10 reasons for Bosch's success

Harald Hamprecht is Editor-in-Chief at Automotive News EuropeHarald Hamprecht is Editor-in-Chief at Automotive News Europe
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Last week, the supplier Robert Bosch celebrated the 125th anniversary of its foundation and the 150th anniversary of the birth of its founder, the German engineer and industrialist Robert Bosch.

The supplier's celebration gala in Stuttgart was attended by 2,000 international guests from business and politics, including former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Actually, the guest list at the event was like a who's who of the automotive industry. Among those attending were Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn, Daimler head Dieter Zetsche, BMW boss Norbert Reithofer and Tata Motors CEO Carl-Peter Forster to name just a few.

Bosch is one of the oldest and most successful suppliers to the automotive industry, so it's no surprise that these VIPs attended the event.

And a company that has had only six bosses in 125 years is also quite remarkable. To look back at its history of innovations, Bosch staged a memorable show that included a live music ensemble of Bosch employees, combined with multimedia images on a 120-meter screen. But even more impressive were the speeches, which highlighted the secret of Bosch's success. Here are the 10 best examples:

1. Robert Bosch once said "I don't pay high wages because I am rich. I am rich because I pay high wages."

2. He also said: "I would rather lose money than trust." This was a declaration against ways of doing business that don't allow long-term relationships to develop, explained Hermann Scholl, the chairman of Bosch's supervisory council.

3. Companies need explosive mixtures to propel themselves forward just like cars do, Scholl said. "How else can a company that is geared primarily to planning and predictability preserve creativity?" he asked.

4. An unceasing search for new technologies and markets pervades the company to this day, Scholl added. The supplier is "an independent spirit with a fine nose for technologies and business areas with a future," he said.

5. German President Christian Wulff said Bosch could be proud of itself as a company because it "has made the life of millions of humans more comfortable and changed the face of our world. The company was often ahead of the technical development of its time, but never rested upon this advantage. Bosch still today derives much of its future viability from its desire for continuous change."

6. Winfried Kretschmann, president of the southern German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, where Bosch is based and where its founder was born, said Robert Bosch was raised in an area where people learned that diligence, bravery and commitment were the ground rules for success and "you learned about team spirit and the noble virtue of thrift."

7. Bosch Chairman Franz Fehrenbach talked about Bosch's commitment to being green. Nearly half of the company's r&d budget is geared to conserving resources and protecting the environment. "This, in its turn, offers huge economic opportunities," Fehrenbach said, because "environmental protection calls not for less but for more technology. In other words, ecology is not something simply to be balanced against economic interests, but is itself a driver of growth."

8. Fehrenbach said he finds astonishing parallels to Bosch's low-key philosophy in China. "In Lao Tzu, for example, we find repeated variants on the theme of 'shining but not dazzling' – something that fits well with the understatement expected of a company like ours."

9. Christof Bosch, the founder's grandson, reminded the audience that Bosch Group has always accepted its social obligations. "How should we describe this spirit? For me, there is one word that captures it best: sustainability." He is sure his grandfather would have used the word if it had been in common use outside forestry during his lifetime. "For it was in forestry that people first appreciated that we have to manage resources for future generations as well. "

10. Alfred Loerckle, who leads the works council that represents Bosch employees, said: "The Bosch Group's success is based on the commitment of entire generations of associates." On such a day, he said, this commitment should not go unmentioned.

If Robert Bosch were alive to hear these speeches, he would have likely remarked that the "honorable gentlemen speaking before him" had overdone it in their addresses. At least, that's what he said at the company's 50th anniversary in 1936.

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