Industrial Goods

Time for a
Quantum Leap

Jenoptik, a German photonics specialist, is charting a new course with an astute strategy of transformation. CEO Dr. Stefan Traeger fosters all innovation in close connection with customer needs. As a leading global specialist in high-tech optics, Jenoptik is using strong worldwide demand in its industry to boost its earning power. And to invest in a successful future.

02/2022

Porsche Consulting / Marco Prosch
"Good for our worldwide reputation," says CEO Dr. Stefan Traeger with a model of the Mars rover Perseverance in Jenoptik's foyer. Traeger's engineers developed special lenses for it.Porsche Consulting / Marco Prosch

Jena, a small uni­ver­si­ty town nes­tled in a forest­ed val­ley in the Free State of Thuringia, enjoys a near­ly roman­tic set­ting. First-time vis­i­tors find it hard to imag­ine that the city of 110,000 is a long-stand­ing glob­al cen­ter of the optics indus­try. But any­one who joins Jenoptik’s CEO Ste­fan Traeger on the roof ter­race of the Ernst Abbe high-rise build­ing quick­ly sens­es a few salient qual­i­ties. Things might be a bit small­er and more per­son­al here than in Sil­i­con Val­ley or Shang­hai, for exam­ple, but the atmos­phere at Jenoptik’s head­quar­ters exudes the pos­i­tive vibrant appeal of a “new Ger­man econ­o­my” dri­ven by high­ly con­nect­ed engi­neer­ing excellence—along with a self-assured but solid­ly down-to-earth approach.

That was not always the case. When Traeger, a physi­cist born in 1967, became the chair­man of the exec­u­tive board in May of 2017, the company’s decades-long cul­ture began to change. Traeger is con­vinced that Jenop­tik can only forge ahead into a suc­cess­ful future if it is will­ing to embrace both a new era and the will to play a major long-term role on the world mar­ket.

Porsche Consulting / Marco Prosch
CEO Traeger is leading the company into a new era with the claim "More Light." Jenoptik is focusing on photonics: optical processes that transmit, store, and process information.Porsche Consulting / Marco Prosch

When Ger­many was divid­ed after World War II, Jena was in the Ger­man Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic (GDR) with its social­ist gov­ern­ment and her­met­i­cal­ly sealed bor­ders from 1949 to 1990. Traeger, who was born and raised in Jena, gained his first pro­fes­sion­al expe­ri­ence with Carl Zeiss, the com­pa­ny that gave rise to today’s Jenop­tik.

No semiconductors without Jenoptik?

Traeger arrived with a clear plan that he has pur­sued sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly since day one, fueled by gen­er­ous lev­els of nat­ur­al charis­ma and pride. The plan is to trans­form the com­pa­ny from a broad-based indus­tri­al con­glom­er­ate into a focused tech­nol­o­gy enter­prise. Lean­er, more effi­cient, direct­ed toward its core areas of exper­tise, and with a pre­mi­um on innovation—these are the guid­ing prin­ci­ples for both the present and the future. Jenop­tik, which is list­ed on the stock exchange, has an enor­mous lever at its dis­pos­al. “The world needs ever more semi­con­duc­tors,” Traeger notes. “But there would­n’t be many at all with­out our prod­ucts. Most of the chips in this world will run into a Jenop­tik prod­uct some­where in their man­u­fac­tur­ing process­es.” One exam­ple would be the high-end lens­es from Jena that pre­cise­ly and reli­ably inspect semi­con­duc­tor struc­tures dur­ing pro­duc­tion process­es. Instru­ments of this type make Jenop­tik a near­ly indis­pens­able pro­duc­tion and sys­tems part­ner. The com­pa­ny, in other words, has an unchal­lenged pole posi­tion.

Ostthüringer Zeitung / Tino Zippel
The illuminated blue letters spelling "Jenoptik" on the company's roof are close to the boss's heart. "We mustn't let these lights go out. I owe that to the town of my birth."Ostthüringer Zeitung / Tino Zippel

Jenop­tik cur­rent­ly has around 4,900 employ­ees world­wide, around one-third of whom work at its head­quar­ters in Thuringia. In 2021, the com­pa­ny post­ed sales of near­ly 900 mil­lion euros. It has come through the Covid pan­dem­ic remark­ably well thus far, with­out clos­ing its facil­i­ties and with­out a seri­ous decline in sales. It’s extreme­ly high-qual­i­ty stan­dards are rel­e­vant here, of course. High-per­for­mance optics is an indus­try in which qual­i­ty can stand or fall with a tiny speck of dust. “There’s hard­ly any­where safer than the clean­rooms where we make our prod­ucts,” says Traeger.

In addi­tion to com­pa­nies in the semi­con­duc­tor equip­ment sec­tor, Jenoptik’s cus­tomers come from the auto­mo­tive, auto­mo­tive sup­ply, med­ical tech­nol­o­gy, and avi­a­tion and aero­nau­tics indus­tries. Its prod­ucts include lasers that per­fo­rate and cut door cladding in car pro­duc­tion process­es, devices that mea­sure speed in traf­fic con­trol sys­tems, and com­po­nents for space trav­el. One high­light is found in Per­se­ver­ance, the remote-con­trolled Mars rover. At Jenoptik’s site in Jupiter, Flori­da, engi­neers devel­oped, installed, and test­ed dif­fer­ent types of high­ly unusu­al and mod­ern lens­es for it. Dust- and tem­per­a­ture-resis­tant down to minus 135 degrees Cel­sius, they are what make the bril­liant images of the red plan­et pos­si­ble. But Jenop­tik spe­cial­ists also have a hand in our ubiq­ui­tous every­day smart­phones. The com­pa­ny does not make the phones’ opti­cal com­po­nents, but it does ensure the qual­i­ty of their cam­era lens­es in pro­duc­tion process­es. “Dig­i­tal­iza­tion would hard­ly be pos­si­ble with­out us,” remarks Traeger.

"More light"—An appealing vision

Jenoptik’s cor­po­rate claim is “More Light.” And its vision is “Brighter Futures with the Power of Light.” The com­pa­ny wants to enter a new era: the age of light. It is there­fore con­cen­trat­ing on the core field of pho­ton­ics: opti­cal process­es that trans­mit, store, and process infor­ma­tion. Its vision is firm­ly anchored in this field. And the focus is on research and development—in Jena and beyond. “By and large I try to pro­mote the aim of not devel­op­ing every­thing here at our main site but also in Shang­hai and Jupiter. Espe­cial­ly China is more than just a sales mar­ket for us. There, too, we encour­age the cre­ative poten­tial in our spe­cial­ists that we need for inno­va­tions.” In devel­op­ing new prod­ucts, the com­pa­ny lis­tens very care­ful­ly to the ideas of its clients. “In our role as spe­cial­ists, we’re all the more suc­cess­ful when we can help our cus­tomers con­vert com­plex prob­lems of a pho­ton­ic nature into prod­ucts that can be indus­tri­al­ized,” he says. But above and beyond that, the CEO is inter­est­ed in achiev­ing and main­tain­ing the right bal­ance between suc­cess­ful exist­ing prod­ucts and promis­ing inno­va­tions. “We want to direct even more of our ener­gies to areas where we’re real­ly need­ed. At the same time, we’re think­ing about what might not belong to our core busi­ness any­more. Maybe we should be draw­ing back from a few things in the future.”

Porsche Consulting / Marco Prosch
"Understanding and involving people" is one of the skills the Porsche Consulting team brought to their reorientation work in Jena. Porsche Consulting / Marco Prosch

That is the rea­son Jenop­tik divest­ed from its non-opti­cal mea­sure­ment sys­tems for grind­ing process­es. The cap­i­tal there­by freed up can help the com­pa­ny posi­tion itself inter­na­tion­al­ly, because Traeger views the Amer­i­c­as and Asia as “strate­gic growth regions.” It can also go into com­pa­nies like Berlin­er Glas Med­ical, which makes high-pre­ci­sion opti­cal com­po­nents for med­ical systems—a recent acqui­si­tion that is a near­ly per­fect fit for the port­fo­lio.

When Traeger joined Jenop­tik in 2017, he and a new cul­ture moved into the almost mod­est look­ing “tower,” as the company’s admin­is­tra­tive build­ing is known to employ­ees. A cul­ture of open­ness. Traeger sees value in out­side ideas, also in clever minds and con­nec­tions with other com­pa­nies, both in the local tech­nol­o­gy park and abroad. More­over, this open­ness accom­mo­dates a vital cul­ture of mis­takes. Traeger prefers that his employ­ees “just do it” instead of “wait­ing for the next instruc­tion from the boss,” as appar­ent­ly often used to be the case. He also enjoys going to the cafe­te­ria with employ­ees from dif­fer­ent departments—“in order to learn some­thing.” He has a prac­ti­cal mind, pre­fer­ring to hear about what is going on rather than “watch a con­stant stream of Pow­er­Point pre­sen­ta­tions with man­agers.” In the old days, all impor­tant deci­sions were made in the “tower.” In the eyes of the cur­rent CEO, that unnec­es­sar­i­ly slowed down a good num­ber of devel­op­ments.

Photons for processing data

Jenoptik’s CEO appears to find it eas­i­er than most peo­ple to fos­ter need­ed process­es of change. In addi­tion to a nat­u­ral­ly open and empa­thet­ic dis­po­si­tion, he is helped by his roots in Jena and his long-term famil­iar­i­ty with the high­ly spe­cial­ized pho­ton­ics indus­try. “It’s prob­a­bly true that peo­ple are more will­ing to put up with incon­ve­nient but need­ed changes from me than from some­one who comes from a dif­fer­ent place and field. Even if I some­times must voice unpleas­ant truths, I still count as ‘one of us.’ It’s impor­tant that we keep Jenop­tik as its own inde­pen­dent com­pa­ny. It might be the last one of its size in east­ern Ger­many.” Traeger points to the two-meter illu­mi­nat­ed blue let­ters spelling JENOPTIK on the top of the build­ing. “We must­n’t ever let these lights go out. I want to do my part to ensure that. I owe that to the town where I was born.”

Those words might look sen­ti­men­tal on paper. But that’s not how they’re meant. On the con­trary. Before com­ing home to Jena, Traeger explored a lot of the world and the indus­try. His entre­pre­neur­ial gaze extends far down the road. “The next log­i­cal evo­lu­tion­ary step in data pro­cess­ing is to replace elec­trons with pho­tons. Where elec­tron­ic process­es have already run up against lim­its, we’ll be able to do things with light,” he says. It stands to rea­son, there­fore, that he has long since been look­ing at the “next level,” name­ly quan­tum tech­nol­o­gy. “Jenop­tik has to be right out in front there.” Any­one who meets this engag­ing, plain­spo­ken physi­cist can well imag­ine that the desired quan­tum leap will indeed take place.

Understanding and involving people

Porsche Consulting supported Jenoptik in changing its course in many areas, including making its administrative and organizational structures more efficient. The photonic specialists' 2022 strategy is based not only on the idea of "More Light" but also on transforming from an industrial conglomerate to a focused technology corporation. A team of experts from the Porsche Consulting management consultancy was charged with helping to put the strategy into practice and with setting a new course on several different levels. The first tasks consisted of dismantling duplicate processes and optimizing governance structures. Digitalization was used to strongly increase administrative efficiency. At the same time, research and development were consolidated into a single division. In reorienting and focusing his company, CEO Stefan Traeger valued a view from outside and temporary support from neutral advisors with practical experience and the ability to empathize. "The consulting team understood and involved the people at Jenoptik," he says. "Our collaboration with Porsche Consulting has led to a shared success."
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