Emöke Sogenbits, the president of the HANZA Mechanics Cluster Baltics, which offers complete manufacturing solutions for mechanics and electronics, spoke about preventing and responding to crises through drawing on the experiences of the fast-growing international company as well as personal experience at the “Building the virus-resistant company” conference.
Emöke Sogenbits, who has worked for over two decades for various subcontracting companies in Central Europe, USA and China and who is now working in Estonia, based her presentation “Surviving in the World of VUCA” on the idea of VUCA, which is an abbreviation of the words volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, at the conference organised by the Estonian Entrepreneurship University of Applied Sciences and Ülemiste City.
“I do not carry a crystal ball in my pocket but I started to feel growing uncertainty in this industry about six months before the crisis. I have seen so many different crises in this industry, my intuition that relies on my experience was alerted and then I started hammering on the table and saying: “Guys, something is happening”. COVID landed just half a year later. If it had not been COVID, it would have been something else. Uncertainty was clearly in the air,” Sogenbits, who has been managing HANZA Baltics for six years, said in beginning her presentation.
She described how the crisis that began in China arrived here rapidly, initially stopping shipping traffic and thereafter unrecognisably changing the supply chains and companies’ approaches. As if that was not enough, this spring shipping traffic stopped completely for a week because a container ship became stuck in the Suez Canal.
“I saw how moving to home offices immediately changed the efficiency of companies in our sector. It has been so for one and a half years in Scandinavia. I’d better not talk about how they are doing. We were in complete isolation for only three weeks. We were vaccinated early, thankfully. In this industry, it is important to be constantly present and keep your finger on the pulse,” said Sogenbits convincingly.
Changes offer an opportunity to do something big
Localisation instead of globalisation has become the key word in these changed times and conditions. “Many companies are as if frozen. The Germans have themselves confirmed this in regard to their manufacturing sector. It seems that they are in a standby mode waiting for the passing of everything bad. However, while they are waiting and hoping and descaling everything, I predict that after life is normalised they will not get out of it that easily. I say this because they will need to ramp up production very fast and they lack the resources to do it,” she said in describing the situation and went on to say about HANZA: “For us, the need to rethink the entire concept was brought to the fore.”
Sogenbits stressed the importance of a model that is open to change and is constantly focused on sustainability.
“Of course, this COVID period has been really hard. Even if we have not become virus resistant during this time, I believe that we have certainly become bulletproof to all kinds of challenges,” she said, smiling. “I consider this the most fun period of my career. I do not know a more boring thought than “We have always been doing like this.” When I entered the metal industry, I heard this sentence twenty times a day. So much so that I learned to ignore it. I want to be led by the idea that changes are the possibility to do something really big.”
A successful leader is a step ahead of events and an inspiring leader involves the entire team
“I believe that the greatest skill of a successful leader is to be ahead of events by at least half a year. It is not said in vain that a good owner waits for good times when it is really bad and prepares for bad times when everything is going extremely well. I have also spoiled the party when I have asked about the orders for the following months in good times,” she said, giving an example. “A leader has to be ready for changes.”
It is important to be present in the role of a leader, to be with your people and lead them, to instil in them confidence, especially during hard times, and to demand that they move forward one step at a time. Truly inspiring leaders:
Have great positive energy
Truly value everyone on their team
Have a clear vision for the future
are very trustworthy
practice humility and empathy
have a sense of purpose
have a great sense of humour
“If you have chosen to lead people, lead also in hard times,” said Emöke.
Diverse teams as a key to long-term success
Sogenbits considers the creation of a team as a diverse whole to be of key importance, and she is guided by the wisdom of Steve Jobs “Great things in business are never done by one person. They are done by a team of people.”
“I do not have to be an engineer – rather the person who finds the right people and brings them together, the person who sees the big picture and certainly the person who assumes the responsibility. I have tried to hire people who compensate my or the other team members’ weaknesses. We have fierce arguments at meetings but we need them to push forward. Different experiences, ideas and philosophies help to see different perspectives and turn them into more creative and innovative solutions,” she said, and shared a recommendation: “Focus more on facts and process, hire people who are smarter than you and say “no” to people who agree with everything to avoid conflict!”
Sogenbits introduced the new manufacturing premises of HANZA that will be completed in Tartu by the end of the next year, but also the fast development of Narva plant during the COVID time and said: “We have 260 employees in Narva and 500 employees in Tartu. Just think how much trust and fortitude it has taken to continue with such large projects during such tough times! However, this is our constant and steadfast faith in sustainability, and it is reflected in our slogan “All you need is one”.”
Emöke Sogenbits has been awarded the pan-Estonian “Women of Year 2019” recognition for active participation in society and is a finalist of the “Best Leader 2021” competition.