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18.01.2019

“Leaders must actively create competencies for the future.”

Interview with LDTAI Graduate Gerhard Puhlmann

Gerhard Puhlmann, Managing Director of S-Servicepartner Berlin GmbH, recently took part in the executive education program, Leading Digital Transformation and Innovation, offered by the Stanford Center for Professional Development and the HPI Academy. In an interview with Dagmar Willems, HPI Project Manager, he reflected on his experience.

Gerhard Puhlmann, Managing Director of S-Servicepartner Berlin GmbH (r.) with participants of the Leadership Program, Leading Digital Transformation and Innovation. (Photo: HPI/K.Herschelmann)

Dagmar Willems: Mr. Puhlmann, how did you benefit from the program—what were the most important things you took away?

Most importantly, I gained new perspectives on digitalization and its possibilities. I liked that during our work in the course we focused on the emerging opportunities in the field. Witnessing this optimistic spirit “live” during our visits to Stanford and to Silicon Valley companies was very inspiring. Important developments were presented to us by trailblazing professors at Stanford and the HPI Potsdam, and we had the opportunity to discuss them with experts.

Throughout the program I became familiar with new forms of work in theory and in practice—such as design thinking, which I now want to apply in my own company. The importance of the early involvement of our clients in interviews and early prototype-testing became especially clear to me, as did a new culture that allows for experiments and mistakes. I also took away much “food for thought” in evaluating my own activities, both prior to carrying them out and after the fact. Besides the many new perspectives and insights that were opened up to me, other aspects also confirmed my efforts and actions up to now. The expansion of my own network is an added value of the program. Through close interaction, I had the opportunity to learn from the experiences and activities of other participants.

Dagmar Willems: Where can you apply what you have learned and how does it affect your strategies and daily work?

First and foremost, I can use what I learned for the digital transformation currently taking place in my own company. We want to actively shape this change together with our employees. Part of this means implementing projects that optimize processes in general and almost always involve digitization specifically, as well as the respectful, future-oriented interaction with our employees.

Dagmar Willems: How has your understanding of the digital transformation (and its challenges and opportunities) evolved through the program?

For me a key realization has been that we are still far too slow when compared to the US or the People’s Republic of China. While we have already taken the first positive steps, these must be followed up consequently. One of the biggest internal challenges is to get employees to stay the course on the path of digital transformation. We need to be able to sensibly integrate our staff and their abilities, and to generate the desire to explore new challenges and encourage flexibility.

Dagmar Willems: Last but not least: Who would you recommend take part in the program?

I think that the program is of great value for middle management as well as for CEOs and board members from almost every industry. The program is also exciting for specialists who lead projects—and here I don’t just mean digital projects—as well as for those whose work has a digital focus. In my opinion, it is important to have a basic understanding of the digital transformation that our society, the global economy and one’s own company are going through. Potential program participants should be prepared to face the challenges of the present and those coming down the pike. This means the need for proactive leaders who can create competencies for the future. While prior knowledge of agile innovation strategies, such as design thinking, is helpful, it is not a pre-requisite for participation. New contents are conveyed quickly and in a way that makes them easily understandable.