“The personal service is a sign of appreciation for our customers”
Interview with Peter Malata, Managing Director and owner of the W&H Group, talks about the positioning of the company, trends in the market and the responsibility of an entrepreneur today
Initial publication: dzw 10/2017
Mr Malata, in 2015, your corporate group celebrated its 125th anniversary. Founded in Berlin in 1890, W&H moved to Bürmoos in Austria in 1944 and has been under the management of your family since 1946, which has also held ownership of the company since 1958. You took over management of the W&H Group from your father, Consul Peter Malata, in 1996.
What companies and business areas are now part of W&H, and what are the markets in which the Group is active and has a position?
Dipl.-Ing. Peter Malata: At present, the W&H Group comprises the production sites in Bürmoos, near Salzburg – which is also our headquarters – and the Brusaporto production facility in Bergamo, Italy. In addition, we have 18 subsidiaries that handle our sales in Europe, Asia and North America. Today, we export to more than 110 countries. Overall, W&H employs just over 1,000 people. Over the past few years, we have seen dynamic growth in our Asian markets. South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and China, where we have been active with our own sales subsidiary since 2008, are growing markets for our products.
In India, too, where we have also been represented for a long time with a subsidiary, business is developing successfully. In this market we are capitalising on a network that we set up together with Planmeca. We both offer our range of products in a combination that is appropriate to the market and that serves the needs of our Indian customers in the best possible way.
High-tech products “Made in Austria” enjoy a high standing internationally and we have established a good reputation for ourselves with the W&H brand – reliable, good quality, short decision-making channels, close to the markets and with good market knowledge, plus the necessary flexibility.
The core business of your company has always been turbines and straight and contra-angle handpieces for dental practices and dental laboratories. Over the past few years, however, you have been extending the business areas – adding hygiene and processing, of course, but also moving out into surgery and piezo surgery as well as prophylaxis and periodontology. How satisfied are you with the development in these new areas?
Malata: The area of surgery has made very gratifying progress for our company. We have now established a good name for ourselves among oral and maxillofacial surgeons and implantologists and also met the needs of the markets spot on with our products such as the Implantmed. The not entirely easy area of piezo surgery, where we started from scratch as a supplier, is also, fortunately, turning out to be very successful for us. With our Piezomed and the associated instruments we are regarded in the market as reliable and efficient.
In prophylaxis, we still at the beginning. We are trying here to cover an ever wider range of products – ranging from the special prophy contra-angle handpieces to rotary instruments and piezo scalers. The market for piezoelectric devices with its numerous suppliers is now a real cutthroat market. But prophylaxis and periodontal maintenance therapy are growing significantly – and we are also benefiting from that with what we have to offer.
Digitisation is currently the determining driver, embracing industry both in its organisation and production and also in its product development and in its internal and external communication. What do digitisation and the keyword “Industry 4.0” mean for your company?
Malata: As a forward-looking company, we are of course already using the digital possibilities in production, corporate organisation and also communication intensively, one of the reasons being to remain competitive. In the digitisation of products, we follow the operating procedures in dental practices very closely. For example, in the French market there is already a W&H steriliser available which provides notification of dates for servicing and maintenance via a modern software management system, i.e., here we offer what is known as a “connected remote service”. This makes servicing procedures in the practice more efficient.
With the first air-operated, high-speed dental drive solution, Primea Advanced Air, we have something really innovative to offer among our products. And, of course, the sterilisers and surgical devices, etc., are also equipped for the future with modern digital controls and interfaces. But digitisation is already a special challenge for our research and development: our instruments must satisfy the demanding requirements in the practice. They must withstand repeated sterilisation, be easy to clean and maintain and also be robust in use. Guaranteeing this is part of our high aspiration to innovation and quality.
2015 was an IDS year, but also an important anniversary for you, when you presented yourself to your customers with a fresh, modern corporate identity and a new message. It seems as if this fresh impetus is carrying the company ever further forward and has also improved customers’ perception.
Malata: We have implemented our new corporate design very systematically – which has led to significantly greater recognition of our brand around the world. The new identity has met our expectations completely; we have received a great deal of positive feedback from our customers, the dentists and dental technicians, and also from our distribution partners. We are perceived as a young, forward-looking company, where employees enjoy their work. That is what we practise and what we also want to communicate with our new identity.
What sort of service and services do dentists and dental technicians expect from you today in relation to the products and also as a complement to the specialist dental trade?
Malata: Quick service, competent contacts, easy accessibility, unbureaucratic handling of all matters – that is what they rightly expect today. And that is what we ourselves also expect, when we are buying quality products. That is the yardstick, and we measure ourselves against it. Time lost when instruments and devices fail costs a practice money. Our aim is always to offer quick and uncomplicated customer service.
In Germany, for companies like yours, there is the designation “Hidden Champions” – SMEs, which are leaders, often internationally, in their market segments with products and innovations, though there is often less awareness of them in comparison with the market giants. Where do you see your strengths as a medium-sized enterprise in comparison with the globally established dental groups with which you are competing?
Malata: As I indicated at the start: our strengths are our flexibility, market knowledge and proximity to the market. We have flat hierarchies and short decision-making channels; that is an important advantage today in comparison with international conglomerates. It enables us to respond more quickly to customers’ wishes and needs. It is obvious that the quality must be right. Moreover, we are investing about 10 per cent of our turnover in research and development, in order also to be among the leading front-runners in technology.
How important are partnerships for you?
Malata:I believe in networks. One cannot do everything oneself – and one does not need to. What is important is that the partners complement each other, without losing their own individuality. Networks have a great future for me, especially with regard to opening up new markets and satisfying the requirements of specific markets. Therefore we are open for new partnerships and networks. For us, as a medium-sized enterprise, developing something on our own requires that we already have core expertise within the company. We do not need to reinvent the wheel, but can learn from one another in partnerships and networks.
“People have Priority” – this is how your commitment and corporate philosophy are expressed on your Internet page. What does being an entrepreneur mean for you?
Malata: For me, “being an entrepreneur” means having the awareness of having little effect alone, but a very strong effect with others. For me, a thriving company involves a togetherness of the people within the company and of the external partners – extending out to the families. It is my aspiration to accommodate the diversity of an innovative company. I, as an entrepreneur, ensure that the various influences, ideas and people are brought together.
We are a healthy, profitable company – but that also involves social duties and sustainability in trade. W&H is to remain a family business that is committed to these values.
As an entrepreneur, one has to take on this challenge and trust in the employees, in the people who are, after all, interested in their job. One has to believe they can accept responsibility and offer them the possibility to use their own talents. That makes the work somewhat harder for the employees initially, but in the end it is more successful and more gratifying for all. We bring our employees on board and rely on small groups and teams that organise themselves and solve problems jointly. “Together” is therefore a very central concept for me.