Duravit’s CEO, Stephen Tahy talks about his initial expectations of the role and his plans for the future.

1. You’ve now been at Duravit for a little over 18 months. Which of your expectations have been confirmed so far and which have turned out to be completely wrong?

I’ve been positively surprised about how dynamic this company is. Even though, or as I now know, precisely because our roots are in tradition and craftsmanship, we have great potential for the future. The employees are full of ideas and are very open-minded. To name just one example: alongside her regular work for Duravit, Franziska Wülker, Head of Research & Development, developed a space toilet and was awarded a prize by the US space agency NASA as the only individual among various American teams. The “Lunar Loo” functions both in a weightless environment and on the moon.

At first glance, our products are pure utility items. But anyone taking a closer look will discover how much more development this brand and this company engages in – in terms of its products, materials, and its people. As a company, Duravit represents design, craftsmanship, durability, and excellence.

2. What are your objectives with Duravit and how do you want to achieve this?

My objective is to lead Duravit into the future and to ensure its sustained success. To achieve that, we need to further expand into and conquer for example existing sales markets such as Europe, China, and the USA with their huge potential for growth. In that respect, I see this company as still being a strong brand with traditional products in ten years – products that continue to meet the highest standards in terms of quality and design and are installed by experts. For the future, I can certainly also imagine add-ons such as smart services in sectors including health.

With the acquisition of the Bernstein brand and the “Bernstein bathroom shop”, we have satisfied the considerably higher demand for online shopping driven by the pandemic. Nonetheless, our anchor point within the two-brand strategy remains focused on classic sales via the Duravit brand with unique expert advice from wholesalers and specialist retailers. After all, leading the company into the future means choosing bold yet sometimes also unconventional approaches, while at the same time preserving tried-and-tested models.

3. What role does the workforce play in your ambitious plans?

For me, the employees are a clear focus. And they are undergoing huge transformations, especially in terms of hybrid working. My job is to enable them to realize their full potential, to show them a vision, and to accompany them on the journey into the future. We are creating the conditions for implementing a hybrid form of working from home and from the office wherever possible, even after the coronavirus pandemic. The boundaries between work and leisure are blurring. Although this creates more flexibility for our employees, at the same time they are required to exercise individual responsibility to maintain a healthy balance. Conversely, our role as employers is to be more attentive and to offer employees greater support and encouragement.

As far as possible, I cultivate direct contact with all employees. Close communication with the employees in the production department is especially important to me. After all, this is where our products originate – the core of our brand. Whether I look at our traditional company HQ in Hornberg or our fully automated plant in China – it’s the people who make the difference with their expertise handed down over the decades and their passion. 

To listen even more closely, we devised the “Have a word with…” format in Germany and asked the employees to contact me directly with their questions and requests. I want to know where the pressure points are, and I want direct communication with our people. 

4. You want to be climate-neutral by 2045. Why?

Sustainability is incredibly important to me. First because I believe our society needs to bear responsibility in this respect. And I don’t exclude our company from that. And second because sustainability – for young customers – is an elementary aspect of the purchasing decision. Thus, we’re working constantly to keep resource and raw-material consumption and emissions to a minimum, while remaining mindful of our social responsibility both globally and regionally: our production facility in Hornberg exclusively uses renewable energy. Today we already treat and reuse water from our production processes. Additionally, we advocate “local for locals production” to minimize transport miles.

But that’s not enough for me! That’s why we’ve asked Porsche Consulting to help us out. We’re working together on a concrete sustainability strategy that will enable us to be a climate-neutral business by 2045. It’s a long road ahead because the production of our basic material – ceramic – is energy-intensive. This involves large-scale technological transitions. Further, we won’t rely solely on offsetting CO2 emissions. The challenges that we face in terms of sustainable production are therefore huge. But we want to achieve it anyway – not only for us, but above all for the next generations.

5. What can an experienced CEO learn from young businesses and startups?

We can take a lot of inspiration from startups, in particular in terms of new working models. At the same time, agility is becoming increasingly important, not only in IT companies. What matters for us is not to plan too far ahead, but rather just get on with it and then tweak things as need be. Cross-functional working has a lot of potential for us at Duravit, which is why we are already encouraging it through tailored measures and projects such as our sustainability strategy. In this respect communication with third parties, for instance how we communicate as a member of the machine room team, helps us always keep sight of the big picture.

In future we want to be less inhibited and bolder about blazing new trails more frequently, to be open to new ideas, to learn from one another, and work better together in teams. Of course, not everything about the startup mentality can be transposed wholesale onto a company like Duravit. But it’s nonetheless always really inspiring. That’s why I’m also a member of the advisory committee of FrontNow, a startup that seeks trading partners for food-startups. This is an absolute win-win situation where the newcomers benefit from the experience of a range of industry leaders. Conversely, we get acquainted with state-of-the-art digital ways of working and above all meet a range of really interesting young entrepreneurs. In terms of what we talk about, it’s a bit of everything from general chat about subjects such as new working models through to concrete collaborations and the adoption of interesting technologies and products.