having a beautifully designed home. My home town means a lot to me – I would never move away from Stuttgart. And I also enjoy gardening from time to time.
Where do you want to see DATAGROUP in ten, fifteen years?
To be honest, that’s a very long period of time. Let’s limit it to between five and seven years: I do believe that DATAGROUP will be a leading, if not the leading IT service provider in Germany by then. What I also hope for in the future is that the company remains as open and willing to change as before. This opens up a wealth of opportunities for us.
Thank you very much for this interview Mr. Schaber!