The 1960s were the gold-rush era for energetic sales professionals. The American semiconductor industry was still young, chip consumption in Europe low, and customers were not yet accustomed to the new technology. With the chip wave, the concept of authorised dealers for electronics, which originated in the radio spare parts business, arrived in Germany. Erich Fischer, 31 and sales manager at Motorola in Wiesbaden, Germany, recognised the potential in the distribution business and founded his company EBV Elektronik GmbH, based in Düsseldorf, in June 1969.
Right from the start, his strategy set his business apart from others: Fischer consistently counted on direct customer service with technical field service and did not limit himself to small customer accounts. There was a major need for explanation and guidance. EBV was back then already the only distributor able to explain to customers what semiconductors, integrated circuits and transistors were and where they could be used. “Distribution was yesterday. Today is EBV“ was already applicable as the company‘s motto even back then – though it was not coined by management until 1998. From the large host of about 250 to 300 small and large distributors that shot up faster than mushrooms from the ground, EBV proved to be one of the few that succeeded. Or, as Erich Fischer described it: “Those who don‘t plan for the future don’t have one.““Quality is more important than quantity.”
His business principles still apply today. They fit on one sheet of paper: only semiconductors, focused line card with the best suppliers, no consignment warehouse, sound technical expertise, only the best employees, only customers who pay promptly. With uncompromising customer service, he turned EBV into one of the world‘s most successful companies in the industry. “Quality is more important than quantity” was Fischer‘s credo. ”And quality can‘t help but lead to quantity.“ He was to be proved right.
With only five employees handling all purchasing and sales themselves, the company opened its doors in the centre of Düsseldorf in October 1969. Motorola helped “kick-start” the company with a franchise agreement for North Rhine-Westphalia, which had just opened up – at that time, agencies were assigned from state to state, which nowadays is unthinkable in the age of global service and sales agreements. During its start-up period, the company was handling about 20 customers.
Yet, in fact, Fischer was pushing hard to get into Bavaria. It was where major customers like Siemens and Grundig were located. Then chance played its part. The Motorola Bavaria representative surprisingly left the business in November 1969, and the chip manufacturer offered Fischer Bavaria in exchange. Munich became the new home of EBV.
On January 1, 1970, Fischer officially registered his company as E-Be-Vau Elektronik-Vertriebs-Gesellschaft in Munich – the company having to bear that name for the first six months for legal reasons before it could be renamed EBV Elektronik.
The next location was a back courtyard behind Munich‘ s Augustenstrasse. With a handful of people, E-Be-Vau occupied two apartments – one for customer service and the stores (manufacturers insisted on having logistics handled on site), the other for sales. Sales amounting to five million Marks were posted at the end of the year. By then, National Semiconductor and Signetics were also on the company‘s line card; the customer base had grown to 30. From then on things began to move at breakneck pace. From a small semiconductor specialist evolved a technical and logistical powerhouse for all of Europe.
With new technologies and products, EBV continually tapped into new markets and acquired new customers. In 1969, for example, no one was talking about mobile phones or in-car electronics. At that time, the μA741 operational amplifier was the leading edge of technology. Today, the company‘s main revenue comes from processors and microcontrollers. That trend in the semiconductor industry is reflected by the fact that all of the computing power needed for the first moon landing could be handled by a modern-day standard commercially available laptop.
Fischer financed his company‘s rapid growth without one penny of borrowed capital. He hated being dependent on others. He wanted to be absolutely free to make his own decisions. One of his basic rules was: “Nothing is as cheap as one‘s own money.“ He continually reinvested his profits. He himself was quite modest, and in fact never sought to make more than 20 million Marks in sales. Yet that idea had already been overhauled by 1976, when EBV closed out the year with sales of 22 million Marks. Fischer‘s ambition was not to be the largest distributor, but the best. When he was forced to deviate from his principle of no borrowing because European expansion for EBV could not be financed without powerful injections of outside capital, he sold his company in 1996 to Veba Electronics and retired from the business world.
Fischer was, and is, a political person. He would routinely air grievances in page-long letters to the editors of the major German newspapers, sending copies to his staff. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Fischer – a Sudeten German – even placed a full-page ad costing 37,440 Marks in the “Frankfurter Allgemeine” newspaper. The only words were written in Cyrillic: “Thank you, Mr. Gorbachev, for November 9, 1989.“ Yet Fischer also matched his actions to his words. “Influenced by the destitution of the post-war period and my occupation with authors with a social consciousness, from Dostoyevsky to Sartre, I came to the conclusion early on that there is great injustice in both communism as well as capitalism,“ Erich Fischer wrote on the website of his foundation for the promotion of culture and civilisation, which he founded in 1995 with the capital from the sale of his company, “because those who really work are being fobbed off with dishonest promises like the acquisition of personal wealth and rights of co-determination, and are being downright exploited by companies, managers and the Big Brother state.“ He wanted to do things differently in his own company. Fischer’s vision was of a civilised company, with a management style based on social principles. Employee profit-sharing and performance-related rewards were therefore one of the founding principles of EBV. In outstanding years, some sales personnel even earned more than the head of the company.
The remuneration system was a key element in developing a sense of loyalty to the business – and was one of a kind worldwide. During these years, Fischer remained a down-to-earth person; the young clerk was just as important to him as the experienced sales manager. At Christmas parties, he would sit with the warehouse staff for the entire evening and exchange just a few words with top customers who had been invited. It is no wonder that employee satisfaction at EBV is among the highest.
Fischer showed himself to be a man of principle in all respects. He was stubborn and unbending – to suppliers, customers and colleagues. Saturday meetings had to be finished by 3 o’clock because 3:30 was kick-off time at the football stadium – and Fischer, an ardent Bayern Munich fan, did not want to miss a game. He expected constancy and openness from his employees. He was open at all times to criticism and opposition. Flat hierarchies and personal responsibility were firmly established principles. EBV was no place for time clocks such as other distributors would operate. Fischer encouraged each individual to think in an entrepreneurial manner; he placed value in people’s ability to make decisions independently.
That is shown by the fact that, starting in the mid-1980s, he withdrew more and more from daily office life. He could still be reached by fax, and would call straight back. What initially sounds like the habit of a lone wolf naturally had a deeper intent: employees could not just call just out of the blue and start sounding off; they had to carefully consider their ideas and put them down in writing. Fischer‘s style of “Management by Walking around“ was legendary. He preferred to discuss problems, strategies and plans with his senior executives while taking walks along the Isar river. “It was always the same route and, depending on how fast I had to walk, I knew how important the topic was to Fischer,“ recalls a companion. On March 31, 1996, Fischer retired from EBV.
In 1969, a longstanding dream of mankind was fulfilled: On the night of July 20, US astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man ever to walk on the moon. It had taken the Apollo 11 craft three days to travel the 384,000 kilometres from Earth. Armstrong’s radio message to the NASA control centre in Houston, Texas was to go down in the history books: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Some 600 million people all over the world watched live on television as he planted the American flag in the sandy moon surface. US space agency NASA had been waiting ten years for the moment and had invested 25 billion dollars in the project. Twelve more astronauts followed in Neil Armstrong’s footsteps on the moon through to 1972, when the Apollo programme was scrapped for cost reasons. Today the dream is of the nine-month flight to Mars, with our moon featuring merely as a stop-over and refuelling station for the rockets. NASA is planning to resume manned flights to the moon by 2020, and to build the first permanent moon station by 2024.
The Swinging Sixties were coming to an end. Hippies were demanding “make love, not war”, seeking a lifestyle of peace and harmony, freed from social constraints and bourgeois taboos. Three days in August were to become legendary: the Woodstock Festival, the high-point of the hippie era. All the icons of the movement were on the bill, including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Joan Baez, as well as many previously unknowns such as Joe Cocker and Carlos Santana. For them Woodstock was the launchpad for a global career. The Festival was expected to attract around 60,000 fans, but in fact some 500,000 “flower children” turned up. The scene was soon one of pure chaos; the roads around were completely blocked; the few gates were unable to handle the surge of people entering. Fences were trampled down; the musicians had to be flown in by helicopter. Rainstorms soon turned the farmland into a gigantic mudbath. But instead of panicking, the fans danced around wildly in the mud, their heads decorated with flower garlands.
A technical wonder of 1969 was the supersonic jet Concorde. On March 2, the prototype took off from Toulouse on its maiden flight, lasting 29 minutes. Seven years later the first regular passenger flights at Mach-2 began, flying from London and Paris over the Atlantic to New York in less than four hours, at speeds of 2200 km/h. The record time achieved was 2 hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds. A return flight cost around 10,000 US dollars. Almost a quarter of a century later, in July 2000, a Concorde crashed near Paris, killing all the passengers and crew onboard. It marked the end for the supersonic jet.
“A born public servant,” is what a test from the unemployment office revealed as the young Peter Gürtler returned to Germany after living in the USA for three years. Psychological testing rarely gets it that wrong. Because Gürtler, who was to become a top manager at EBV for decades and helped drive the successes of the company, turned out to be a man of quick decisionmaking powers, with an aversion to bureaucracy and paperwork. Continually writing and reading memos was not for him. The non-conformist resisted having his own secretary (a friend calls him a “maverick”) even when he became responsible for hundreds of millions of Marks in sales as head of purchasing and logistics.
When the 25-year-old moved into his office on April 1, 1970 as sales manager in Düsseldorf, EBV had just moved the company headquarters to Munich. At that point, he had already known company proprietor Erich Fischer for seven years. He had learned from him – most recently at Motorola Wiesbaden – the basic principles involved in semiconductor sales. “Fischer was a luminary,” says Gürtler, who himself was soon to become well-known in the industry for his “sixth sense” on the market. Working in tandem, he and Fischer turned a small local distribution company into a billion Mark corporation with offices all over Europe. That took massive commitment and effort. Twelve hour-days were the norm. Gürtler worked weekends and holidays, and had no hobbies. “EBV was my life,” he says today. “We always invested against the business cycle and opened offices during the tough times.”
Gürtler was the seventh employee of the still young EBV, and retained that personnel number until he retired 28 years later. The skilled wholesale and foreign trade expert quickly turned out to be a visionary purchasing and logistics strategist, and was able to get a handle on the biggest problem in the industry for EBV customers: delivery lead times. He was the Chief Operating Officer of EBV, even though he never officially bore that title. He fundamentally rejected the concepts of price protection, ship & debit and stock return rights. “We wanted only goods at fixed prices and delivery times,” he said.
Gürtler reinforced the organisational backbone of the company, while sales, accounting and advertising fell within Fischer’s realm of responsibility. “Fischer and I were always a good team; we complemented each other wonderfully without having to check in with one another all the time,” he adds. While Fischer was the primary mover in driving the young company forward in the start-up years, it was Gürtler who had an increasing influence on company policy later.
One of the main management rules was that all decisions had to be reached with a healthy dose of common sense. Long-winded explanations and detailed presentations were frowned upon. At the six-weekly sales meeting, laptops are forbidden. “A sales manager has to have his budgets, customers and projects in his head,” says Gürtler, who is a classic “minute manager”. He would express in one sentence what it took others hours to discuss. For him, the objectives had to fit on one sheet of paper, and he would expect rapid feedback. “Keep it simple, stupid (KISS)” was his motto.
Hierarchies were an irrelevance. Fischer was the first among equals. All regional sales managers were involved in strategically important decisions. “Resistance and criticism were welcome,” says Gürtler, to whom titles mean nothing personally. Against his will, he was appointed as general manager with signatory powers in 1977 and, in 1989, Fischer officially made him a co-managing director. It was an irony that, on the day of his retirement, Gürtler of all people held 28 directorships – one for almost every EBV country.
Many innovations at EBV bear his hallmark: Whether the central warehouse, the IT system, the pan-European strategy or building up the reseller business, Gürtler always had the right intuition when it came to market trends and customer needs. For example, early on he set the standards in distribution with the introduction of data codes and the dedicated Customer Service function. “At EBV, the customer is always king,” he says. “For others it was the supplier.” Recruitment ads that Gürtler formulated often read something like: “We are looking for people who understand “service” the same way we do: we serve.” Customer loyalty is EBV’s main asset. That is why buyers visit our headquarters so they can meet “their” warehouse managers and “their” customer account manager. Each piece of the puzzle contributes towards building a good and friendly relationship to customers above and beyond normal business dealings. That was Gürtler’s creed.
With a steady hand, Fischer and Gürtler also guided EBV through some stormy waters. The semiconductor industry was also subject to the famous “pork cycle” of fluctuating demand and price. In 1985, for example, after a fantastic previous year when sales had rocketed from 86 to 155 million Marks, the chip market collapsed by 30 percent. Yet EBV emerged relatively untarnished, remaining profitable and losing only about 3 percent of its sales. “We had our loyal customers to thank for that,” explains Gürtler, who was always keen to invest against the business cycle. That is why EBV generally opened offices during tough times. As in 1986 – with a 10 percent drop in sales, the worst year in EBV’s history. Yet, EBV purposely began expanding overseas during that time, and Gürtler’s dream of Europeanising EBV became a reality.
“Stay true to yourself” was the motto underpinning his management style. His focus was set equally on the company’s success and on the well-being of its employees. His almost blind trust in his employees, his casual style (Gürtler almost never wore a tie, for example), his open-door policy and his marked social consciousness created a strong sense of unity in the company. “We were a family,” says Gürtler, “one for all and all for one.” If an employee overextended himself financially, Gürtler would step in and work with the bank to establish a new payment plan. “Everyone must be able to live off his or her EBV salary,” was his basic conviction.
When Fischer retired after selling the company to Veba subsidiary Raab-Karcher, Gürtler took on his responsibilities and, at the request of Veba, stayed on as the sole managing director. Two years later, he became worldwide director of logistics for Veba Electronics. “I hope that EBV does not lose sight of what distinguishes it from the competition,” he advised the employees in his farewell speech. The farewell celebration in Sardinia in November 1998 was his final mark of appreciation to all the company’s 900 employees, including the warehouse staff.
And how does Gürtler view the EBV of today? “Years ago, we ‘oldies’ set out to become the best, not the biggest,” he says. “And from everything I see and hear from customers and employees, suppliers, manufacturers and competitors, EBV today has remained widely true to its original core principles. It is still holding onto the title of industry leader in Europe. I would like to express warm thanks to my old ‘dream team’ and to my successors for the continuity they have ensured.”
Whether at the European Championship finals, on winning the Champions League or a national league title, after the game ends, the song “We are the Champions” rings through the stadium, sung in jubilation by tens of thousands of fans. The power ballad, today widely used as a football anthem, would never have been written had Freddie Mercury, Brian May and Roger Taylor not formed the rock band “Queen”. The British band’s music, a combination of pomp and pop, hard rock and art rock, became unbelievably popular. It was primarily flamboyant performer Freddie Mercury – not only as the lead singer and main songwriter – who dictated the style and image of the band. Thanks to his stage presence and four-octave voice, Queen became one of the most successful live bands of all times. The group performed at 700 live concerts. In typical stage poise with arms raised high, Mercury today is immortalised in a life-size statue in the Swiss city of Montreux, on Lake Geneva. It was there, shortly before his death from AIDS in 1991, that he recorded his last album: “Made in Heaven”.
While Queen was starting their international career, fans of a band from Liverpool were still reeling in shock. On April 10, 1970, the Daily Mirror’s headline read: “Paul is quitting the Beatles.” Just eight years after their first single, “Love me Do”, the “Fab Four” – Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr - were splitting up. Wherever the “mop-tops” – so nicknamed due to their hairstyles – appeared, they caused widespread hysteria. They needed heavy police protection to get to many of their concert venues. “Beatlemania“ became synonymous with ecstatically screaming, adoring girl fans. That is hard to imagine nowadays, in view of the nicely clothed and tame-looking “boys next door” image – contrasting with bad boy band the Rolling Stones, who began at about the same time. Sadly, fans had to bury any hope of a Beatles comeback when, in December 1980, John Lennon was shot dead by a crazed fan.
Naturalist Thor Heyerdahl also made it into the world’s headlines in 1970. The Norwegian succeeded in sailing across the Atlantic from Morocco in a simple sailboat made of reeds. After 57 days and 6,000 kilometres on the high seas, the adventurer proved that the Egyptian Pharaohs did indeed have the wherewithal and technology to come into contact with the native peoples of Central America. Although both cultures worshipped a sun god at almost the same time and built pyramids, modern archaeology had always rejected the hypothesis – and ridiculed Heyerdahl. The papyrus boats of the natives were considered unsuitable for ocean voyages.
In the early 1970s, Hewlett-Packard (HP) was desperately seeking a distributor for its semiconductor business in Germany to sell alongside its in-house large customer accounts operation. They were exciting times in the electronics industry. The electron tube had long passed its prime. Semiconductors and transistors were replacing it in virtually every application. HP Components, a specialist in measurement technology, also had a lot of persuading to do, because it was switching its display elements for the complete range of measurement applications to low voltage, digitisation and LED. Customers had little experience with this semiconductor technology. “We had to be really persuasive to get customers to move away from their entrenched attitudes,” recalls Philipp Vettel, who was busy building up HP Components sales in Germany at the time. He was to continue selling to EBV for almost thirty years.“We were looking for someone for whom we were not just one number among many.”
Vettel, himself a qualified engineer, was highly impressed by Erich Fischer‘s market knowledge and the high level of technical expertise of the EBV team. “When you‘re trying to win people over, know-how is the key. Fischer‘s principle was to only recruit people who understood about the transition from tubes to semi-conductors.” The franchise agreement was signed the same year, and from 1972 onwards the 13-man EBV sales force at that time was heading out on the road selling for Hewlett-Packard alongside the rest of its portfolio. The cooperation generated half a million dollars in sales for EBV in the very first year.
It was a fruitful partnership for both sides, and one which was to endure through some turbulent times, including takeovers and sell-offs. In 1999, when HP Components was demerged under the name Agilent, the company turned over about 60 million dollars with EBV. Today the spin-off belongs to US semiconductor manufacturer Avago, and remains a firm part of EBV‘s line card.“
We were looking for someone for whom we were not just one number among many,” Vettel explains. Fischer‘s concept of concentrating on a small number of non-overlapping manufacturers was convincing. HP became the fifth product line – alongside Motorola, National Semiconductor, Signetics and Unitrode – of the still young EBV business, which at the time had also just opened a Stuttgart office. The advantage: “EBV did not roll up to customers with armfuls of random product; it actively sold our range to targeted accounts,” Vettel recounts. However, when Fischer saw that EBV‘s engineers were regularly being dragged away from their day-to-day business for product training, he insisted that the training be held on weekends. Service to the customer really was his absolute priority.
Fischer demanded much of his staff in the early years – an unconditional willingness to learn, overtime as a matter of course and maximum commitment all-round. Despite that focus, he never lost sight of the essential community element. Alongside a product training course in 1973, for example, he organised the “HP-EBV Olympics” in Munich‘s Olympic swimming arena. And he even took part himself. The winners were awarded their medals on the same podium on which the star of the Munich Games, Mark Spitz, had stood one year earlier. EBV emerged as the overall victors. Vettel: “As usual, they managed to keep their noses in front.”
What do coffee filters, toothpaste and airbags have in common? They were all invented by Germans. In October 1971, Mercedes engineers were awarded the patent, number DE 2152902 C2, for the first airbag. The year previously, the number of fatalities on Germany‘s roads had reached a new record high of over 21,000. The government introduced mandatory seat belt wearing, and demanded that the industry should start making safer cars. Yet it was not until 1980 – 250 crash tests, 2,500 so-called sled collisions and 600 test vehicles later – that the world‘s first mass-produced passenger car (a Mercedes S-class) fitted with an airbag in its steering wheel rolled off the line. The pyrotechnic issues had proved highly complex to resolve. Nowadays, some 100 million airbags a year are fitted Europe-wide. Experts estimate that airbags have to date saved more than 30,000 lives in Germany alone.
It was a year of many breakthroughs back in 1971. Intel presented the first microprocessor, the 4004. The antecedent of the modern-day digital processor unit comprised just 2,300 transistors, which Intel packed onto a chip with a structure size of 10 micrometres. It was able to process four binary positions simultaneously, and had a clock frequency of 108 kHz. This first integrated chip, combining control and computing processes on a single silicon wafer, was developed on behalf of the Japanese firm Busicom for a programmable desktop calculator. The Japanese were awarded an exclusive contract to use the microprocessor. Intel later had to buy back the rights. In fact, for a time Intel had no idea what to do with its expensive invention. So initially the chip was used only in instrumentation and control equipment.
Switzerland also took a step into the modern age in 1971, when it finally introduced votes for women – though not by resolution of parliament, but based on a referendum in which only the male population was entitled to participate. By way of comparison, women in New Zealand have had the vote since 1893, and in Germany since 1918.
In November of 1971 the Soviet space probe “Mars 2” became the first craft from Earth to reach orbit around Mars, but the brake system failed on landing and it broke up on the surface. The “Mars 3” probe, which entered the planet‘s orbit just a few days later, proved more successful. It landed, but suffered instrument failure after just 20 seconds.
From a secretary in a Munich courtyard office to the head of human resources for a billioneuro concern – Isabella Hohenadl‘s career is a shining example of the development opportunities offered by EBV. Erich Fischer recruited today‘s longest-serving EBV employee back in 1970, initially to serve as his personal assistant. She soon also made herself irreplaceable in running the company‘s office organisation and administration. In 1982 she was appointed administration manager, with executive authority and bank signatory powers, and in 1984 – at Fischer‘s urging – she additionally took on the company‘s bookkeeping. By then EBV was generating annual sales of 155 million Marks. As one of her first duties in her new role, Isabella had to set up a computerised credit management system. Tasks such as that were very much new territory for her. Her keen people skills also made her the automatic choice when it subsequently came to appointing a personnel administrator. ”Fischer offered me the opportunity to find my own way,“ she says. ”Whereas I was apt to recoil at new challenges on occasion, Fischer alwayshad full confidence in my abilities.“ Confidence and trust of that nature are the foundation stones of EBV.“We were always in a position to recruit only the best.”
In the good times Fischer expected his staff to put in lots of overtime, but in return they knew that they would have job security in leaner years. Employee fluctuation was an alien concept. People were deployed where they wanted to work, doing what they were best at. If someone did not quite make the grade in sales, for example, they might be moved to Customer Service, where their skills could come more to the fore. Many people spent their entire careers with EBV. And a look through the personnel roster in 2009 shows that employees with 20, 25 or 30 years‘ service at EBV are no rarity. Many long-standing employees still have their original handwritten contract of employment from way-back. Recruitment interviews with Peter Gürtler, for example, rarely took longer than 15 minutes. He would trust in his own judgement and experience. A handshake and a look in the eyes was usually all he needed. Erich Fischer, too, was not necessarily impressed by a candidate‘s past achievements and qualifications. He had already instigated his own recruitment tests. Sales staff had to fill out a questionnaire, and answer questions such as ”How do I see myself as a salesman?“.
It is people who decide the success or failure of a business. That was the underlying attitude which Fischer imbued into EBV as a company. “My social utopia is actually something quite obvious and simple: a peoplefriendly working environment, offering employees the opportunity to work with dignity, doing a fair day‘s work for a fair day‘s pay,” he said at one of his Christmas addresses to the workforce. He put his words into action too. Every member of staff, including the warehouse operatives and bookkeeping clerks, received performancerelated pay. From 1984 he also introduced a profit share scheme for all employees who had been with EBV for five years or more; and in 1994 Fischer even transferred a third of his company to its employees. Manufacturers and customers alike have always been impressed by such loyalty and integrity.
EBV has never regarded personnel as a cost factor, but always as a potential benefit to the company. It was also a pioneer when it came to establishing company sports facilities, with table tennis tables set up in the garden of the EBV office as far back as 1972 (not to mention loungers for lunchtime sunbathing). Today, employees at the European headquarters in Poing can keep fit in the in-house gym.
From the mid-1980s onwards, Isabella Hohenadl had to deploy all the skills and experience she had acquired, as EBV‘s European expansion led to a concerted search for vappropriately qualified personnel – not just for the new sales offices, but also for warehouse and back-office functions. She had to learn all about Belgian, Spanish and French social security and labour laws, among others, consulting local accountants and lawyers in a host of different countries. The workforce quadrupled within ten years. There was a particularly strong drive to recruit technicians and engineers for the new regions. Office managers were often recruited on the basis of word-of-mouth recommendation, utilising the broad network of EBV management contacts across the industry, and also taking advantage of the fact that EBV was widely known as an attractive employer. “We were always in a position to recruit only the best,” Isabella asserts. By the end of 1996 – the year in which the company was taken over by VEBA subsidiary Raab Karcher – the workforce had grown to 467 people in twelve countries.
And there was another new challenge for Isabella Hohenadl. She was tasked with making the personnel management function more professional and establishing a Human Resources department. She began with just one member of staff. In a company whose most important assets are its employees, recruitment, training, personnel cost control and management development are key strategic concerns. Managing such factors effectively is vital to safeguarding service quality and orienting all the company‘s actions to the needs of its customers. Between 1996 and 2000, sales turnover leapt from 300 million to a billion euros, and the workforce grew to 700 as a result. In view of that trend, Isabella Hohenadl was able to make a strong case for the importance of personnel development, recruiting two new members of staff. Today she manages an 18-strong team. EBV employs a total of 896 people.
Munich was dominating the worldwide headlines: Germany had been chosen to host the Olympic Games for the first time since 1936. The nation was still celebrating 16-year-old Ulrike Meyfarth‘s world record-beating high jump gold medal when, on the morning of September 5, 1972, eight Palestinian terrorists attacked the Olympic Village, taking eleven Israeli competitors and coaches hostage. The kidnappers demanded the release of Ulrike Meinhof and Andreas Baader, members of Germany‘s Red Army Faction, as well as of 232 Palestinians being held in Israeli jails. The nightmare lasted 21 hours. An attempt to release the hostages at the Fürstenfeldbruck airfield outside Munich ended in disaster, with all the hostages and a police officer being killed, as well as five of the terrorists.
Another breakthrough on the technology market back in 1972 was the pocket calculator. Japanese manufacturers Sanyo, Sharp and Canon had in fact brought out their own calculators, virtually simultaneously, two years previously, but the boom really started with the launch of a scientific model, capable of performing logarithmic, trigonometric and exponential functions as well as basic calculations. In June 1972, the chief developers at Hewlett-Packard celebrated the HP-35 in their in- house “HP Journal”: The 250-gram calculator was – as they stated – “small enough to fit in a shirt pocket“. Within the year, HP had sold half a million of them in the USA.
On September 1, 1972, American Bobby Fischer rewrote chess history. In Reykjavik, Iceland, Fischer defeated reigning World Champion Boris Spasski from the Soviet Union. In the midst of the Cold War, the battle for global chess domination was highly symbolic of the confrontation between the two political systems. In fact, Russian players had dominated the World Championship scene since 1948. The latest episode in the series turned Fischer into a hero, yet the eccentric genius simply took the money and the medal – and disappeared for two decades. He did not re-emerge into the public spotlight until a revenge match against Spasski in September 1992. He won that contest too.
Operational Excellence“ is a priority for every modernday company boss. The new buzz-phrase in contemporary management embodies the optimisation of business processes to deliver added value for customers and employees. Operational excellence is also a key to success and provides companies with the competitive edge they need. Erich Fischer, visionary EBV founder, was well aware of that basic tenet of modern management culture, and was putting it into practice, as long as 40 years ago.“It has always paid off to serve your customers well.”
Even back then he demanded lean processes and more added value. “EBV again expects a great deal of you – certainly more than many other employers. I expect all of you to make every effort to do your work really well,” was how he put it in his New Year address in 1973. “That is not easy, because it takes a lot – most especially, it requires you to continually think about what you do, for example to ask: why am I doing this particular job now? Or are there other things which are more important at present? Can I do a job faster, more safely and more easily? How can I make my colleagues‘ lives easier?” It was by simple words such as those that Fischer sought to strengthen the sense of personal responsibility of his staff. His approach was to challenge people in order to get the best out of them and to support them in developing their abilities. Fair rewards were a matter of policy, as was his ever-open office door.
Market conditions back in 1973 were relatively good. Total semiconductor demand in Germany was around 750 million Marks. EBV gained important new customers in the Baden-Württemberg region especially. The biggest contract won in the company‘s short history totalled 750,000 Marks. The chip manufacturers “are showing a clear trend of putting more business through distributors such as us,” was Fischer‘s encouraging appraisal at the beginning of the new year. It was a good time for two new manufacturers to be added to the EBV line card. After Hewlett-Packard (“one of the world‘s leading electronics companies”), in 1973 Fischer also acquired Siliconix (today Vishay) as his sixth franchise partner. Vishay is still today one of EBV‘s ten most important semiconductor suppliers.
So it was an excellent year for EBV, with a 70 percent jump in sales by the year-end. It was a success to relish. And it was also good that Fischer had already taken the first hesitant step towards automation back in 1972, buying a Taylorix invoicing machine to assist the Accounts department. But it was no easy job for EBV to keep generating orders. New distributors had established themselves on the market, the “old” players were learning new tricks, competition was getting tougher. In order to get even closer to its customers, EBV opened an additional sales office in Frankfurt – the fourth after Düsseldorf, Munich and Stuttgart.
This was a further demonstration of the concept of uncompromising orientation to customers‘ needs which already characterised Fischer‘s approach back then – one which was not discovered as a key to success by many other companies until the turn of the new century. “It has always paid off to serve your customers well, and it always will, I guarantee it,” he asserted. “Our success is founded not on some clever idea or, even less, on questionable tricks, but solely on the fact that we try harder than others.” The satisfaction and success of its customers is still today the guiding light by which the EBV team operates.
Whether for air or sea travel, in the car or planning a route through the mountains – the Global Positioning System (GPS) has become an integral part of our everyday lives. The technology originated back in 1973, when the US Defense Department contracted the development of a satellite- guided navigation system for ground-based, naval and airborne forces. The core components of GPS are 30 satellites circulating the Earth in six orbits at a height of over 20,000 kilometres, continuously transmitting their changing positions and the exact time. Five satellites share one orbital plane. This means a GPS receiver always has contact with at least four satellites, enabling it to calculate its current speed, time and position down to just a few metres from their signals. In 1993 the US military released GPS for worldwide civilian use free of charge, though it retained complete control over the system.
Martin Cooper achieved a breakthrough in 1973. While designing a cordless police radio with an onboard transmitter, the Motorola engineer came up with the idea for a completely portable system. Legend has it that he then developed a brick-sized prototype within just six weeks. He used it on April 3, 1973, standing in the middle of Manhattan, to call the head of research at Motorola competitor AT&T Bells Lab.
Likewise in Manhattan, in the same year, construction of the World Trade Center was completed. The ”Twin Towers“ came to be seen as a symbol of American economic power. At 415 and 417 metres high respectively, they were briefly the tallest skyscrapers on Earth, before being superseded shortly afterwards by the Sears Tower in Chicago.
Around the same time, the art world lost one of its most influential and charismatic figures. Spanish painter and sculptor Pablo Picasso died at Mougins near Cannes in the South of France. He was 93 years old, and had left the world an enormous legacy of more than 30,000 works. Some items from that extensive collection are today in the hands of his heirs. No other 20th century artist achieved such worldwide fame. His outstanding talent and incredible creative energy made Picasso a legend in his own lifetime.
EBV‘s early years were marked by surging growth in sales. They were years in which electronics steadily became an integral part of everyday life, and in which demand from industry for semiconductors was correspondingly high. In the company‘s first full year of business, 1970, a staff of ten was already generating sales of nearly four million Marks. As early as 1972, EBV broke through the ten million Mark barrier with a 50 percent leap in sales. And at the end of December that year, the sales team acquired the largest order in EBV‘s history up to that point, totalling over 750,000 Marks. The sales growth in 1973 was then 70 percent. In 1974 EBV surged through the 15 million barrier, finishing the year with sales of 16.4 millionMarks. There was barely time for the staff to take a breath.“The fact that we have become one of the biggest-selling businesses in our industry is not the result of a targeted approach, but rather a consequence of the way we operate.”
The increases in sales alone which the field sales and back-office staff had to handle were more than many small firms were generating in total. The leap from the end of 1975 to the end of 1976, for example, was six million Marks – an incredible performance at the time. Between 1978 and 1979 sales even leapt by 18 million, enabling founder Erich Fischer to celebrate the company‘ s 10th anniversary with 56 employees generating sales of 59 million Marks. Around a third of the company‘ s profit was paid out to the employees in the form of performance- related bonuses.
After a dip in 1981, when a recession saw EBV for the first time suffer a fall in sales (from 73 down to 62 million) and earnings, more highs followed. The boom in personal and home computers and in the automotive industry brought a massive surge in demand. By 1983 EBV‘s sales had reached 86 million Marks, and in 1984 they leapt to a staggering 155 million. A short time later, a crisis in PC sales led to a collapse in chip orders. Yet EBV emerged relatively unscathed, remaining profitable and in 1985 dropping just three percent of its sales, down to just under 150 million. In 1986 EBV suffered its worst year, with a ten percent fall in sales.
However, the opening of the first offices outside Germany starting in 1986 meant that there was only one way for sales to move: upwards. At the company‘s 20th anniversary in 1989, EBV‘s employees were celebrating sales of over 242 million Marks. By 1994 sales had reached 500 million, and in 1995 just under 600 million. The record shows that between 1970 and 1995 EBV grew by an amazing average of 22 percent a year.
After the company‘s acquisition by Raab Karcher and the resultant expansion, sales in 1996 surged to 630 million Marks and the workforce grew to 470. In 1998 – boosted by its “eastward expansion” – EBV topped a billion Marks in sales for the first time. There could hardly have been more pleasing performance figures with which to celebrate the company‘s 30th anniversary in 1999.
After the turn of the millennium, the dot-com boom gave further impetus to EBV‘s sales growth. Killer applications for mobile phones, for example, had a direct impact on the distribution business, and in the year 2000 EBV sales broke through the two billion barrier – this time in euros. Its market share at the time was 15.5 percent.
EBV took advantage of the recession following the collapse of the dot-com bubble to build its market share, and in 2008 it reached its highest level in the company‘s history to date, at 23 percent (according to DMASS). EBV finished the year with sales of 1.224 billion euros.
ABBA – four letters that have become a cult; ABBA – standing for the names of two couples: Agnetha and Björn, Benny and Anni- Frid. The Swedish pop quartet‘s victory in the Eurovision Song Contest on April 3, 1974 with “Waterloo” was their breakthrough to stardom. Their catchy tunes and colourful costumes catapulted ABBA to the top of the popular music world over the coming years. Hits flowed from the ABBA conveyor belt, with sold-out concert halls and triumphant public appearances all over the world until finally, in 1982, the supergroup disbanded. There had already been a number of crises in the group‘s relationships, with both couples divorcing. Yet still today, the music of ABBA is rated as Sweden‘s biggest export alongside Volvo and Ikea. 27 years after they split up, some 3,000 ABBA CDs are still being sold every day. No wonder: In the 1990s cover versions triggered a new wave of ABBA hysteria, culminating in the hit musical “Mamma Mia”, a compilation of 22 of ABBA‘s greatest tunes which has been a huge success in more than 100 cities worldwide and which was filmed in 2008 with multi-Oscar winner Meryl Streep in the lead role.
The boxing match of the century took place on October 30, 1974. In the African city of Kinshasa, in what was then Zaire. The “Rumble in the Jungle” saw heavyweight world champion George Foreman taking on ex-champ Muhammad Ali. Seven years previously, Ali had been stripped of his title, and had lost his boxing license, for refusing to serve in the US military. Now he wanted his title back. The entire event was largely financed by the dictator Mobutu to promote his country and Africa in general. Foreman was unbeaten in 40 professional bouts. It was generally expected that he would end Ali‘s career with a quick knockout. Both men slugged it out almost to the point of unconsciousness. In the eighth round Foreman dropped to the ground exhausted, and was counted out. The stadium erupted. Muhammad Ali was heavyweight champion of the world for the second time.
In the same year, Art Fry, an employee of American company 3M, had the idea for an innovative product: stick-on notelets, known as Post-its, which could be removed without leaving any residue and stuck back on again. The canary-yellow post-its did not become a real hit until 1980 however, following a major advertising campaign during which 3M distributed millions of sample notes free of charge. Today colourful Post-it notes are used in almost every office as reminders and quick reference aids, and 3M generates over 100 million dollars a year in sales with its Post-it products
Comparing EBV‘s customer portfolio in its early years with 2009 shows a number of surprising parallels. Apart from the fact that the number of customers has quadrupled to almost 15,000, many of EBV‘s very first customers are still buying from the company today. One of them is the Rafi Group, based near the town of Ravensburg in the Swabia region, 20 kilometres from Lake Constance. “We pretty much grew up together in the electronics business,” says Max Sterk, head of materials management and a member of the Rafi management board.“EBV has always been the benchmark for other distributors.”
The company, originally a switch-maker and today a specialist in man-machine communication, moved into the electronics business in 1966 with the first non-contact components. Four years later, Rafi (the name comprising the first two letters of the names of former proprietor Raimund Finsterhölzl) developed and produced its first keypad. Rafi advanced with giant steps into the semiconductor- dominated future. And it was not long before the EBV sales office in Stuttgart had established contact with the Rafi purchasing department. The business has made a name for itself in a wide variety of fields over the years. Push-buttons, indicator lamps, input units and touch and sensor systems from Rafi are today essential components in sectors such as telecommunications, machinery manufacturing, the automotive industry, lift engineering and materials handling equipment. The owner-managed company generates sales of over 350 million euros a year.
The development leaps from the past to the present have been enormous. In telecommunications, for example. 40 years ago, electronics accounted for maybe five to ten percent of the sector. Today, a state-of-the-art ISDN system is 90 percent electronic. The demands Sterk makes of his suppliers are correspondingly high. Simply selling components and processing orders on paper is not enough. “We are a technology-driven business. For us, the technical competence of the distributor is very, very important,” he affirms. “EBV, with its lean structures and focused tasks, has always been the benchmark.” The close-knit network of 120 applications engineers (FAEs), ready to deploy at a moment‘s notice anywhere in Europe, speaks for itself.
In the system business especially, in which Rafi develops and manufactures complete operator control systems for applications including medical technology and lift systems, EBV‘s applications advisers are able to bring the full breadth of their expertise to bear. EBV gets involved in most custom solutions right from the concept phase. “EBV is today one of our most important suppliers,” the materials management head reports. When a company is integrated into the advance development work on a project in the way that EBV is, it is able to respond rapidly to customers‘ needs. This enables EBV‘s engineer training to be aligned even more closely to specific requirements and also means sustainable ideas and intelligent purchasing strategies which later avoid bottlenecks that are derived as a direct consequence. For the Rafi management, flexibility is the key. Although the company has a very broad portfolio and stable revenue streams, markets such as telecommunications, in which it is strong, can be unpredictable, with demand for specific components suddenly shooting up or dropping dramatically. “We have to be highly flexible, and we expect that from our distributor too,” says Sterk.
The good relations with Rafi are the fruits of many years of outstanding customer support rendered on-site. Frank-Steffen Russ is upholding that tradition today. Sterk is particularly impressed by the know-how and commitment of the Stuttgart-based EBV sales manager: “He really is something special. He not only has terrific knowledge of the manufacturers and their products, he also has a keen eye for the market and its needs. The support we get is simply excellent.” Dealing with the occasional minor – or not so minor – crisis also helps seal the bond of course. “EBV has helped us out of a tricky situation with allocations quite a few times,” Sterk admits. When prices are rising and delivery lead times are put at risk, it‘s good to know you can rely on people who see your problem as their problem too. “That separates the wheat from the chaff,” Sterk asserts. “Working with EBV, we have always been able to find a sustainable solution to the benefit of our customers.”
Knowing precisely where customers‘ problems lie is the great strength of EBV. Closeness to the customer – responding closely to customers‘ needs – is not just an empty phrase for EBV; it is everyday reality. That is seen not only in the regular visits by salesman Frank-Steffen Russ to Rafi. Central Europe head Bernd Pfeil also has a close relationship with Sterk, and gets together with him at least twice a year to review progress and talk about what can be done better. Likewise, Patrick Zammit and Slobodan Puljarevic were – and are – CEOs with a genuine feel for the customer‘s needs and wishes, always keen to visit Rafi on a regular basis and available to deal with any concerns that may arise.
The computer was moving into the living room: In its January issue, the influential US magazine “Popular Electronics” presented the very first home computer, and offered the complete kit for less than 400 US dollars. However, assembly of the “Altair 8800” took at least 40 hours and demanded a sound knowledge of microelectronics. The computer had neither a monitor nor a keyboard, and had no permanent memory. But an array of dip switches did allow simple programs to be written on it. Despite the computer‘s shortcomings, 2,000 were sold in 1975, and eventually 10,000 would be sold in total.
The Altair 8800 was the first commercially available home computer, and it exerted a profound fascination on many tech freaks, including Harvard student Bill Gates. As the computer came with no software (and not even an operating system), the 19-year-old – together with his pal Paul Allen – set about programming a version of Basic which finally turned the Altair 8800 into a proper computer, capable of solving problems. The programming language laid the foundation stone for the largest software empire in the world. Before 1975 was out, Bill Gates had quit college and, together with Allen, founded the MicroSoft (short for Microcomputer Software) corporation. A year later, the start- up and its staff of 16 moved out of the garage in Albuquerque to Seattle. The breakthrough came in 1981, when Microsoft was contracted to supply the operating system for the first IBM PC. The PC became a global success – and MS-DOS 1.0 along with it. The clever part of the deal was that Gates only sold IBM a licence, retaining all the rights to the code. In 1983 the first version of “Windows” appeared, on “MS-DOS”.
An invention by Frenchman Roland Moreno has also become an integral part of our everyday lives: the chipcard. In 1975, he registered a patent in France relating to “an independent, electronic object, developed for the storage of confidential data”, which protected access to the data by means of a “secret code”. Whether on credit and debit cards, SIM cards for mobile phones or social security cards, Moreno‘s patents – of which another eleven were to follow – laid the foundations for today‘s data management, PIN number security and data access control systems. For his accomplishments, he was awarded the title of Knight of the Legion of Honour by the President of France in 1995.
Once a month, at the end of the business day, purchasing manager Peter Gürtler would drag together the desks in the Customer Service department and call the team together for an important job: sorting stacks of data sheets to put together the monthly 20-page price lists – about a thousand each time – for dispatch by post to EBV‘s customers.“Price is irrelevant for EBV when it comes to assignment of components.”
The new consolidated stock lists were a new service introduced by EBV back in 1976: updated every month, cross-referenced and broken down by price. They provided an at-a-glance overview of what components were in stock at EBV in what quantities. It was something no one else in the industry was doing. After all, many viewed such lists as also entailing the risk that customers would use them to assert warranty claims. But that was something which did not worry EBV. ”No customer could have ordered our entire stock of any one component anyway, whatever price they might offer. That was company policy,“ Gürtler says. Or in other words: Price is irrelevant for EBV when it comes to distribution of components. Nevertheless, quantity “1” was quite a common sight on the stock lists of the time! “
The stock lists brought us many new accounts,” asserts Gürtler. And competitors would also use the industry leader‘s stock figures to optimise their own inventories.
The price lists back then were the first tentative beginnings of electronic data processing by EBV – one of Gürtler‘s favourite topics. In fact, the lists were merely a “by-product” of his idea to log the entire article master list on IBM- Hollerith index cards. Company boss Erich Fischer, in particular, was against the idea of procuring computers for cost reasons. Even when yet another spike in sales in 1976 – following the opening of a fifth field sales office in Hanover – placed the EBV team under enormous additional strain. In the first half of 1976 EBV had to issue an additional 10,000 invoices and handle some 10,000 more shipments than in the previous six months. That meant the Accounting department had 25,000 transactions to post. And everything was still being done manually.
Three years later, Gürtler finally managed to persuade his boss to make the dreaded purchase. ”OK, so we‘ll buy a computer, but you can put it down in the basement,“ Fischer grumbled, before investing 300,000 Marks in an HP-300 with one megabyte of memory. Gürtler ordered the software for posting orders and writing invoices to his own specification right from the beginning. And EBV continued its commitment to custom solutions over the coming years as well.
Of course, EBV‘s move into the computer age was not without its teething problems. Data had to be backed up every two hours for example, and each backup took half an hour. Moreover, the least fluctuation in power supply would cause the computer to crash. Every time black clouds appeared in the sky, Gürtler would personally issue a storm warning, instructing the system to be shut down. The purchasing manager himself spent nights on the computer, entering corrections and performing backups. Yet one rule was always imposed: ”No one is allowed to use the computer as an excuse to customers for any delay.“
Looking for a name that would place them ahead of Atari in the phone book, electronics developers Steve Jobs, 21, and Steve Wozniak, 26, decided to call their new venture “Apple Computer Company”. For the company‘ s logo they chose an apple with a bite taken out of it. All the assets the business had when it started up were Wozniak‘s pocket calculator and Jobs‘s VW Bully. They sold both to raise 1,300 US dollars. In Jobs’s bedroom, the two young entrepreneurs set about soldering together the first operational PC circuit board – what was to become the legendary Apple I. By as early as 1980, Apple Computer was listing on the stock market. The company took only between one and two percent of the global PC market, with more of a niche position than mass appeal, but what Apple embodied more than any other brand was creativity. Today Apple is a world leader in the Digital Lifestyle products sector above all. Whether with its touch-screen iPhone, the iPod MP3 player or the iTunes Internet music store, Apple has repeatedly demonstrated its keen sense of what the mass market is looking for. ”Keep it simple“ has been the key to their success. Everything springs from the designers; there is no technological ”art for art‘s sake“. The focus is on user-friendly high- tech products.
While in California‘s “Silicon Valley” – a name first framed by US journalist Don Hoefler in 1971 – the digital age was being born, on the other side of the world white soldiers were crushing a peaceful protest march in the black township of Soweto near Johannesburg. The protests were triggered by the South African government‘s plans to impose Afrikaans – the language of the ruling Boer minority hated by many blacks – as the sole language to be used in teaching. There were over 600 deaths, including many children. The images were broadcast around the world, causing international outrage. It was the beginning of the end for the racist Apartheid regime.
The US Fourth of July celebrations saw even more parades and fireworks than usual in 1976, as the nation‘s Bicentennial marked exactly 200 years since the original 13 colonies gained independence from the British Crown. The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, written by Thomas Jefferson, for the first time set forth generally applicable principles of human rights. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. Independence marked a historic breakthrough, even though slavery still persisted and women did not have the vote in the United States of the time.
IT, servers and PCs were alien concepts to most companies back in 1977. Also at EBV, computers were still to make their mark. “Every time we got an order, we had to call Customer Service and ask whether the components concerned were in stock,” recalls Gerhard Weisl, at the time a recently-recruited sales engineer at the EBV Bavaria office. Today all Weisl has to do is click a mouse button to check stocks. The quantities he orders have also increased over the last 30 years – by a factor of 100.“Boss Erich Fischer saw salesmen as autonomously operating entrepreneurs.”
In order to keep pace with the rapid technical developments in the semiconductor sector, company founder Erich Fischer implemented a firm selling concept: “Quality comes before quantity”, meaning just “distributing“ semiconductors in the highest volumes possible was something he would leave to others. EBV focuses on the technical and logistical needs of its customers. That is why the sales team are all engineers and technicians. Like Weisl, who is a qualified television engineer and before joining EBV spent seven years with Rohde & Schwarz. The electronics concern was already an EBV customer at the time, and Weisl went on to sell to it, providing personal sales support, for almost 20 years. That‘s what you call continuity. “
We had all the product details in our heads and were able to talk freely to the customer,” Weisl says, recalling the time when an application did not yet comprise hundreds of chips. He was able to explain a processor in ten minutes back then, and sketch out characteristic curves from memory. Thanks to that expertise, EBV‘s sales team was already achieving higher turnover per customer than its competitors. In view of today‘s highly complex products and the much larger line card than back in 1977, such feats of memory are of course no longer possible. As a consequence, Technical Marketing is today an integral element of the Europe-wide sales strategy.
The young company made great progress. But new staff were only recruited when the sales had actually first been generated. Erich Fischer was a cautious man. So the existing team had to prepare the market. That meant each sales manager still had to build up two or three new accounts additional to his fixed budget. Incidentally, the sales engineers were allowed to set their own budgets for the next year – nothing was imposed upon them from ”on high“. And they were paid a performance- related bonus. That has not changed to this day. “Fischer saw salesmen as autonomously operating entrepreneurs,” Weisl recounts. In the modern parlance, it‘s called “empowerment”. “We only discussed targets once or twice a year. I then had six months to achieve them.” The main stress was on efficiency. Fischer did not allow accounts generating less than a certain level of sales to be kept up.
Weisl drew up his first budget in 1977: 1.5 million Marks, with 20 accounts. It was an ambitious target for the time, representing around seven percent of EBV‘s total budget. There were five sales offices all around Germany. Three sales engineers were based in Munich. “We need to try harder,” was Fischer‘s constant refrain to his team. Such tough demands did not discourage them from sticking by EBV though. Gerhard Weisl, for example, has been with EBV for 32 years – and he is not alone in that. One of the reasons for that degree of loyalty was that Fischer also clearly appreciated the effort and commitment of his people. When Weisl brought in his first million-Mark order, the boss presented him with a gold coin and the “EBV Award for Excellent Salesmanship”. It was a nice gesture. Later, as regional sales manager, Weisl joined the company‘s management and became closely involved in determining company policy. Fischer knew that motivated employees are the best assets a company can have.
Selling is a transaction between people, so for EBV the challenge lies in creating and maintaining inter-personal relationships. Today, over 70 percent of the workforce is in direct contact with customers. “Action, not reaction” is the Sales department‘s motto: Don‘t wait for customers to call or mail; actively contact them to tell them about new trends and products; build up trust and confidence. “Service to the customer is what sets us apart from the crowd,” Weisl asserts. That is also why even sales managers are not allowed to retire from “the front”, but still have to serve at least two customers and generate sales of five million euros. Even Weisl, as Director Sales & Marketing Germany South East, had his own accounts up until 2007.
Today he is responsible for the regions of Bavaria, Thuringia, Saxony, Saxony- Anhalt, Brandenburg, Berlin and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Weisl heads a team of almost 50 people. The Bavaria office alone has had to increase its staffing levels ten-fold since 1977. So, in fact, quality does also lead to quantity.
Crazy, loud, garish, eccentric – on April 26, one of the most famous night-clubs of the 1970s opened on New York‘s 54th Street: Studio 54. A host of superstars became regulars, among them Mick Jagger and Liza Minelli; Andy Warhol and Truman Capote; John Travolta and Liz Taylor. Studio 54 became a playground for anyone who had ever dreamed of going to parties where they could let their fantasies run free and uninhibited into the early hours of the morning. For some, just getting past the bouncers on the door became an obsession. After all, it wasn‘t necessarily about being famous; it was about being extravagant. “Dress spectacular” was the instruction on the admission tickets. Studio 54 closed on February 4, 1980, with a party under the motto: “The end of modern-day Gomorrah”. The owners were jailed for tax evasion. The club re-opened in September 1981, but the celebrities stayed away and, in 1986, the final end came.
A tragedy one night in 1977 broke the hearts of millions all over the world. On August 16, Elvis Presley died of heart failure, aged just 42, in his home town of Memphis, Tennessee. The “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” had given his last concert two months previously in Indianapolis. His career began in 1956 with a TV appearance and a lascivious shake of the hips. Elvis Aaron Presley was the embodiment of rock ’n’ roll – aggressive and sensuous; rebellious and moody. Elvis provoked the older generation and made the dreams of the youth come true. By the time of his early death, he had sold over 500 million records – more than any musical star before him. He was so popular that, even more than 30 years after his death, there are said to be some 35,000 professional Elvis impersonators in the USA alone. Graceland, his home in Memphis, today welcomes some 600,000 visitors a year, making it one of the biggest tourist attractions in the USA.
Very few insiders in the traditional computer industry had predicted the spectacular triumph of the PC. But at the West Coast Computer Fair in San Francisco, three companies presented computers which are considered to be the first proper – that is, complete – home computers for the mass market: the Commodore PET 2001, the Tandy TRS-80 and – above all – the Apple II. They were the first computers which non-experts could operate. Until then, home computers had primarily been expensive construction kits for DIY freaks. The fascination for users was in programming the computer themselves, setting it up just as they wanted. Buyers had at least to find a matching keyboard and monitor for themselves; in some cases just printed circuit boards – with no power supply or case – were sold as computers. The key to the Apple II was its expandability, based on eight slots into which expansion boards could be plugged. That was one of the big factors in the computer‘s success. By the time it went out of production in 1993, around two million Apple II machines had been sold.
It would bring tears to the eyes of any modern-day quality manager, yet back in 1978 it was not unknown for couriers – when in a hurry – to simply place a package at the top of the steps and, with a little push, send the box of sensitive electronic components tumbling down into the basement. The only storage space EBV had in 1978 was in four basement rooms and a double garage. The company, based at the old villa in Harlaching near Munich, was once again bursting at the seams. Brochures were stacked in the building‘s boiler room. “The winters were so bitterly cold that the warehouse staff had to work wearing caps and gloves, despite the temporary Styropor insulation panelling on the garage wall,” recalls Purchasing Manager Gerhard Mrotzek.
He joined the highly motivated EBV team in April, as Peter Gürtler‘s right-hand man. With a staff of four and a simple file-index system of inventory management, the foundations were laid for the high-class EBV purchasing organisation of today. Back then, individual stock items were still negotiated on the telephone; telex was state of the art; orders were issued verbally, recorded on file cards and confirmed in writing by post. The delivery lead time was a week, provided the component in question was in stock. Invoices were written on a typewriter. In 1978 more than 60,000 were issued – a real challenge to the secretary as well, with 300 to 400 invoices needing to be sent out every day. Erich Fischer was not keen on computers, preferring instead to invest in personal customer service. It was not until October 1979 that the first computer was acquired – an HP300. The IT system was developed according to the specifications laid down by Purchasing Manager Gürtler. Even back then, standard solutions were not for EBV.“We plan warehouse stocks, and have to estimate the market for the next six months.”
Rapid sales growth meant that purchase volumes were steadily increasing. 30 years later, a purchasing staff of 20 handles 100 times more in terms of inventory and components than back in 1978. Today, the logistics centre in Poing holds 50,000 articles with a total inventory value of 260 million euros. Each buyer is responsible for a specific product group across all 25 manufacturers, managing 2,500 different products. Continuous improvement in efficiency has been a byword throughout the history of EBV.
In 1990 EBV established its first online link – an EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) connection to National Semiconductor. Computer-aided purchasing has dramatically reduced the cost of paper, forms and personnel, enabling the department staff to devote themselves to their core task: materials management, planning and scheduling, price negotiations. Mrotzek and his colleagues have to take many different factors into account because their job is not just about negotiating terms. “We plan warehouse stocks, and have to estimate the market for the next six months,” Mrotzek states proudly. Where are trends heading, how will prices develop, what strategies do manufacturers have in the pipeline, what will be the component availability situation in three months‘ time? All those aspects are managed in close cooperation with the manufacturers, and of course with the company‘s Sales department. Today, orders are processed within 24 hours. Deliveries from the USA, Taiwan or the Philippines take about a week.
Climbing the world‘s highest mountain without oxygen: On May 8, 1978 Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler became the first mountaineers to reach the 8,848 metre summit of Mount Everest via the southerly route “by fair means”, without the use of oxygen tanks. They crawled the last few metres on their hands and knees. The wind was at times so strong that they could barely keep their balance. It had previously been feared that such a climb would not even be possible without serious harm to their health. Reinhold Messner, the teacher‘s son from the Villnös valley in the Germanspeaking Alto Adige (South Tyrol) region of northern Italy, became the first person to climb all the world‘s 14 mountains of more than eight thousand metres without oxygen, establishing himself as the Mountaineer of the Century. Messner has remained a public figure since his alpine career came to an end: as a Green Party politician; as a proponent of eco-farming; as a sponsor of cultural events; and as a regular and often outspoken guest on TV talk shows.
For scientists it verged on a miracle; church leaders and ethical observers were horrified: On July 25, the world‘s first “test-tube baby” – Louise Joy Brown – was born in Oldham near Manchester. Artificial insemination outside of the womb had worked. British doctors Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards had successfully combined sperm and an egg cell in the laboratory. Today some 200,000 babies a year are born by in-vitro fertilisation. Meanwhile Louise Brown is a proud mother herself – though her son Cameron was conceived the natural way.
On October 16, the people of Poland rejoiced. At the age of 58, Karol Jozef Wojtyla from Vadovice was elected as the first non-Italian Pope since 1523, taking the name John Paul II. The Polish cardinal and professor of moral theology also had a major influence on political developments, playing a leading role in bringing to an end Communist rule in Poland and throughout the Eastern Bloc. But he was a controversial figure too: in particular thanks to his strict rejection of artificial contraception and his criticism of executions in the USA. In Syria, he became the first Pope to visit a mosque. John Paul II headed the Roman Catholic church for 26 years – the second longest period of office in history after Pius IX. He was globally respected – including by people of other confessions and faiths – as an “apostle of peace” and an evangelical figure of integrity and strength.
An end to temporary accommodation: The old villa in Harlaching near Munich which EBV had rented seven years previously was yet again bursting at the seams. So to mark its tenth anniversary, EBV decided to invest in new premises, for the first time moving into a proper office block, in the Munich suburb of Unterhaching, at Oberweg number 6.
And so it was that in October 1979 the call once again went out: get packing. Many an employee even shed a tear or two, as is often the case when a temporary solution has grown into a familiar friend. The Accounts department finally got to move out of the former bedroom, with its rustic built-in wardrobes painted with decorated scenes – highlighting the fact that Fischer had rented the villa partly furnished. Customer Service vacated its spot in the conservatory, and the warehouse staff closed the garage and basement cellars behind them one last time. Some of the employees would doubtless also miss the elegantly fitted-out old kitchen, in which the ladies used to take turns cooking lunch. There was a strong sense of community even back then. No wonder, then, that the 45 staff had already been with the company for an average of four years – even though the workforce had doubled over the past five years. There had been no changes at all in the key posts.“Since we have never taken out a bank loan, we are absolutely independent and free in our decision-making.”
EBV successfully kept pace with the triumphant advance of the semiconductor, increasing its sales from 16 to 59 million Marks between 1974 and 1979. In 1979 alone, the company saw its sales rise 30 percent against the previous year. Unlike the rest of the distribution business, though, company proprietor Fischer was not obsessed by sales. “The fact that we have become one of the biggest- selling businesses in our industry is not the result of a targeted approach, but rather a consequence of the way we operate,“ he wrote to customers on the occasion of the anniversary. Thanks to its concentration on a small number of technology-leading semiconductor manufacturers, EBV had become the top distributor of every manufacturer it represented – not just in Germany, but throughout Europe. It was a remarkable achievement.
Even back then, EBV was able to build on stable customer relationships. A few figures back up that claim: Of the total sales turnover in both 1973 and 1978, well over a third was attributable to the same top ten customers, even though the business had almost tripled in size during that time and the customer base was growing rapidly. In 1978, EBV‘s sales team generated 75 percent of its total turnover with customers they had been serving for five years or more. And EBV‘s business was always highly profitable. Its per capita sales at the time of around one million Marks a year were twice as high as the industry norm. This illustrates how, by contrast, the large numbers of small orders and the wide product range takes its toll on broad-liners.
Also, as Fischer asserted at the time, “EBV has no bloated figureheads disguised as ‘management‘, and no costly computer systems.” Nevertheless, the move to Unterhaching also marked the dawn of the computer age at EBV. Fischer recognised that the Accounts department would no longer be capable of handling the volume of invoices without computer help.
The new corporate headquarters covered a thousand square metres, including the central warehouse, order processing department, accounts and management functions; the Bavaria sales office; and the new microprocessor centre. Inconceivably to modern-day thinking, the goods depot was on the second floor. The inventory value in 1979 was seven million Marks, including three million Marks‘ worth of Motorola and National Semiconductor product alone. Incoming goods were brought in by lift. When EBV relocated again twelve years later as it ran out of space again, the dispatch warehouse had to be cleared using cranes.
As far back as the 1970s, climate researchers recognized that global warming was a serious threat to humanity and the natural environment. It was reason enough for the United Nations to convene the first World Climate Conference in Geneva in February 1979. The experts warned of an increase in greenhouse gases, citing the use of fossil fuels and the destruction of rainforests as the primary cause. What followed was policy-making by small steps: In 1988 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established, to collate data relating to climate change and devise strategies to counteract it. In 1992 the industrialized nations agreed their first – though non-binding – CO2 reduction targets. The World Climate Summits have remained to this day the sole binding instrument of multi-national climate protection policy.
In June 1979 the European Parliament was for the first time directly elected by the citizens of the EU. Previously the member-states had nominated delegates. Since that first direct election, the European Parliament – as one of the five principal executive bodies of the EU – has gradually been extending its competencies step-by-step. It is spread across locations in three countries. Its main seat is Strasbourg. A number of committee and faction meetings are held in Brussels, while some of the administration is based in Luxembourg. It is the largest multi national parliament in the world. At present, its 785 members from 27 nations represent some 490 million EU citizens. The Parliament has 23 official languages. The members‘ term of office lasts five years. Though it has extensive powers, the European Parliament still today suffers from the image of being merely a talking-shop; an assembly with no real, decisive influence on European politics.
On Christmas Eve 1979, European space research took a giant leap forward: The three-stage carrier rocket Ariane 1 blasted off on its successful maiden flight, after having been postponed several times. The craft – almost 50 metres high, with a diameter of almost four metres and weighing 210 tons – was launched from the Kourou space centre in French Guyana. Ariane was the first rocket developed specially for commercial space travel. Later Ariane rockets were to transport valuable payloads into space, including the first European space probe Giotto and the Meteosat 2 weather satellite. Over the next decades, Ariane became in rocketbuilding what Airbus was in the aeronautical industry: a European success story.
It sounds like a fairytale: Up until the 1980s, warehouse workers were able to pick up components with their bare hands and pack them in household bags without impairing product quality. Things are very different today. No distributor can survive and prosper on the market without making major investments in logistics, warehousing and packaging. Protection against electrostatic discharge (ESD) when handling goods, for example, is vital. Air-conditioned warehouse facilities with monitored air humidity, conductive packaging materials and earthed equipment are obligatory. Conformance to ISO standards and to other quality standards imposed by the automotive, shipping, aerospace, telecommunications, defence and medical technology sectors must be ensured and regularly checked.“By creating innovative logistics services we have continually enhanced our customer relations.”
EBV has been a groundbreaker in quality assurance and automation since the early 1980s becausedelivery quality has always been top priority for the semiconductor specialist. A cornerstone of EBV‘s success has been that it was the first distributor to centralise its warehousing, logistics and customer service functions. EBV was also the first trading company in the world to implement data code management for all components, and to require its suppliers to do likewise. Until then, specific coding had been required only for highly sensitive defence products. A proper FIFO (First in, First out) system now ensured that customers were not supplied with outdated chips. A positive side-effect of this for EBV was that ware house staff could check whether goods on which claims were made really did originate from EBV stocks. “We were able to send back 50 percent because it wasn‘t ours,” purchasing manager at the time Peter Gürtler recalls.
ESD protection and barcodes were to follow. EBV set up a barcode system, containing data including quantities, order and article numbers, at request of Hewlett- Packard and immediately applied it to all its product lines. EBV also became the first distributor to employ match codes, logging identical products from different manufacturers. The implementation of barcodes also marked the start of shipment consolidation by EBV. It was to become a considerable factor in saving freight costs (as much as five million Marks some years) as well as packaging material.
The consolidated shipment system also helped EBV with regard to its environmental certification. EBV became the first distributor to obtain certification to the environmental standard.
ISO 14000 as far back as the early 1990s, and was at the leading edge of advances in waste separation at its warehouse based on packaging material coding for example. EBV‘s warehouse staff were also using bio-packaging – bags made from banana fibres and straw packing – long before it became fashionable. And EBV was one of the first trading companies to implement the ISO 9000 quality standard. With all these initiatives EBV was pursuing one goal: to eliminate sources of defects all along the supply chain and improve its supply chain management. Part of that approach at the time also included notifying affected customers by mailing “Product Change Notifications” of manufacturers‘ product modifications. It was a massive customer service undertaking. “But it was by such solutions that we continually built our customer relations, enhancing our customer retention all the time,” says Gürtler, looking back with obvious pride. EBV‘s warehouse and purchasing managers were continually analysing and reassessing all processes and procedures, and keeping detailed statistics. It is on that foundation that today‘s EBV logistics service has been able to achieve a defect rate of just 400 ppm (parts per million) while delivering 1.5 million items a year.
Detailed discussions with customers back in the late 1980s also led to the establishment of an in-house component programming department. In 1995, EBV generated a substantial portion of its total sales with EPROMs for Motorola mobile phones. Other factors which strengthened EBV‘s reputation as a logistics specialist at the time were its just-in-time delivery service within 24 hours, express shipping and a secure storage facility.
In 1998 the EBV management split the logistics function from the technical sales function to create a new spin-off business. Today, following on from Atlas Services (Veba), Avnet Logistics is the internal service provider covering the programming, product finishing and logistics needs of EBV‘s customers.
The world of quantum physics, in which the barriers between particles and waves become fluid, is subject to different laws than our own familiar environment. Yet however strange the phenomena may be, quantum physics was the jumping-off point from the age of microelectronics into that of nanoelectronics. One of these curiosities in the world of the smallest things known to exist is the “Quantum Hall Effect”, discovered by physicist Klaus von Klitzing on transistors in 1980. The decisive measurement was taken by the specialist in solid state physics on the night of February 4/5. He discovered that the unit of electrical resistance, the Ohm, can be exactly determined by two natural constants – Planck‘s quantum theory and the charge of an electron – meaning that it is itself a physical natural constant. Subsequently, the so-called Klitzing Constant became the universal reference variable for the measurement of resistance. The German scientist was awarded the 1985 Nobel Prize for Physics for his discovery.
His protest song “Get up, Stand up” is the unofficial hymn of Amnesty International. On September 23, 1980 Bob Marley sang the song at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh, USA, for the last time at what was to be his last live performance. The politically activist Reggae superstar from Jamaica, who had topped the charts worldwide with songs such as “I Shot the Sheriff” and “No Woman no Cry”, was struck down by cancer. When doctors in the US gave Marley just a few weeks to live, he withdrew to a clinic on the shores of the Tegernsee lake in Bavaria. But there was little the specialists there could do either. Bob Marley died in May 1981, while flying home to Jamaica, at the age of just 36. For adherents of the Rastafarian movement and for many black people in the Third World, he remains an iconic figure even years after his death. He left behind 12 children – though unofficially at least twice as many – and a fortune of some 30 million US dollars.
In 1980 the world lost one of the leading intellectuals of the 20th century. On April 15, author and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre died in Paris at the age of 74. Admired by most, but also controversial and hated by some, Sartre concerned himself with the great questions of the century: totalitarianism and freedom; resistance and love. He published his critical ideas in numerous essays, novels and screenplays. He advocated the total freedom and total responsibility of free human beings in a world without God. As one of its instigators and leading proponents Sartre turned modern existentialism into a fashionable idea, and together with his long-term partner, author and feminist Simone de Beauvoir, he became a legend in his own lifetime. In 1964 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, “for his work which, rich in ideas and filled with the spirit of freedom and the quest for truth, has exerted a far-reaching influence on our age”. But the independent- minded philosopher declined the award, provoking one of the greatest scandals in Nobel Prize history.
His first year with EBV was a tough learning curve for Georg Kahle. The Bavarian sales office was rather shortstaffed. It was a difficult year for EBV too. The protracted economic downturn had for the first time in the company‘s history brought about a decline in sales and earnings. Boss Erich Fischer sent out the word that staff needed to be more diligent and committed. Kahle, the new sales administrator, was assigned to look after the small customer accounts. Twelve-hour days and more, were the norm for him back then. He became an expert in handling multiple telephones all at once, and quickly developed a feel for callers‘ moods. At the end of the business day, when the phones finally fell silent, he would then be enveloping price lists, copying data sheets, packing samples and – as “Literature Manager” (Kahle‘s first “job title”) – updating the data logs and data sheets. At EBV customer service is applied in the truest sense of the word.“EBV has never erred from its course. We never followed the mainstream; we always remained true to our own style.”
Later, out selling in the field, that attitude was put to the benefit of EBV‘s customers, in locating supposedly out-of-stock items thanks to his good contacts for example; or in fighting against penalising import duties, as in 1993. Despite his distaste for bureaucracy, Kahle submitted page after page of duty waiver applications for video RAMs to the German Ministry of Trade and Industry. The EU import tariff at the time was 14 percent. Eventually Kahle‘s submissions bore fruit: “EBV was granted a duty waiver in 1994,” he recalls, still visibly pleased at the memory. “A 14 percent price saving was of course a great selling argument with customers.” No wonder EBV‘s per capita sales at the time were well over a million Marks – unmatched by any other vendor on the semiconductor market. “We never followed the mainstream, we always had our own style,” says Kahle in explaining the secret of the company‘s success.
Ever the true salesman, Kahle would even deliver to his early customers in person by car, or he would discuss the design-in with the business owner at the coffee table while the customer‘s mother made sandwiches in the kitchen. The times may have changed from when a simple handshake was all it took to conclude a deal, but what has remained is the unique commitment with which EBV serves its customers, above and beyond the basic trading relationship.
One example was back in 2002, when Kahle and some of his colleagues developed a highly complex logistics concept for control units on behalf of a leading German carmaker. The plan incorporated planning and scheduling, warehousing, programming and shipping of the components, and ensured that only controllers specified by the manufacturer were built in to the onboard control units.
But let‘s go back to the 80s. “What can I do for our customers to make them buy from us rather than from someone else?” That was the question which company proprietor Erich Fischer regularly made his staff ask themselves in order to get the very best performance out of them. Salesmen such as Kahle answer that question in their day-to-day work. They seek the best solutions for their customers. For example, EBV was the first supplier to be linked by EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) to US concern National Cash Register (NCR) – the company which, having moved on from cash registers, was later to make the first PCs in Germany. “That was an unbelievable statement of trust,” Kahle says. NCR was now able to issue its orders – as many as a thousand a day – electronically. That not only saved working time, but also tons of paper. EBV‘s reward in the same year was the Supplier Award for “Outstanding EDI Performance”, reflecting the fact that its service was one not even offered by semiconductor manufacturers to their key account customers at the time.
Fischer appointed the independent-minded Kahle as a member of the management board, assigned to wide-ranging special tasks. One of Kahle‘s duties was to check out manufacturers to see if they were suitable for EBV and it was in that role, for example, that he arranged the franchise with memory chip manufacturer Micron, for whom he also did the product marketing “on the side”. He would take a different business card from his pocket depending on the particular mission he was on. In 1987, Fischer sent Kahle as “Director of International Operations” to the Far East to establish new supplier sources. Kahle also surveyed the markets in Turkey and Spain, and from the late 80s through to the early 90s he acquired the first major orders prior to EBV establishing its own local branch operations and taking over the accounts. But the only business card he really cares about today lies in a bank vault: It is made of gold, and bears the inscription “Georg Kahle, Salesman of the Salesmen”. It was a gift from Erich Fischer.
Kahle has served well over 100 customers in his 28 years with EBV. Haggling down to the last cent is not his style. “Live and let live” is his motto. And that is one of the reasons why Kahle responds to customers‘ questions about bonuses with a nonchalant: “You‘ve got it in front of you.”
It was the wedding of the century: On July 29, more than 750 million enchanted television viewers worldwide watched as a shy former nursery assistant and heir to the British throne Prince Charles gave their marriage vows at St. Paul’s Cathedral in the heart of the city of London. The world was thrilled by the fairy-tale in which the prince had finally found his princess. The young bride – now “Princess Di” – had firmly won her place in the hearts of the British people. Formally titled Princess of Wales, she was to become the most photographed woman in the world; the “Queen of Hearts”. The couple‘s sons, William and Harry, were born in 1982 and 1984 respectively. The family‘s happiness seemed complete. Yet soon the rumours of trouble in the marriage emerged, and subsequently both parties talked publicly of their problems. In 1996, 15 years after the dream wedding, came the divorce. Princess Diana was tragically killed in a car accident in Paris on August 31,1997, at the age of just 36.
Back in 1981 though, the youth of the world had another reason to celebrate. On August 1, the US music channel MTV launched its first broadcast. The launch was not particularly successful, as just 800,000 homes could actually receive the channel, and it had just 13 advertising partners and 168 music videos to show, including 30 from Rod Stewart alone. The very first video was, however, symbolic of the dawning of a new era: “Video Killed The Radio Star”. It was to be the only success for the Buggles, who remain to this day a “one-hit wonder”. In the early days, most of the videos were patched-together concert clips and random archive material. Over time, however, the popularity of the channel grew, and the music industry recognized its potential as an advertising medium. Music videos increasingly began to be shot exclusively for MTV. In 1984 the MTV Video Music Awards were launched, and were subsequently to grow into one of the most prestigious stages in the music industry. When MTV Europe was launched on May 1, 1987, the success story was in full swing. For many superstars, such as Bon Jovi, Prince, Michael Jackson and Madonna, making videos for MTV provided a springboard to their future global careers.
There was also a major launch for NASA in 1981. The take-off of the space shuttle Columbia marked the introduction of the first reusable space ship. The age of the ”throw-away product“ was past. Columbia was designed to carry out a total of 100 missions. Piggy-backed on a huge fuel tank and two solid-fuel rockets – the design concept of all space shuttles – Columbia lifted off on her maiden flight on April 12. The two rocket boosters were ejected at an altitude of around 40 kilometres, falling back to Earth by parachute. They were recovered from the Atlantic Ocean, overhauled and recharged. The fuel tank was ejected shortly before reaching orbit, and burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere. After two days, Columbia landed back on Earth under its own power, just like a plane. But on flight number 28, in 2003, disaster occurred: Returning to Earth with seven astronauts onboard, travelling at about 20,000 kilometres per hour, Columbia broke up at an altitude of 60 kilometres. All crew died.
When Japanese semiconductor manufacturers appeared on the market in the early 1980s, EBV found itself on the horns of a dilemma. Within a short space of time, chip-makers from the Far East had achieved double-digit market shares in Europe. The US manufacturers were extremely concerned. People such as AMD founder Jerry Sanders made speeches firing up opposition to the Japanese challengers. Yet giants such as Hitachi, Fujitsu and NEC succeeded in overtaking the Americans to become technology leaders in the memory business, and proceeded to flood the market with chips at dumping prices. In the case of dynamic 64 K RAM for example – at the time the largest sector in the IC business with sales totalling a billion dollars – two Japanese chips for every one US chip were being sold by 1982. Many US companies were forced to cease production. Even world market leader Intel was caught up in the ruinous price war, and in 1983 withdrew from DRAM production to concentrate on microprocessors.“640 KB should be enough for anyone.”
EBV could not, and would not, let the memory chip business slip from its grasp. It would have been negligent to do so – for the sake of its customers among other reasons. But Motorola, AMD and other US manufacturers would not allow “their” distributors to enter into franchise agreements with Fujitsu or Toshiba. In order to acquire orders on behalf of the Japanese electronics giants despite those restrictions, EBV proprietor Erich Fischer in 1982 established a subsidiary company, MHV-Micro- Halbleiter GmbH. EBV‘s US suppliers were prepared to tolerate the round-about solution. Fischer appointed then EBV senior executive and administration manager Manfred Weinreich to head MHV. He had previously been in charge of EBV‘s US and Asian import business from his base in Frankfurt. He knew the ins-and-outs of the business. Yet even for him it was difficult to acquire franchises from the Far East. It was only when Weinreich and Fischer made a trip to Japan that the breakthrough came. They returned with a distributorship agreement for Fujitsu. For a long time Fujitsu‘s was to remain the sole product line carried by MHV. It was not until some years later that Toshiba signed up. And in 1986 MHV also came to an agreement with Samsung Electronics from South Korea, though without a franchise. As globalisation spread, the US and Far Eastern manufacturers began to put aside their differences. In late 1987 the Asian product lines were incorporated into EBV and MHV ceased trading.
Launch of a completely new storage medium: On August 17, 1982 record company PolyGram pressed the first ever audio CD – Chopin waltzes played by pianist Claudio Arrau, in previously unheard sound quality; hiss-free and crystal-clear. A short time later PolyGram brought out the first Pop CD – the Abba album “The Visitors”. It marked the beginning of the age of digital music. Just five years later, more CD players were being sold than record players. Indeed, the Compact Disc grew into the universal content storage medium. The first CD-ROM (ROM = Read Only Memory), with a storage capacity equivalent to more than 450 floppy discs, was launched onto the market in 1992. From that time on it was easy to save entire reference works on a computer and access them as often as desired. In 1996 came the DVD.
The first ever artificial heart – known as “Jarvik 7” – was implanted into American Barney Clark by surgeon William de Vries in a seven-hour operation at the University of Utah Medical Center on December 2, 1982. The 61-year-old patient survived for 112 days after the surgery. While Clark‘s artificial heart was powered by an external compressor, it was almost ten years before the first artificial heart with no external tubes and wiring was implanted. And it took 25 years for experts to establish that artificial hearts really are a viable long-term solution.
It was not until 1982 that Canada – the second largest country on earth by land-mass – attained full independence from Great Britain. The Canada Act of March 1982 cut all remaining constitutional ties between Canada and the United Kingdom, though Queen Elizabeth II still today remains the country‘s Head of State. The Act was the first passed by the British parliament since the Middle Ages to be drawn up in both English and French. Shortly afterwards, the Queen signed the new Canadian constitution in Ottawa.
In the same year, 15-year-old Richard Skrenta installed a small programme onto computer game floppy discs illegally copied for his classmates in order to give them a scare. “Elk Cloner” propagated itself undetected from disc to disc, though it was otherwise harmless. It was just that every 50th time it was run the computer screen would go dark and a satirical poem would appear. The first computer virus was born. Today malware such as viruses and worms inflicts more damage than any other threat to computer systems. Their intrusive potential ranges from inserting annoying on-screen animations to destroying all programmes and data on the system. The ”I love you“ virus in the year 2000, for example, caused global damage estimated at ten billion US dollars.
Generosity is at the core of EBV‘s management ethos. Generosity in every respect. The corporate culture of respect and trust, sharing in success and empowerment has engendered a strong sense of community within EBV. It was often also small gestures by which company proprietor Erich Fischer would regularly recognise and reward the performance of his staff – whether in the form of a gold coin for the first million-Mark order, tickets for the Wagner Festival in Bayreuth, or a “Perfect Relationship” certificate for spouses. Fischer liked to hand out some nice surprises at the annual Christmas party. In the early years of EBV‘s existence, he would invite the staff to his home. On leaving, Fischer would present every guest with a parcel of sausages, fresh from his mother‘s piggery. It was just one more sign of the boss‘s concern for the welfare of his employees.“The sky is the very limit of success for us and for you. Azzurro also stands for EBV, azzurro is in our heart.”
Even back then, Fischer adhered to a simple management rule: Parties and celebrations create a sense of belonging and strengthen community spirit. As well as the Christmas parties, the company soon began organising extensive outings – or in fact, short communal holidays – which helped forge the team together. In 1983, a specially chartered train took over 70 employees to the lagoon city of Venice. The “EBV Express”, complete with locomotive and dance and party car and two sleeping cars, set off for the weekend from the main station in Munich. Special tickets were handed out for the journey too, of course. The group partied all the way to Venice, where they were transported by gondola to some of the best hotels in town. After a densely packed sightseeing and culinary programme, they boarded the night train home on Sunday evening – straight into work. Because despite all the merry-making and relaxed atmosphere, Fischer never lost sight of the needs of customers, and on that Monday morning the Customer Service and Sales teams were at their disposal just as usual.
Over the coming years, every EBV company outing proved a real hit. In 1987 the destination was Vienna, including a ride in a traditional horse-drawn carriage and a classical concert in a palace courtyard. Fischer placed great value on authenticity. In 1993, the Mozart fan fulfilled a long-standing ambition and invited the entire EBV Europe team to Salzburg where, in the evening, they were entertained by traditional whip-crackers and a live rock band with a local touch. In 1995, the entire staff rode a typical Munich tram, followed by a visit to the traditional Augustiner brewery house in the city centre. Three years later came the biggest undertaking so far – by then without the company founder in attendance.
The company outing to Sardinia in 1998 marked another opportunity for the EBV management to thank its workforce of, by then, 900 people. Colleagues travelled to the Mediterranean sun from Copenhagen and Cape Town, from Manchester and Moscow, to celebrate breaking the billion Mark sales barrier for the first time.“
We love you, you dear old mother, in our life you play a major role” sang the EBV team at the time to the tune of the classic Italian pop song “Azzurro”. The declaration of love for “mother” EBV showed that, on official occasions and in less formal surroundings, the often described EBV “family” was not a myth, but a reality grown out of decades of togetherness. “Azzurro, that’s the colour of the sky, azzurro means blue. The sky is the very limit of success for us and for you. Azzurro also stands for EBV, azzurro is in our heart.”
The four-day event at the same time marked the retirement of Peter Gürtler, who passed on the baton to his successor, Axel Hartstang. In his speech, the new manager promised to host the next massive party when the sales had been doubled again. That was a “mistake”, because Hartstang had to make good his promise as early as 2001. The reward then was a trip to Tenerife, where around a thousand EBV staff enjoyed beach volleyball, whale-watching and sailing in celebration of the next billion – this time in euros.
Colourful, trendy plastic watch saved the Swiss watch industry. When management consultant Nicolas G. Hayek launched the first Swatch onto the market in 1983, traditional brands such as Longines, Tissot and Omega had already lost much of their global market share to cheap but accurate quartz timepieces from the Far East. In its very first year the newly established Swatch Group – a joint venture between the two largest Swiss watchmakers of the time – sold a million of the fun new watches. The recipe for success was to market the low-cost Swatch as a fashion accessory. A strikingly original new design was launched every six months – sometimes with the face hidden beneath leaves, sometimes designed by a painter or musician. The idea was that buyers would wear a different model according to the season, their mood, and the occasion. Hayek‘s idea became a cult. To date, several hundred million Swatch watches have been sold in over 5,000 different designs.
In the same year, virologist Luc Montagnier and his co-worker Françoise Barré-Sinoussi at the Pasteur Institute in Paris isolated the mysterious AIDS virus from lymph node cells of affected patients. Scientists today believe that the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) probably first transferred from animals to humans in Central Africa around 1930. The oldest proven case of HIV infection originates from 1959. It was found in a human blood sample from the Congo. In 2008 Luc Montagnier and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi were awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine. Yet even a quarter of a century after the discovery of the HI virus there is still no inoculation against it, even though scientists are working intensively to develop one. More than 25 million people have died of AIDS to date. There are some 35 million people infected with HIV around the world, and 10,000 more people are becoming infected every day.
On June 13, 1983 the first production mobile phone, or cellphone, was launched onto the market – in the USA of course. The grandfather of today‘s mobiles, made by Motorola, weighed almost 800 grams and its dimensions of 33 x 4.5 x 8.9 centimetres made it a rather bulky item to carry around. The DynaTAC 8000X – nicknamed “the brick” – was able to store 30 numbers and had a single, non- programmable, ring tone. Its battery provided a one-hour talk-time. According to the Motorola, the phone was based on technologies developed for the military and for space. The corporation had invested 15 years‘ research and 100 million US dollars in developing its civilian application. Despite the selling price of just under 4,000 US dollars, interest in the new concept of on-the-move communication was huge. Today there are some 3.3 billion mobile phones in use worldwide. Around 80 percent of the world‘s population is within range of a mobile network – even on top of Mount Kilimanjaro if need be.
The EBV Customer Service department is like the tower of Babel, the air thick with voices speaking French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Hungarian, English and German, as the vast majority of customers are dealt with in their own languages. “Even the Bavarians,” jokes Christiane Ilg, head of the 36-strong team. As an interface between Purchasing, Financial Controlling and Accounting, the department performs a core function within the company. The general concept of “order processing” covers a wide range of different tasks: order confirmations; purchase order placement; delivery date monitoring; dealing with claims; invoicing; and much more. “We solve all the problems standing in the way of correct, punctual delivery,” Ilg says modestly.
The customer comes first. It is a principle which EBV‘s staff have long taken to heart, not merely as a slogan, but as a guiding light in everything they do. So it is no wonder that the company was for many years the only distributor to operate a department dedicated to order pro- cessing. Starting in 1984, there then followed a systematic expansion of the Customer Service function. It was a fantastic year for EBV, with a staff of 74, including 17 sales engineers in six field offices, delivering a leap in sales from 86 to 155 million Marks. Inventory value totalled 15 million Marks.
As sales grew, the Customer Service function became more and more important. Yet it was certainly not a question of “the good old days”. “Back then everything took ages to do,” recalls Maria Koller, who was recruited in 1983 and today heads Customer Service Germany. It was a time when communications still relied on telex and perforated strips; when invoices had to be written on a typewriter; and when mountains of paper were produced. Long rows of files stretching metre after metre held incoming goods lists, orders, order processing index cards and important telephone memos. Everything was manually recorded. And what about typing errors? “No more than 20 a year,” Koller asserts. “I can even remember every one of them.” She has always felt a sense of responsibility down to every detail.
Later the field offices began sending in their orders to headquarters by post or fax, with articles, prices and order numbers entered by hand in lists. When something was a rush job, a bright orange “Urgent” sticker would be stuck on it. When short-staffed, Christiane Ilg would often, with the order under her arm, run down to the basement, where the stores were located at the time, to find the semiconductors herself. She already knew all the component designations by heart anyway. Her primary concern was always that EBV should keep to its delivery date. That has always been what she believes customer service is all about.
EBV‘s switch to a dedicated sales system in 1995 made the work much easier. The sales office logs every new order on the computer system and transmits it to Customer Service, where the required delivery date and programming (strapping, laser marking, dry packaging) are checked and additional features recorded. Standard products are put through as a matter of routine; delivery of in-stock items is confirmed by fax or mail and the order passed on to Purchasing/Planning and Scheduling. The system operates like clockwork, with one cog engaging into another. This means that a customer in France, for example, placing an order with his local sales office by three o‘clock in the afternoon will usually receive his goods – provided they are in stock – by courier the next morning. Another major benefit is that EBV‘s logistics and product finishing departments are located in one place. That is also one of the reasons why the defect rate is so low: 400 ppm, meaning that just 400 in a million components are incorrectly delivered or are faulty.
The time spent processing the order counts towards the delivery lead time. Consequently, efficiency is a key requirement in Customer Service, where the staff of 36 handles enormous volumes of work. The staff is divided into six groups, such as Nordic Countries or Southern Europe, with each member of staff being assigned a country. With inventories totalling 260 million euros in value, hundreds of thousands of single orders have to be processed every year. “As soon as an order has been placed, the customers are calling in,” Ilg reports. Issues arising include changes or additions to individual components, delivery dates being brought forward, overcoming production bottlenecks, and dealing with payment difficulties. More than five million items are currently being processed by the Customer Service department, with many orders also having to be revisited several times.
The 1984 Superbowl. The Washington Redskins against the Los Angeles Raiders. During an ad break, a spectacular spot recreates the dark visions of George Orwell‘s novel “1984”. A young, athletic woman, pursued by security agents, sprints past lines of apathetic, bald-headed, grey people. In the midst of Big Brother‘s brain-washing ritual, she smashes a hammer into the massive screen. The voice-over says: “On January 24, Apple Computer will launch the Macintosh. Then you‘ll see why 1984 won‘t be like ‘1984’.” The Mac itself does not even appear in the spot – but the message is clear: Apple is looking to free humanity from the uniformity of the IBM PC. The media response was enormous, and the Mac became a legend. It was the first competitively priced desktop computer with an intuitive graphical user interface and a mouse. The system incorporated revolutionary features for the time such as the recycle bin, the desktop, drag & drop and icon-based file system navigation. But despite the technology edge it had created, Apple did not succeed in pushing market leader IBM off the top spot. One big reason was that there was a lack of office application software for the Mac, as already existed for the IBM PC.
In the same year, Professor Alec Jeffreys, a molecular biologist at the University of Leicester in England, discovered how a person could be identified based on DNA characteristics. The “genetic fingerprint” marked the birth of a new era in criminal investigation especially. From then on, standardised test methods would enable DNA to be recovered from blood, semen, saliva, skin, hair or sweat and investigated for unique characteristics. This has, for example, provided law enforcement agencies and prosecutors with virtual certainty (with a margin of error of 7 billion to 1 against) that a match between a sample taken from a mouth swab and blood stains found at a crime scene means they come from the same person.
Months of social unrest and severe political turmoil troubled India in 1984. Hundreds of fundamentalist Sikhs from a separatist movement seeking far-reaching autonomy for the state of Punjab and greater religious freedom took refuge in the Golden Temple of Amritsar, the holiest of all Sikh places. In June, Indian troops stormed the occupied temple on the orders of President Indira Gandhi. A bloodbath ensued. “Operation Blue” cost the lives of more than 2,000 Sikhs as well as hundreds of soldiers and civilians. Subsequently, on October 31, Indira Gandhi was shot by some of her own Sikh bodyguards – shortly before a planned BBC interview with Peter Ustinov for his documentary series “Ustinov’s People”. In the days following the assassination of Indira Gandhi, thousands of Sikhs were murdered.
Globalisation was gradually spreading. For EBV too – previously an entirely German business – a new era was beginning. Erich Fischer gave the green light for international expansion in order to safeguard the future of the company. “Fischer always took a broad view,” says Lex van Weezendonk. The Dutch entrepreneur and former Starfighter pilot was the Man of the Hour back in 1985. He had just sold his company – electronics distributor Distron based in West Berlin – to EBV and was keen to direct his energies into a new project. Fischer knew he had found someone who really got things done, and so it proved, to be as van Weezendonk set about surveying market opportunities in the Benelux countries, initially at his own risk. “I had access to the EBV stores and received a ten percent discount. But it was my business,” he recalls. Just over a year later, in January 1986, he opened the first EBV office outside of Germany, close to Brussels Airport. The first franchise partner was Motorola, and indeed EBV was the first distributor ever to be awarded a contract outside of its home country. Shortly afterwards, a sales office was established in the Netherlands and van Weezendonk was given – as he describes it – “a nice job title”: Director of International Sales and Marketing. Fischer‘s expansion strategy based on engaging local entrepreneurs and professionals to build up locations in new markets began to bear fruit.“Without the day-to-day support from headquarters I could never have mastered such a mammoth task.”
Fischer gave van Weezendonk a free hand in the mammoth task he faced, while providing strong support from the head office. As well as the Benelux states, he also established sales offices in France, Denmark, Great Britain, Ireland, Finland, Sweden and Norway over the following years. “Fischer‘s trust in me did me a great honour,” the Dutchman asserts. That was especially remarkable as he was starting from scratch, with no established structures to call upon. He sought out office premises and staff, bought furniture and PCs, and started learning about national tax and social welfare legislation. His life was often made more difficult by bureaucratic hurdles. One problem was that the manufacturers forced him to operate a local warehouse facility. Motorola Belgium, for example, wanted only to supply local distributors, and wanted its customers only to buy from local distributors. ”That nearly drove me mad,“ van Weezendonk says, recalling that his only warehouse operative was a Vietnamese asylum-seeker who could not speak – still less, read – either English, French or Dutch. So the office manager spent many a night shift helping out himself. Only after drawn-out discussions with customs and tax offices was the way cleared for van Weezendonk to import his goods from the central warehouse in Munich.
And then there were the often tough negotiations about product lines. At the time, franchise agreements were still negotiated separately from country to country. It was sometimes virtually impossible to acquire a concession for France, for example, because many manufacturers wanted to protect their national distributor networks against foreign competition. “And they of course knew EBV as a strong, well organised distributor which always got a high market share,” van Weezendonk explains. But, as ever, EBV was able to score highly through its logistics expertise: What it offered – brand-new goods, in the correct quantities, well packed, delivered overnight – was certainly not something taken for granted at the time. Since there was no FedEx or UPS back then, van Weezendonk was forced to build up a tight-knit network of air freight and courier services.
The pressure was high. Fischer‘s pan-European plan had budgeted for the national companies to make losses in the first year and then break even in the second. The third year was then meant to make up the losses of the first year. “We even always managed to do it sooner than in three years,” van Weezendonk recalls. He himself retired in 1997. Today Benelux is one of EBV‘s most successful regions within EMEA, with a market share of well over 30 percent.
The election of Mikhail Gorbachev, at the age of just 54, as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union marked a new era in world history. The new man in the Kremlin initiated radical reform of the economy and a major shift in foreign policy. His remedies for the ailing superpower were “Glasnost” (meaning openness, entailing more rights of co-determination for the people and a relaxation of censorship) and “Perestroika” (meaning restructuring – of the economy and society). He set out to supplant the planned economy and the outdated Communist system with a market economy and elements of democracy. His programme of reforms set off a landslide which ultimately led to the reunification of Germany, the implosion of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc. Gorbachev was awarded the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his contribution to ending the Cold War.
Also back in 1985, climate researchers at the British Antarctic Survey‘s Halley Bay station sounded an alarm. They had been observing the stratosphere – a band around the Earth between 10 and 50 kilometres up – for almost thirty years. It was more by chance than intention that the scientists noticed that the column of ozone measured each spring above the South Pole had decreased in size by more than 40 percent from 1977 to 1984. That was a serious finding because the ozone layer provides the Earth with a shield against aggressive UV radiation from space. The discovery of the hole in the ozone layer marked a turning point in the history of ecology. It soon became clear that the destruction of the ozone layer was down to human activity, in particular emissions of artificially produced chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) used as propellant gases for aerosol spray cans and refrigerants. A worldwide ban on CFCs was introduced in 1987. Yet still today, only a third of CFCs have been substituted by other substances. There are too many exemptions permitting their continued use through to the year 2040.
The “Titanic” had been lost for 78 years until American oceanographer Robert Ballard located the wreck off Newfoundland on September 1, 1985. The legendary liner, on its maiden voyage and widely considered to be unsinkable, had broken in two and was lying on the sea bed at a depth of almost four kilometres. On the night of April 15, 1912, an iceberg had ripped open the steel hull of the ocean giant. Just a few hours later, the Titanic had disappeared beneath the waves. Ballard did not bring a single piece of Titanic to the surface. He saw in the wreck what it truly was: a watery grave for the 1,500 people who lost their lives in the disaster. But two years after the discovery, in a highly controversial operation, French divers recovered jewellery, crockery and other items from inside the 66,000 ton ship. In the mid-1990s a US company acquired the salvage rights, recovering parts of the rump and thousands of commemorative pieces which were subsequently exhibited in museums or auctioned off. Since 1999 it has even been possible for tourists to visit the Titanic in diving bells.
We have always regarded ourselves as a team.” That is how Gerd Bubenheim, from 1986 Distribution Manager Central Europe for National Semiconductor (NSC), describes the close links between the two companies. EBV had a 50 percent network share at the time – in some years even higher. That was a result of Fischer‘s restrictive line card policy, based on cooperating only with the best manufacturers. In 1986 there were just eight franchise agreements in place. It was a cautious but highly effective approach.“The EBV applications engineers were at least as good as our developers.”
Because EBV employed genuine experts in semiconductor technology. Not all manufacturers welcomed that. But electronics engineers such as Gerd Bubenheim, who still today in retirement builds remote controls for his grandson or motion detectors for the garden, really appreciated it. “The high-point for me was to go along with EBV to the customer. Their applications engineers were at least as good as our developers.” Together with ”his“ EBV salesman Gerhard Weisl – all regional sales managers had manufacturerspecific product marketing responsibility beyond their own regions – he even organised a series of technical presentations at Rohde & Schwarz. The subject was the transition from push-through to surface mounting. It was very much a novelty at the time that a manufacturer and distributor together were providing their customer with technical know-how. Things like that created a bond. “We did our really big deals with EBV too,” Bubenheim recalls. That involved advising heavyweights such as Siemens- Nixdorf or Biotronik, the world market leader in heart pacemakers.
No wonder EBV‘s sales with National grew rapidly. The magical 100 million Mark milestone was passed in 1994, following a 30 percent sales leap. National remains today the third largest of all EBV‘s franchise partners. That is a mark of the quality and durability of their relationship.
EBV has been a distributor for the American semiconductor manufacturer since 1970. Back then, National was a leader in analogue circuits. EBV soon became number one in the National network. That has not changed to this day. “EBV always had fantastic customer relations,” comments Bubenheim. And he should know, as someone who came to have such an encyclopaedic knowledge of the German market. Many National customers have, over a period of years, insisted on having EBV as their distributor.
There is no finer compliment, as the NSC manager acknowledges: “When customers have such confidence in a distributor, I as a manufacturer just have to build up a relationship with that distributor.” Later, as head of IDS, a distributor subsidiary of Texas Instruments (TI), Bubenheim experienced the same phenomenon. “We had customers who only wanted to buy TI parts if the business was done through EBV.” He even had his own password to gain access to the EBV warehouse in Haar, enabling him to check prices and stocks. It was a business relationship founded on trust.
“Working with EBV was one of the highlights of my career,” the 68-year-old says looking back. Terms such as fair play, reliability, regular payment and openness are what he associates with EBV. “Peter Gürtler had a sixth sense for the market,” Bubenheim enthuses. ”We had no need for statistics and market research.“ In 1992 EBV was the first NSC distributor in Europe to be awarded the “Lifelong Franchise Agreement”, including features such as even faster technology transfer.
For NASA the year began with a catastrophe. The mission of the US space shuttle Challenger which blasted off on January 28 was scheduled to last six days – but, tragically, after 74 seconds it was all over. At a height of 16,000 metres, the shuttle exploded in a fireball. All seven astronauts onboard died – as it turned out due to a porous sealing ring on the solid-fuel rockets. The tragedy set the US space programme back years, and generated a great sense of national shock. It was particularly poignant as what was intended to be the Challenger‘s tenth mission was for the first time carrying a civilian: teacher Christa McAuliffe.
Just three weeks later, the Soviet Union began a new era in space travel, with the launch of the first permanently manned human outpost outside of the Earth‘s orbit. On February 19, 1986, a rocket was launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in the Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan transporting the base block for the space station Mir. The first crew entered the new station on March 15, 1986. At the start of the mission, no one could have believed that one day US astronauts would also work onboard Mir, let alone that an American space shuttle would dock onto it. Mir was to remain in orbit for a total of 15 years.Just three weeks later, the Soviet Union began a new era in space travel, with the launch of the first permanently manned human outpost outside of the Earth‘s orbit. On February 19, 1986, a rocket was launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in the Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan transporting the base block for the space station Mir. The first crew entered the new station on March 15, 1986. At the start of the mission, no one could have believed that one day US astronauts would also work onboard Mir, let alone that an American space shuttle would dock onto it. Mir was to remain in orbit for a total of 15 years.
After the USSR‘s great success in space came, shortly afterwards, its great nuclear disaster. Human error and design faults came together to produce a major incident at a nuclear power plant at Chernobyl in the Ukraine. On April 26, the plant‘s reactor exploded, igniting a fire which was to burn for ten days. Huge quantities of radiation escaped, spreading like a sinister blanket across large parts of Europe. There are no reliable figures as to the number of people killed as a direct result of the accident. Cancer cases and childhood mortality rates in the heavily contaminated areas of Byelorussia (now Belarus) and the Ukraine rose dramatically. And people are still dying from the consequences of the Chernobyl accident more than 20 years later.
On April 14, 1986, the so-called “mother of the modern feminist movement” Simone de Beauvoir passed away at the age of 78. She had rejected the oppressive conformity of her social environment from a young age. Against the wishes of her parents, she became just the ninth woman ever to study at the famous Sorbonne college in Paris, where she took up a course in philosophy. Only one other student graduated with a higher mark: Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre and de Beauvoir entered into an open and intellectually vigourous relationship. Despite never moving in together, they remained a couple until Sartre‘s death in 1980. Simone de Beauvoir‘s book, “The Second Sex”, published in 1949, was a worldwide success, and became the standard feminist work. In it, her main thesis was that the oppression of women was down to social conditions.
It is something of a cliche, but true. Anyone looking to do business in the Russia of the 1990s had to be able to hold their drink. “I pulled in my first Lada contract – totalling over two million dollars at the time – in the course of a long night‘s sauna including plenty of vodka,” confesses Slobodan Puljarevic, back then EBV‘s “Eastern Representative”. At the time the Russian market was still unknown territory for distributors. But since Puljarevic established the first branch office back in 1997, the region has brought rapid growth for EBV and is today one of the most profitable locations in EMEA – with offices in Moscow, St. Petersburg and soon also Yekaterinenburg. In the Russia of the 21st century, business practices have changed of course. Like others throughout the former Eastern Bloc, for example, the new generation speaks fluent English. In fact, the foundations for expansion into Eastern Europe had been laid under Erich Fischer and Peter Gürtler ten years earlier. In 1987 EBV took over the Vienna sales office of Motorola – making it the third office outside Germany – and acquired the franchise for Austria, regarded as the gateway to the East. Gürtler‘s smart move was to recruit former Motorola man Slobodan Puljarevic, providing EBV with an experienced Eastern Europe expert with lots of local contacts behind the Iron Curtain, which was of course still in place at the time. As a further bonus, the Yugoslavian Puljarevic spoke Slovenian, Serbo-Croat and Russian, in addition to German and English. Those language skills were the key to opening up subsequent markets. Over the following years Puljarevic became the driving force behind the development of EBV in Eastern Europe.“The great achievement was to get all those different people and mentalities under one umbrella in harmony within one organisation.”
His first objective was to build up an EBV sales force in Austria and Yugoslavia. But after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 events took on their own momentum, leading to the break-up not only of multi-ethnic Yugoslavia but also of the entire Eastern Bloc and the giant Soviet empire. It was a tough new challenge for Puljarevic. He took the opportunity offered by the upheaval to sound out the market in a large number of countries simultaneously, recruiting loyal sales managers and kick- starting the semiconductor distribution business. He was driven by a pioneering spirit. The first Eastern European office was opened in Ljubljana in 1996. In parallel, Puljarevic established offices in Turkey, Greece and Israel, and stepped up the pace of growth even further: branches in Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Moscow opened in 1997, followed afterwards by offices in Dubai, Estonia and the Ukraine. It was a remarkable achievement: Puljarevic had established EBV in all relevant countries in Eastern Europe within a few years. Today the semiconductor specialist operates 15 offices, with a staff of 75 people, serving a gigantic market from the Arctic Circle to the Arabian peninsula, contributing between 15 and 20 percent of EBV‘s total sales. “Eastern Europe is a steadily growing region,” asserts Puljarevic, who has headed EBV as President & CEO since October 2006.
There is no doubt that the Eastern Europe region is a byword for diversity: 25 different languages, all the world‘s religions, with more than 40 degrees of latitude between its northernmost and southernmost extent. “The great achievement was to get all those different people and mentalities under one umbrella in harmony within one organisation,” Puljarevic states. A major barrier at the time was language, as EBV also pursued a policy of recruiting only local sales engineers in the former Communist countries as elsewhere. “The knowhow was there. But we had to fund English and German courses so that we could all communicate on a daily basis.” The investment paid off. The new local employees very quickly built up customer contacts. Indeed, all of those very first early employees are still part of the EBV Family almost 20 years later. And Eastern Europe is today one of the most stable and profitable EBV regions.
The hard-bitten manager had some tough challenges serving customers back in the early years. On flights to Novosibirsk or Irkutsk in Siberia, for example, the navigator would be still sitting up front in the nose of the Tupolev; accommodation was in a student hall of residence, with room temperatures down to minus five degrees, or on someone‘s living room sofa. And for customer events, it was a case of saddling the horses and heading out on the bear hunt.
Despite some warnings from the sceptics, EBV did not suffer in those early days in Eastern Europe. “We didn‘t come into contact with organised crime, and in fact we have to date never lost a cent in the East,” Puljarevic reports. Payment deadlines are always met. And claims of discrimination against women and anti-Muslim sentiment are unfounded. “That‘s all just prejudice. In our field sales team in Turkey, for example, one of the best sales engineers is a woman.”
Today, entire music libraries can be carried around in a jacket pocket. The foundations for that technology were laid by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute in Erlangen, southern Germany, who in 1987 succeeded in compressing digital audio files down to so-called MP3 format for the first time. The team headed by Professor Karlheinz Brandenburg employed psycho-acoustic effects, eliminating all the frequencies which the human ear is unable to perceive from the coding. This reduced the files to a twelfth of their original size. Later they would be compressed even further. The first MP3 music track was an a-capella song titled “Tom´s Diner”, a Suzanne Vega hit at the time, chosen because sound quality is identified quickest from the human voice. German companies failed to recognise the potential of the invention however. It was companies such as Apple who would be making billions out of the technology ten years or so later. The downloading of MP3 files over the Internet has revolutionized the entire music industry. And more and more tracks are becoming available for download. Mobile MP3 players with memory functionality allow users to enjoy their favourite sounds while on the move. In the course of further development, MP3 has also become widely used beyond the music industry, especially in software for computer games.
February 24, 1987 marked a milestone in astronomy. Scientists in the southern hemisphere observed a socalled supernova – the explosion of a dying star. As a star‘s life comes to an end, the strength of light it emits increases million fold. The supernova 1987A was located in a neighbouring galaxy to our own Milky Way, in the “Large Magellan Cloud”, 167,000 light years away. It was the first time since the year 1604 that such an event had been observable from Earth with the naked eye. And it was the first time that scientists had been able to undertake detailed measurements and analysis. They used the data obtained to review everything that had been learned to date about stars, their composition and creation.
In 1987, US online service provider Compuserve introduced the GIF graphics format, enabling images with low colour depth to be compressed with no loss of quality. The maximum data volume was just 8 bits per pixel, however, corresponding to 256 colours. That meant GIF was less suited to photo- realistic imaging than to colour drawings and graphics. The image files also took up comparably little storage space. The advantage was that even large pictures could be transmitted relatively fast, despite the slowness of modems at the time. That, and the open licensing policy of Compuserve, later made GIF the standard Web graphics format for a time.
Distributors cover around 95 percent of all the customers on the market. As a result, their responsibility for planning, organising and safeguarding the supply chains of entire industrial sectors of the future is growing steadily. EBV regards environmental protection, in particular, as an area in which it can maintain a clear competitive edge. One of the EBV Vienna office‘s top customers since 1988, the Austrian family business Fronius, is working very much in harmony with the semiconductor specialist.
Rational conservation of resources has been a key feature of Fronius‘s development since its earliest days, after the Second World War, when Günter Fronius began repairing electrical equipment and recharging flat batteries in his workshop. His son Klaus was already driven by a concern for future generations, especially with a view to the exhaustion of oil reserves, back in the early 1990s, long before every politician began appealing to the electorate for more awareness of climate protection. Since the company specialised in power electronics, the far-sighted entrepreneur appointed a development engineer dedicated solely to solar electronics – specifically the control of photo- voltaic energy plants. As a result, the first Fronius solar inverter was launched onto the market as early as 1995. The devices convert direct current, which solar modules generate from sunlight into “usable” alternating current, which is then fed into the public power grid. When demand for solar technology subsequently soared (among other reasons based on government subsidies in Germany), Fronius already had the finished product ready to go.“We sell premium products, so the technical support EBV provides is very important to us.”
Thanks to the far-sightedness of its management, Fronius solar electronics is today in great demand all over the world. In 2007 the technology concern – by now manufacturing welding robots for the automotive and shipbuilding industries as well as battery chargers – saw its sales leap by 30 percent to 300 million euros. With 12 sales subsidiaries around Europe and America and more than 130 international distributors, exports account for over 88 percent of total business. “Our growth is down primarily to solar technology,” reports Markus Hofinger, Purchasing Manager, Electrical and Electronics/Passive Electronics/Power Electronics. Over the coming years he forecasts market growth of between 20 and 40 percent.
But the company – the world’s number two in inverters – is not looking to make its mark with standard products. With 469 active patents and R&D expenditure accounting for 6.8 percent of revenue, Fronius is a company founded on innovation. Some 200 of the company‘s total workforce of 2,500 are involved in research for future development. ”We sell premium products,“ states Hofinger, “so the technical support EBV provides is very important to us.” With regard to inverters, for example, the current focus is on continuous improvement of efficiency, which is already up to 96 percent. “But every tenth of a percentage point more is money in the pocket of the solar plant operator,” Hofinger explains.
EBV‘s applications engineers speak the same technical language as the Fronius developers. They light the way through the jungle of new technologies, components, alternatives and variants. Environmental issues are a top priority. Regular training courses enable the applications specialists to always find the best ecologically sustainable solution for customers‘ projects. In selecting components, EBV‘s “Best Accessible Technology” certification, demonstrating the highly energy- efficient components in its portfolio, proves a major aid.
Fronius, too, is not only selling green technology, but is also turning itself into a green company. “Even a few years ago, our boss was saying that he could not guarantee that the company would still be making money in 10 years‘ time if we failed to act in an ecologically sound way,” recounts Monika Rathmayr, Purchasing Manager, Printable Electronics. One of the fruits of that early environmental commitment is that the Fronius manufacturing facility in Sattledt today draws its power from the largest photovoltaic energy plant in Austria. “We sometimes produce more electricity than we consume,” Rathmayr reports proudly. Moreover, deeplevel drilling at the development centre in Thalheim is making use of geothermal energy. Fronius is also looking to convert its in-house materials transportation in Sattledt from battery to fuel cell power. The system comprises five logistics trains, supplying material to more than 600 workstations in a two-hour cycle. Under the project name HyLOG (Hydrogen Powered Logistics), the company has already converted one fleet vehicle and has been running practical trials for a number of months now. The vehicle is fuelled with hydrogen which is generated on-site by solar power, entirely emissions-free. HyLOG is seen as a model for a futureproof industrial-scale transport solution. It has already brought Fronius the Austrian solar prize, Energy Globe Austria, the Austrian Climate Protection Award and the Energy Globe World Award.
The company management normally views any intervention into the logistics management system safeguarding the smooth running of production with caution. “Our product diversity had to date been a barrier to implementing truly state-of-the-art logistics solutions,” reports Rathmayr, who has been with Fronius for 22 years now. But EBV‘s typical reliability and delivery quality, with regard to punctuality, handling and packaging, persuaded Fronius. At present work is underway to establish a link to the EBV Logistics department via Clevercure. The advantage for Fronius was that it could improve security of supply, cut its defect rate towards zero, reduce its stockholding and save on process costs and resources.
The horrific prospect of human life being patented was an issue of widespread public debate. What for some was a breakthrough in cancer research was for others the infringement of a taboo. In 1988, Harvard University in the USA was awarded the world‘s first patent relating to a mammal – a genetically manipulated mouse. Opponents claimed this was akin to declaring animals to be a human invention. The background to the story was the success of US scientists in injecting a human cancer gene into the mouse‘s genetic make-up, rendering it susceptible to cancer. Hopes of discovering new ways to treat cancer and of providing a better understanding of how tumours occur were not fulfilled however. Nevertheless, the nameless “Harvard cancer mouse” was to go down in history alongside “Dolly” the cloned sheep as one of the most famous animals ever experimented upon by medical researchers. No patent has ever been so controversial, and none has ever had so many objections raised against it for non-commercial reasons worldwide over the intervening years.
Likewise in 1988, a tennis starlet was rewriting the record books. At the age of just 19, Steffi Graf won all four Grand Slam tournaments as well as a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Seoul, becoming the first – and to date only – sportswoman to claim the Golden Slam. The German girl was just three years old when she first held a tennis racket. She began her professional career at 13, and at 16 she was ranked sixth in the world, despite being yet to win a single tournament. That was to change rapidly. Victory after victory came her way. Up to her retirement on August 13, 1999, Steffi Graf won 22 Grand Slam tournaments and topped the world ranking for a total of 377 weeks. In October 2001 she married US tennis star Andre Agassi, and has lived since then in Las Vegas.
The honour of being the first female head of a Muslim country fell to Benazir Bhutto. An Oxford graduate from a political and land-owning dynasty, and with a first name meaning “inimitable”, she emerged victorious in the Pakistani parliamentary elections of 1988 and was appointed prime minister. She was loved and admired, but also a controversial figure. And of course politics was in her blood. She was the daughter of Pakistan‘s first democratically elected head of government, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was toppled from power by a military coup in 1977 and later hanged. Benazir Bhutto‘s government collapsed in the wake of corruption allegations in 1990 and, despite being re- elected in 1993, the corruption allegations returned to haunt her three years later and she was deposed. She spent eight years in exile in Dubai, before returning in 2007 as the hugely popular challenger to the incumbent president. On December 27, 2007, two weeks before the scheduled election, Benazir Bhutto was shot dead by an assassin.
In 1989 EBV had held its ground for 20 years in the market. No over-intrusive European laws were yet exerting their overly bureaucratic influence. Growth opportunities were still bigger than resources. Market knowledge was scarce and market research to drive new strategies was primarily being deployed by the manufacturers.
Distribution was starting to organise itself as an industry. One highlight in the late 1980s – in 1989 to be exact – in terms of industry bodies specifically for distribution was the founding of DMASS (Distributors’ and Manufacturers’ Association of Semiconductor Specialists). A few founding members from semiconductor manufacturing (joined by distributors in 1992) had the idea to create a better understanding of the European distribution market, by country and by technology. In very simple terms, they believed a reading of market share could give a better understanding of where to invest.“Some issues can’t be solved by one company alone. That’s what industry associations are made for.”
DMASS was a pure market data collection organisation and never went into industry politics; and it was always driven by the common commitment of the members to create a better market understanding. In 20 years it developed a reputation as the most reliable source for semiconductor distribution data in Europe, if not beyond. DMASS figures and share data were used for strategy development. Avnet and EBV were quite prominently involved, and helped to develop the DMASS database. And DMASS helped Avnet and EBV to become what we are – the number one industrial semiconductor distributor in Europe.
While it remains easy to contribute data to an anonymous source like DMASS, it is much more difficult to sort out the different company interests in the distribution industry associations – from AFDEC in the UK, SPDEI in France and ASSODEL in Italy to the only five-year-old FBDi in Germany. When the association work goes beyond data collection, matters of conflict of interest, anti-trust considerations and other issues are always present as undercurrents.
For example the environmental aspects of our business – where to draw the line between offensive company marketing and defensive collaboration for the greater good of everyone? RoHS and WEEE and the way distribution is able to deal with them prove that distribution associations work when it matters. With REACh and the new compliance and traceability requirements coming along, thanks to the FBDi and AFDEC, distribution is much better prepared than the rest of the supply chain.
In fact, distributors will be in a position to actively accompany the development of information standards that stay manageable along the entire supply chain. EBV and its parent company Avnet have always been very open towards collaboration through industry associations and shared the burden of getting the necessary things done. And they also acknowledge that the “big boys” sometimes need to push a bit harder, providing more resources for work groups, standardisation efforts, public relations and administrative work to keep the association boats afloat. At the end of the day, only if distribution can provide customers and suppliers alike with manageable solutions for otherwise unmanageable problems will it be able to do the job required.
Looking ahead, the need for legitimate collaboration, even among the fiercest competitors, will not go away. The EU and national governments will make sure that distribution remains on its toes. And with regard to better understanding of markets, who but EBV uses DMASS data better to improve its presence across all regions and technologies?
“We are the people“ (slogan of the East German protest movement) and “Dangers await only those who do not react to life” (Mikhail Gorbachev to East German leader Erich Honecker) are the most memorable quotes from what was the most important autumn in German history, which reached its culmination in the fall of the Berlin Wall. On the evening of November 9, the border crossing-points between East and West Berlin were opened for the first time in 28 years. The mass exodus of East Germans via Hungary, the occupation of the Prague embassy and the Monday demonstrations in Leipzig had brought the GDR regime to its knees. It was the beginning of the reunification of the two German states. In 1990, the Wall – the very symbol of the Cold War and the East-West divide – was officially torn down. More than 120 people were shot while attempting to cross the 167.8 kilometre long, heavily armed and fortified border installations to the West.
A revolution of a very different kind was set in motion by Tim Berners-Lee, a computer scientist at CERN, the European nuclear research centre in Geneva. He was originally seeking to bring order to the chaos of different computers, operating systems and databases by which physicists worldwide were then communicating. From 1989 onwards, working to assist scientists in exchanging data and research results, he devised the Uniform Resource Identifier (URL) together with the HTML (hypertext markup language) file format, and programmed the first browser. This established the foundations for the Internet as we know it today. Thanks to his idea, the “World Wide Web” became a democratic mass medium, interconnecting data sources and enabling information to be freely accessed at any time. He did not patent his concept, so it spread and developed rapidly. Berners-Lee has been awarded several honorary doctorates and in 2003 was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.
Another simple idea which was to grow into a global institution was the Love Parade – the world‘s largest dance event, which has attracted some twelve million visitors since it began. In the summer of 1989, DJ Matthias Roeingh – alias Dr. Motte – celebrated his birthday out on the street. Under the motto “Friede, Freude, Eierkuchen” (“Peace, joy and pancakes” – a traditional German figure of speech designating frivolous, devilmay- care fun), he and 150 guests cruised Berlin‘s famous Kurfürstendamm on the back of a truck. Despite being initially dismissed as a joke, the event grew in popularity, and was held each year in Berlin up to 2004, when it was cancelled due to financial difficulties. The original 150 people had 15 years later become more than a million techno-music fans, dancing through the streets of Berlin to the throbbing bass beat.
Actually all the practical trainee at the distribution warehouse was meant to do was clear up the mountain of goods with old date codes. But what the 22- yearold in fact did, for three weeks, was sort, count, log and pack residual stocks of components, precisely by component designation, logo, pack size and data code! 2,000 items in total – with a purchase price of over a million Marks! And then he got on the phone, haranguing one electronics distributor after another. By the end of it, he had sold the goods off for something over 500,000 Marks, including to destinations as far afield as the USA. That was in 1987. Three years later Harald Meier – by then permanently employed as sales manager – went on to build up the EBV Reseller business.“The flat hierarchies at EBV enable ideas to be put into practice rapidly.”
Up to 1990, the trade through catalogue distributors and smaller electronics dealers was just a sideline. Advising and selling to endcustomers was the priority. Company boss Erich Fischer preferred to invest in technical know-how rather than in dedicated customer service for resellers. But Harald Meier, at the time busy gaining his spurs at the Vienna office, was persistent. He could sense that there was good business to be done, and in managing director Peter Gürtler he found a willing listener. In fact, Gürtler had long been playing with the idea of establishing a dedicated sales team for the reseller market, so Meier was of course on firm ground with his proposal. He promised owner Erich Fischer that he would deliver eight to ten percent of total EBV sales, and so Fischer let him get on with it. The EBV management has always appreciated people who show initiative. In the very first year, Meier booked 17 million Marks of reseller sales in Germany and Austria. The first official budget planned for sales of 22 million Marks over the financial year 1991. By the end of the year he had achieved 27 million, with the aid of two additional staff. By way of comparison, EBV‘s total sales for the year were 260 million Marks. Meier had kept his promise.
Meier drove the business forward with fresh, customer- oriented ideas over the next few years. Why not supply to resellers in neutral packaging? The advantage: resellers no longer had to repack the goods before shipping them on. He also moved at an early stage into the market for PC memory upgrades, supplying all the peripherals along with them. From the idea to the trading reality took just four months. “The flat hierarchies at EBV made it possible,” Meier reports. His working principle was to visit customers as often as possible so as to build up the necessary trust and confidence. That proved the ideal way of keeping tabs on customers‘ needs and wishes. Erich Fischer‘s old motto, “action, not reaction“, was ultimately translated into the famous EBV service concept.
The reseller business established itself step by step as a serious driver of sales. Up to 1995, the business was run entirely from Germany. Since that time, as new branch offices have been opened on interesting international markets, reseller offices have also been opened. Meier only looked to sell in countries where there is genuine sales potential. His team became so successful that, from 2005 onwards, it began coordinating the entire reseller business in the EMEA region for new parent company Avnet. “That enables us to offer active and passive devices as well as electromechanical components all from a single source,“ says Meier. Meier currently heads an expert team of 45 sales staff, serving around a thousand small and medium-sized resellers. ”But a salesperson is only as good as the company in the background.“
There was magic in the air on that starry July night back in 1990 as Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and José Carreras, the three most famous tenors of the modern era, performed at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, triggering the greatest hype the world of classical music had ever seen. Accompanied by 240 musicians under the baton of star conductor Zubin Mehta, they made the dreams of all classical music fans come true by performing together for the very first time. Millions watched on their television screens. The Three Tenors concert was a celebration of the recent recovery from leukaemia of José Carreras. But its timing and location were also carefully chosen: on the evening before Italy, and the city of Rome, played host to football‘s World Cup Final. And as it turned out of course, the match on the following day brought Germany its third World Cup. Nevertheless, no one at the time could have foreseen the enormous impact the benefit concert would have. The “Three Tenors” brand was born.
In the meantime, over in the USA, the triumphant advance of the Internet was taking its first steps. The US National Science Foundation took the decision to open up its data and computer network beyond the academic world. The national Arpanet (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), developed by the US military to interconnect universities and research bodies, was switched off and replaced by the NSF-Net. This marked the launch of a large-scale “backbone” – a key Internet channel – for the “Interconnected Networks”. The advantage of the new concept was that the network could be expanded relatively easily. By October 1990 there were already 313,000 computers connected to the NSF-Net, and more and more countries worldwide were gaining access to it.
At the end of the year an event occurred which brought about the further decay of the Eastern Bloc. On December 9, Lech Wałesa was elected President of Poland, marking the culmination of his twenty- year struggle for political change in Poland, guiding it from a Communist system to a modern democracy with a market economy. Wałesa, a marine electrician and father of eight, had originally become politically active in the fight for better working conditions at the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk. The strikes were suppressed with bloody violence. But Wałesa did not give up. He secretly founded the trade union Solidarnosc (Solidarity), and later succeeded in forcing the government to legalise trade unions. Neither intimidation, prison terms, declaration of martial law nor house arrest could stop his movement. The 1983 Nobel Peace Prize, numerous high honours and more than 30 honorary doctorates from all over the world were among Lech Wałesa‘s rewards for his untiring struggle for freedom and justice.
Persistence brings its reward. That is a maxim which Luigi Sommariva, from 1985 Sales Manager with Texas Instruments (TI), learned in the course of his untiring efforts to get into business with EBV. It was a game in which EBV boss Erich Fischer dictated the rules. Sommariva, at the time responsible for Europe-wide purchasing and sales of silicon, was looking for a distributor for the OEM segment. The TI manager, who had previously worked for many years with Wacker Chemicals and enjoyed excellent contacts throughout the semiconductor industry, did not have to search long for his ideal partner: EBV enjoyed the best reputation of all."The restrictive account policy is the secret to EBV‘s success."
Yet instead of finding open doors at EBV – after all, Texas Instruments was one of the largest and most innovative US technology concerns – Fischer initially fobbed Sommariva off: “I‘ve been thinking about TI too, but the time is not yet right; there are too many overlaps. Call me again in a year‘s time.” Such selfconfidence and determination were rare in the industry. A year later the same thing happened; Fischer fobbed Sommariva off again. Some weeks afterwards came a call back, with a request to send in TI‘s data logs for review to EBV. The EBV boss was intent on not shifting an inch from his strategy of selling a small number of mutually complementary product lines. Disadvantageous compromises in order to obtain or keep a franchise were not Fischer‘s style. “Locating the 30 sets of data logs was actually a mammoth task,” Sommariva recalls, “but I was determined to do the deal with EBV.”
The two companies began their business partnership in 1992. Within a short space of time EBV had become one of the leading players in the TI distribution network. ”And by the way not only NOT to the disadvantage of our traditional partners, but in fact very much to their benefit, as the trend in our market share confirms,“ Fischer wrote in a circular to all customers and business partners in September 1993. At the time EBV was representing eight manufacturers.
”The restrictive account policy is the secret to EBV‘s success,” says Sommariva. It was a policy from which everyone profited. Texas Instruments, widely known primarily for its pocket calculators, proved a major boon to EBV‘s line card. The first integrated circuit, back then still with a germanium substrate, originated from TI‘s Dallas laboratory. TI physicist Jack Kilby was even awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for that ground-breaking discovery in the year 2000. Today Texas Instruments is right at the top of the EBV manufacturers‘ ranking list. And EBV is likewise the number one in the TI distribution network in the EMEA region.
Business was highly successful right from the beginning: “EBV‘s professionalism in our work together was simply unbeatable,” Sommariva recalls of how his original judgement was affirmed over the coming years. “Their staff were unbelievably motivated and customer-oriented.” He was particularly impressed by EBV‘s purchasing know-how. “When I wanted to know how the market was developing, all I had to do was call Peter Gürtler,” Sommariva reports. And he was then in turn able to use that knowledge to help his own colleagues internally. His sound feel for the market also permitted Gürtler to buy the goods and avoid dealing on a ship-and-debit basis.
Sommariva, who has lived in Bavaria for the last 46 years, is still proud today of his role in establishing the link between the two companies. It was for him proof that you should never relent when you are convinced that what you are doing is right. He refers to it as one of his two pioneering deeds. The other was opening up the Eastern European market for TI, which he did from 1990 onwards.
Mummified corpse discovered high up on a glacier was revealed as an archaeological sensation. On their descent from the Finailspitze (Punta di Finale) in the mountains bordering Austria and Italy, walkers stumbled across some human remains. It was not, as they had first thought, a mountaineer who had fallen to his death, but a man from the early stone age, some 5,300 years ago. He was 47 years old when he died; 1.60 metres tall; weighed 50 kilograms; and his shoe size was a continental 38. While ”Oetzi“ – named after the Oetztal region of the Alps where he was found – quickly became a source of huge media hype, a dispute soon arose between Austria and Italy regarding ownership of the sensational find. Following detailed surveying of the site at an altitude of 3,200 metres, it was determined that the body had lain on the Italian side. So Oetzi was eventually dispatched to his final home at the Archaeological Museum of Bolzano (Bozen) in the Alto Adige (South Tyrol) region. The frozen corpse from the glacier offered an insight into the lives of our ancestors such as had never been seen before.
June 20, 1991 the German Bundestag passed a resolution to move the country‘s seat of parliament and government from Bonn to Berlin. Just six ministries were to remain in Bonn, while Germany‘s President would also retain the “Villa Hammerschmidt” in the town as a second official residence. The move marked the end of a 42-year “temporary” arrangement. In fact, back in 1949, in the aftermath of the Second World War, the small town on the Rhine had been considered merely an emergency compromise solution, until such time as the political situation in occupied Germany had progressed. It was not until the two formerly separate German states were drawing up their Unification Treaty in 1990 that Berlin was finally designated as the new capital. The most populous and largest city in Germany has been a capital several times in its past, including the kingdom of Prussia and of the German Reich, as well as its eastern section being capital of the GDR. The city is famous for its flair, outlandish style and exciting alternative scene. It is a melting-pot for creative people from many different origins. As Mayor Klaus Wowereit commented, hinting at the parlous state of the city‘s finances, Berlin is “poor but sexy”.
The end of the year also meant the end of the Soviet Union. On December 31, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, known for short as the USSR, was officially disbanded by the Supreme Soviet. The USSR had been in existence since 1922. After the Second World War, the gigantic Communist state – almost three times the size of Australia – emerged as one of the world‘s two superpowers along with the USA. The failure of the reforms attempted by the last General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev, internal tensions and economic problems ultimately led to the downfall of the mammoth empire. The break-up saw new and reconstituted nations emerge, including the Ukraine, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Russia. In June 1991, Boris Yeltsin – whose liberal views and battles against centralism had made him a hugely popular figure – won the first free, democratic presidential election of the Russian Republic.
A German company trading on the Italian market? Where Romans only ever trust Romans, Luciano Montanari and his team were met with a deal of scepticism when they launched EBV Italy in Milan in 1992. After lengthy consideration, Erich Fischer had for the first time purchased an outside business in order to gain a foothold in Italy, Spain and Switzerland. EBV took over the stock, customer database, bank obligations and 20 Italy-based staff from Kontron Components.
Montanari encountered many familiar faces and former employees - he was, after all, a well-established figure in the business. He was well known as an entrepreneur who in the past 20 years had built up and then successfully sold off his own distribution companies, Lasi Ellettronica and Moxel. The Moxel deal had just been done when the call came in from Peter Gürtler. “The EBV spirit electrified me straight away, and gave me fresh momentum,” Montanari recounts. And because the former Moxel offices were standing empty at the time, Montanari and the EBV team moved straight in. He took some time to get used to the many meetings held in Munich. “Typically German,” he recalls with a smile. Nevertheless, he very much appreciated the direct access he was given to the senior management.
The Milan office is still the company‘s headquarters, though five more branches in other cities – including Rome - have been added over the years. "The EBV spirit electrified me straight away, and gave me fresh momentum." The first year encountered many stumbling blocks. The battle for every customer was tough, with competitors attempting to impose exclusivity deals on manufacturers. Still, EBV‘s market share grew steadily from month to month. The Italians engaged in a lively contest with their EBV colleagues in France (where the office had opened a year earlier) to achieve the best monthly sales figures. By 2009 the market share in Italy had reached almost 20 percent.
The beginnings in Spain were just as strenuous. Potential customers confused EBV with a Spanish bank with a similar-sounding name. Manufacturers were reluctant to award franchises. As just one example, Hewlett-Packard did not sign up until 1997. Ultimately, despite the Kontron acquisition, the launch meant starting “from scratch”. In a memo, Erich Fischer spoke of the “hot summer of 92”: “Integrating two new, and in many respects such different, countries into our Centre Européen demanded a special effort by practically all EBV staff.” For non-Spanish people, the Iberian lifestyle and, especially, the office hours took some getting used to: two to three hours‘ siesta during which business life came to a complete stop; lunch around 3 in the afternoon; dinner at 11 at night. Today, though, with a 36 percent market share, Spain is one of EBV‘s top-performing countries. 34 people work at the three offices.
“Logistics was the key to success in Italy and Spain,” Montanari asserts. Reliable delivery and top- class logistics service were core elements of EBV‘s business approach even back in 1992. “What astounded the Italians was that they could place an order as late as 6 p.m. one day and have UPS deliver it to their door by 9 a.m. the next. And the goods were in perfect condition, in their original packaging.” Even local suppliers in Italy and Spain couldn‘t manage that at the time. This was early evidence that for EBV ‘Europe-wide’ does not just mean operating in a few countries with different manufacturers. It means that all customers in every country are provided with the same level of logistical and technical service based on the same fundamental strategy.
Alongside EBV Italy, in 1994 Montanari was also appointed to manage the branch operation in France and Spain. When he left six years later, he had built up a strong organisation in Southern Europe with a staff of some 200. And the expansion goes on: Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia recently joined Spain, Italy, Portugal and France as part of the EBV Southern Europe region. After a number of EBV customers from Italy and France relocated their production to politically stable Tunisia, the principle of closeness to the customer demanded that a local office be established. The staff in France are, for the time being, covering Algeria and Morocco.
Scientists have pondered long and hard as to whether our solar system is the only one of its kind. It is considered quite conceivable that a star somewhere out in the depths of space is being orbited by a planet such as the Earth. That would be the prerequisite for life. But there was no proof – until 1992, when a scientific sensation was revealed. A Polish astronomer discovered two planets outside of our solar system with 4.3 and 3.9 Earth masses respectively, orbiting a pulsar – a rapidly rotating neutron star – 2,630 light years from Earth. Today we know of well over 300 exoplanets in more than 180 solar systems. The likelihood of encountering extraterrestrial life is increasing continually, especially as nowadays astronomers are also able to investigate the immediate vicinity and atmospheres of the remote star orbiters.
One of the first people to use a telescope to observe the heavens, back in the 17th century, was Italian mathematician Galileo Galilei. But his theories about heaven, Earth and the planets attracted great controversy, as they contradicted Catholic doctrine which placed the Earth at the centre of the universe. In 1632 Galilei was convicted of heresy by the Roman Catholic Inquisition. His books were burned as works of the Devil. In order to avoid being burned at the stake, Galilei recanted his ideas. He is said to have wanted the inscription “And yet it moves” on his gravestone. Not until 1992 – 350 years after his death – was he officially rehabilitated by Pope John Paul II, who called Galilei a “model for the link between science and faith”. It marked a revolutionary step for the Vatican in admitting its past mistake.
Merry Christmas” was the text of the first short message sent by an engineer from telecoms giant Vodafone from his PC to a colleague‘s mobile phone. It was December 3, 1982. No one at the time could have dared dream what a success the Short Message Service – soon known for short as just SMS – would become. But when Nokia launched the first SMS-capable mobile phone onto the market two years later, the 160-character message system gradually began to take hold. A new kind of language, made up of abbreviations and special characters such as the smiley, spread rapidly through the youth culture in particular. Today ”texting“ is as popular a feature of mobile phones as actually talking on them. Three billion text messages are sent from mobile to mobile every day worldwide. Texting has even found its way into government circles. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in particular, has become infamous for her fast-moving thumb, and it is not unknown for Cabinet indiscretions to leak out to the media by text message.
Most people know the name Danfoss as a logo on their radiator thermostats. The valves were an early invention of the Danish family business back in the 1940s. Today Danfoss technology is also to be found in air-conditioning systems and air circulation fans, in cooling systems in the food industry, in water pumps and baggage conveyors at airports – just about anywhere where electric drives move things. The Danfoss Motion Controls division is a world leader in the development and production of frequency inverters to control motor speed.“EBV is the ideal partner for our ambitious logistics programme because they are always open to new ideas and methods.”
In this field, as well, the concern – which today generates sales of around three billion euros a year – can call upon decades of experience. In fact, Danfoss put into production the world’s first frequency inverter back in 1968, marketed under the brand name VLT. The control units are today key components in terms of climate protection, because they help to use energy intelligently, allowing large pumps or fans to run at variable speed for example. In 2006 VLT frequency converters saved more than 20 million MWh energy globally – the equivalent of the annual electricity consumption of 5 million houses. The energy saved here reduced the annual CO2 emission by 12 million tons! This is precisely where EBV comes into play as a strategic partner to the electronics giant. Not merely because the semiconductor specialist is likewise committed to protecting the environment, but also because its wide-ranging logistics know-how is much in demand. “In terms of its logistics setup EBV is the number one,” enthuses Michael Jensen, Director of Purchasing at Danfoss Drives, and as such responsible for the electronics content of the VLT product. When the company switched its warehousing to Vendor Managed Inventory in 2004, the links with EBV became even closer. Since that time, EBV has been independently managing just-in-time deliveries to the Danfoss production lines. This represents an incredible expression of trust in the semiconductor specialist. After all, such a role not only provides EBV with access to the customer’s highly sensitive inventory and demand data, it also allows direct access to the inventory itself. The only defined constraints are upper and lower limits. “EBV is the ideal partner for our logistics programme because they are always open to new ideas and methods,” reports Jensen. “And Danfoss is a highly demanding customer.”
That is clearly demonstrated by the tight delivery lead times to which the electronics giant works. Highly complex mounted printed circuit boards (PCBs) are produced within 24 hours of receipt of order on average. Standardised components are used, but each board is custom-made. “We are producing close to 250,000 mounted PCBs per month in several hundred variants,” Jensen explains. The logistics demands in relation to frequency inverters are even higher: theoretically there are 1.3 million different possible combinations of VLTs. Here, the customer stipulates which boards, housings, designs, user interfaces, software applications, field bus systems and options are used. And still there are just two to three hours between receipt of order and shipping of the custom- assembled frequency inverters. Even the matching manuals, complete with data sheets and termination diagrams, are printed in parallel – in the relevant language of course. The whole operation must run like the workings of a Swiss watch. “Stable, long-standing relationships are essential to this level of collaboration,” Jensen stresses.
And EBV is not merely the top semiconductor supplier to Danfoss. The company has an outstanding reputation all over Denmark, and even has it in writing: between 2000 and 2007, the Elisa Group – an association of the ten leading Danish manufacturers of electronics – voted EBV “Best Distributor in Denmark” six times. The jury, of which Jensen is also a member, assesses criteria such as technical support, inventory, quality of delivery, on-time delivery and payment arrangements, as well as soft factors such as communication and information flow.
That is a genuine cause of pride for Robin Auscher. As sales manager, he initiated the collaboration with Danfoss from the EBV office in Copenhagen and placed it on a sound footing. And in his current role as Director of Sales & Marketing Nordic Countries, he still maintains close personal contact with Danfoss and with Michael Jensen.
January 1, 1993 marked the end for Czechoslovakia as a nation. The Czechs and Slovaks parted company once again after 70 years together. The artificial state formed after World War I and the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was split in two: the Czech Republic with its capital city of Prague, and Slovakia, with Bratislava as its capital. The separation was by mutual consent and peaceful – unlike the bloody conflicts accompanying the break-up of Yugoslavia. Leading Czech and Slovak politicians had already been negotiating the dissolution behind closed doors for two years; they were the driving force behind the separation. The two peoples were somewhat thrown off guard by their political representatives, who probably wisely decided to forego a referendum.
Commemorative plaque at the University of Illinois recalls the today still only 38-year-old Web pioneer, Marc Andreessen. The computer science student was 22 when, in the basement of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, he and friends developed a user-friendly Internet access programme: the Mosaic Browser. It could be operated with a mouse and was able to display graphics and images. It was revolutionary because until then, the Internet had been merely the realm of scientists, with a baffling array of complicated text programmes. Then, on April 22, 1993, the first Mosaic version was ready for download. With his browser, Andreessen laid the foundations for the World Wide Web as it is known today. He made the Web generally available. Before the programme was launched, only a few hundred computers were connected to the Internet; by the end of 1993, several thousand had gone online. It was Netscape Navigator, created by Andreessen’s own web design company in 1994, which made the ultimate breakthrough. It was a browser capable also of displaying background “wallpaper”, table layouts, multiple screen panes and multimedia plug-ins. A new profession was born: the web designer. Netscape went public in 1995, and made Andreessen rich. But it all went downhill soon after. After losing a long browser war with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Netscape also lost heavily in terms of market share. In 1998 the company was sold to AOL, which quietly discontinued Netscape in 2008.
In 1993 also the European Union was founded. On November 1, 1993, the EU Treaty signed a year earlier in Maastricht came into effect. From the European Economic Community emerged a political union, embracing foreign affairs and security, justice and domestic policies. Environmental policy, immigration and asylum, health and anti-drug policies were also to be jointly regulated. Passport and customs control between the twelve EU members at the time were also to be abolished. The European Union thus brought greater freedom of movement for 340 million people: travel within the EU is now unrestricted as possible, the borders are completely open to goods, services and capital. Today there are 27 EU member states, with a total population of some half a billion people.
Erich Fischer laid down EBV‘s restrictive distribution policy right from the start. The focus on a small range of non-overlapping product lines was aimed at achieving the broadest possible market coverage. The company founder‘s line card strategy quickly proved a success – for customers and for EBV. Whereas EBV in 1973 had contracts with just seven mutually complementary suppliers, for example, one of its leading competitors was representing more than 40 manufacturers, yet generating the same sales turnover. Even back then, EBV saw itself as a semiconductor specialist committed first and foremost to listening to its customers and meeting their wishes. EBV looked for depth, not breadth. Consequently, technical support was a key element from the very beginning.“We believe it to be one of our key services to present new products to our customers, and so generate demand.”
EBV began its operations in September 1969 in Düsseldorf, with distribution rights for Motorola in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. At the time, semiconductor manufacturers would only assign regional distributorship contracts, as was common practice in the USA. When the Motorola contract for Bavaria came up for grabs a few months after EBV‘s birth, Fischer made his move. And no wonder: the Bavarian market was a much more attractive proposition still, representing 35 percent of the German total. The only problem was that the distributorship for North Rhine-Westphalia was still in place. Utilising his already close contacts with the manufacturers, Fischer was able to negotiate a special exemption, enabling EBV to continue selling components in small quantities and at list prices in North Rhine-Westphalia. It was a first step in breaking down the regional restrictions. Bolstered by EBV‘s success, Fischer managed to acquire distribution contracts for other German states from Motorola in 1971. In 1972, EBV became the first distributor to operate on the basis of a nationwide franchise.
Fischer was cautious in building his line card range. He sought out only the best manufacturers, putting together an outstanding product portfolio step by step. In 1970 EBV took on its second franchise, for Signetics (later Philips, today NXP). Within a year, EBV had become its largest distributor in Europe. In 1971 distributorships for Unitrode and National Semiconductor were added to the portfolio. And in 1972 Fischer achieved a real coup: Hewlett-Packard, one of the world‘s leading manufacturers, awarded its second European franchise to EBV, covering the whole of Germany right from the start. Likewise in 1972, Fischer signed up with Inselek; in 1973 came Siliconix (later Temic, today Vishay); in 1977 AMD; in 1980 Zilog; in 1982 Fujitsu; and in 1987 Harris (today Intersil). Up until 1991, EBV concentrated on just eight manufacturers.
The line card was modified only in response to acquisitions, mergers or company failures (Inselek). With the opening of the first branch offices outside of Germany, distributorship contracts began to spread to other European countries. Most manufacturers were still reluctant however, looking to protect their local distributors, and barring the ”new kid on the block“ from selling in France and the UK for example. It was generally Motorola which supported EBV by assigning it a franchise. Once EBV had established a foothold, the other manufacturers also began to rethink their positions. But it was to be a long battle before all product lines were available EMEA-wide.
A few major changes to the portfolio occurred in the early 1990s: The contract with Texas Instruments – today EBV‘s biggest franchisor – came along in 1992. And EBV also entered into agreements with Micron (1991), Temic (1992, today Vishay) and Toshiba (1995). Yet still the company concentrated on the established semiconductor manufacturers, selectively adding individual key suppliers as logical complements to the existing range. These included Altera (1998) and Infineon (1997). The number of manufacturers represented by EBV thus grew to 16, while competitors by this time were dealing with 50 to 100 different suppliers.
As corporate divisions were spun off to form new companies, the number of product lines rose again from the mid 1990s onwards. Spin-offs such as ON Semiconductor from Motorola, Fairchild from National and Qimonda from Infineon – to name just a few – did not change the product portfolio however. Today the EBV line card, with 25 semiconductor lines, remains focused enough to be able to offer the level of technical support required. On the other hand, the portfolio enables EBV to supply over 90 percent of the required semiconductors for any application. Its suppliers are all market leaders in the semiconductor industry. EBV, for its part, is the leading distributor working with the long-standing manufacturers, and is a key account for almost all of them. This provides it with a corresponding degree of muscle, whether with regard to the availability of product or market-oriented pricing policy.
It was a political miracle: On May 10, 1994 black freedom-fighter Nelson Mandela was sworn in as president of the Republic of South Africa. His party, the African National Congress (ANC), had won the first free elections in which all South Africans had the vote. The event finally marked the end of the Apartheid regime and its policies of racial segregation. Since the land on the Cape of Good Hope became a British colony in the early 19th century, a small minority of whites had systematically repressed and exploited the coloured majority. Mandela, the charismatic black leader, was released from a 27-year jail sentence in 1990, following a concerted international campaign. The 72-year-old immediately assumed a major political role, initially as president of the ANC and later as head of state. The freedom-fighter guided his country through a period of forgiveness and reconciliation into a peaceful future. In 1993 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his handling of South Africa‘s peaceful transition from apartheid to a democratic society.
Less than 20 years after establishing a small software business, Bill Gates was cited by Forbes Magazine as the richest man in the world, with an estimated fortune of over 15 billion US dollars. The Microsoft head has topped the rankings of the world‘s wealthiest in 14 of the 15 years subsequently, thanks to the enormous and rapid success of his company‘s software products. But Gates is also one of the world‘s greatest philanthropists. He has pumped enormous amounts of money into various charitable foundations, which in 1999 were consolidated into the multi-billion dollar ”Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation“.
For children and players of all ages, 1994 marked a new era in video games. Electronics giant Sony launched the Playstation 1 in Japan, immediately establishing itself as a serious competitor to marketleader Nintendo. Sony chose the Compact Disc as its favoured data medium. It was not only cheaper, but also offered much more storage capacity than the Nintendo modules. With its very first game, ”Ridge Racer“, Sony highlighted the strengths of its new console, especially the Playstation‘s mastery of real-time 3D animation. The Japanese concern employed a policy of producing highquality games, which proved a success. More than 100 million consoles were sold, making it the most popular games machine in the world. In 2000 Sony launched its successor model. Today the latest generation, Playstation 3, is on the market.
There was also a sensation from the German car industry in 1994. Audi became the world‘s first manufacturer to build a production-car body entirely of aluminium, for its luxury-class A8 model. The so-called Audi Space Frame, an aluminium framework in which all the panels were also load-bearing, set a new benchmark in light weight car building. While offering thesame level of functionality, the Audi aluminium body weighed more than 40 percent less than a comparable steel body.
Gerhard Peschke assembled and built the first PCs at EBV himself. At that time, the enthusiastic electronics tinkerer ordered the motherboards and housings directly at the Systems computer trade show. The change-over to PC was Peschke‘s first official act when the company‘s management commissioned him to establish and build up an IT department. Up that time, there were two large mainframe computers in the cellar, but only ten desktop computers in use throughout the entire company – for what was already a staff of 180. The German sales offices were connected to the head office via a data link. The link ran at a sensational transmission rate for the time of 2400 bits per second. After close of business in the evening, a member of the staff would back up the data to a tape disk drive – which took about two to three hours.
Peschke started with the help of one employee. He knew his way around the workflows and the potential areas where efficiency could be improved in the company, having started as a warehouse operative in 1982 and later holding posts in purchasing and customer service. Soon after, every employee at the company‘s headquarters had a computer, though the PCs of that time were inferior in power and performance to even the most basic mobile phone of today.“Of our 200 servers, we will virtualise about 150 and so reduce our power consumption at the headquarters by about 75 percent. That’s what we call Green IT.”
After the hardware, attention turned to the software. In 1995, Peschke‘s team programmed the first version of the sales system. One year later “Epos” was running in parallel. After two years and many modifications, it was ready. Typical EBV, one might say: never satisfied with the standard offerings, always in search of the best. In fact, EBV had developed its first custom software, to employees’ specifications, as early as 1981, for accounting and sales functions.
Obviously, the two-man team could no longer stem the abundance of tasks - administering the system, data backup, process optimisation and more. Peschke now had a staff of five. In 1995, the database was less than 100 megabytes in size; today it exceeds one terabyte – more than 10,000 times greater.
And the advances came rapidly: The first official external e-mail was sent in 1997, though staff had been sending electronic e-mails internally since 1992. Today, over 130,000 ingoing and outgoing mails are sent and received throughout Europe every day. Of those, 25,000 are classified as spam and filtered out. An additional 200,000 mails are already blocked before they reach the EBV e-mail server.
The IT infrastructure attained a new standard following the Avnet takeover and the move in 2001 to Poing. The company set up its first major data centre. Today, under Peschke‘s management, 60 IT specialists support around 3,500 Avnet users. The IT boss assigned six employees just to handle desktop service in Poing. Some 17 staff were assigned to handle the field offices, which were directly linked with Poing. In addition, EBV maintains one- to two-person IT support teams on-site at key locations including Milan, Madrid, Paris and London.
The issue of security is also assigned high priority. One member of staff is assigned solely to preventing hackers, viruses and junk mails from gaining access to the company‘s systems. The security of the EBV network is demonstrated by the “I Love You” virus that was going around the world via e-mail in May 2000 and caused billions of dollars in damage. EBV was one of the few companies worldwide to escape the virus’s destructive impact. “We had a three-stage virus protection model,” explains Peschke.
Two firewalls protect the EBV network from attacks from the outside. Yet such security solutions quickly become obsolete, so the hardware and software are regularly updated.
The efficiency of the IT department is emblematic of the entire EBV organisation. For example, Peschke‘s team can load 3,500 PCs with new software overnight. If necessary, entire system rebuilds can be done in a weekend.
Yet digitisation also takes up space. Today, an amazing 200 servers are located in the basement of the EBV headquarters. But Peschke‘s team is soon going to change that, in line with the principles of “Green IT”. EBV is working on plans for a virtualised data centre, with the many “application silos” being broken up. This will not save only hardware, maintenance and administration costs, but also dramatically reduce energy demand. Climate control more than anything else consumes a huge amount of power. According to rough estimates, two kilowatts of cooling power are required for one kilowatt of computer output. Peschke believes that, of the 200 EBV servers, 150 can be virtualised. “This will reduce the power consumption in Poing by 75 percent,” he estimates.
The coffee makes it: Sun Microsystems programmers prefer to drink ”Java“ coffee during their afternoon break at the sidewalk café ”Java City“. Reason enough to also call their new technology for software engineers Java. On May 23, 1995, the programming language is introduced to the public for the first time in the ”San José Mercury News“, the flagship of the Silicon Valley Press. Today, Java is the most popular and most used programming language in the world. Its advantage: Starting with laptops and computer centres, to game consoles, scientific super computers, mobile phones and the Internet, Java can be used universally for all operating systems and platforms. In addition, applications programmed with Java require relatively little disk space.
A few months later, environmental activists occupied a 40-metre high rusty steel tower in the North Sea. Thus begins the famous Greenpeace campaign to sink the ”Brent Spar“, a scrapped crude oil tank weighing 14,500 tonnes that the media often mistakenly calls an oil rig. Greenpeace intended to make an example of this rig in order to prohibit more industry scrap from being disposed of in the ocean. The owner of the “Brent Spar”, the Shell oil company, had the platform evacuated, but Greenpeace was calling for the consumers in Europe to boycott Shell products. Consequently, sales atpetrol stations in Germany dropped by 50 percent. After 52 days, Shell gave in. The “Brent Spar” was towed to a Norwegian fjord and later recycled. Some time after, neighbouring countries on the North Sea resolved to issue a general ban on sinking obsolete oil platforms or those no longer in use.
In the same year, communication via the Internet reaches a new level. It is called a Weblog – or blog for short – a combination of the words Web and Logbook. It begins with a private person managing a kind of online diary. The written articles are organised chronologically and uploaded to a website. Readers of the blogs can comment on the articles - the first step toward a blog community. From the original narrative blog, different variants evolve, like the expert Weblog for discussing specialty topics via the business blog in which employees write for PR purposes in the name of their company or the Moblog with contributions imported from mobile devices, like photos from mobile phone cameras. Blog founders require no special programming skills. They use a special Weblog software or become subscribers of a weblog supplier, like Xanga. This blog supplier alone has grown from 100 blogs to 25 million in the space of nine years.
Manufacturers were increasingly pressing their franchise partners to become more international in scope. The fall of the Iron Curtain and the creation of the EU fundamentally changed the economic and political landscape in Europe. In Eastern Europe, especially, lucrative new markets were emerging. But EBV was not in a position to expand as necessary without outside capital. “When you are slowly but surely approaching the billion sales landmark and competing with major corporations, you have to take measures to ensure that the company remains large enough in future to be competitive and flexible,” was how company proprietor Erich Fischer explained the EBV situation to long-standing customers in late 1995. Growth based on borrowing was not something he would contemplate however. “No bank loans” was an iron rule of the EBV founder, who had financed 26 years of EBV development and growth from profit alone. Nor was Fischer in favour of a stock market listing, which would have brought an estimated 500 million Marks of funding. He was left with only one choice: to sell. But Fischer did not make the decision on EBV‘s future alone. He made sure to obtain the approval of his management team, comprising 32 long-standing and highly experienced EBV employees.“We managed that enormous expansion not only without suffering damage, but also maintained our annual profit levels. That success is thanks to the work of the team.”
Many companies were interested in EBV at the time. It was after all a rock-solid business, rated within the industry as being the world‘s best distributor. Fischer‘s preferred partner was a financially strong subsidiary of Veba Electronics: Raab Karcher. As well as achieving a good selling price, his primary concern was to preserve the unity of EBV. He succeeded in doing so – though Fischer himself decided to take the opportunity to retire. March 31, 1996 was his last day working as a director of EBV. In fact, Fischer had been withdrawing more and more from the day-to-day business since the mid-1980s, and latterly had limited his role to Director Sales Central Europe. His successor was Peter Gürtler, with whom he had developed EBV and who had, in effect, been managing the business for the last 10 years. Gürtler was also the preferred candidate of Veba.
It was certainly not merely Erich Fischer who profited from the sell-off of EBV. The company founder – described by a contemporary as “a genuine humanist” – had previously instigated a clever tax- saving model whereby 131 of his employees acquired a share in the business. They owned a third of EBV at the time of the sale. The socially highly committed Fischer was keen to quote from the Bible in this context: “Righteousness exalteth a nation”. “That begins with money.” Fischer transferred another third of the business prior to the sell-off to a charitable foundation he had established to promote “culture and civilisation”, which today primarily initiates or supports music projects for children, prisoners, senior citizens and the blind.
Following the takeover by Raab Karcher, which was officially completed on April 1, 1996, EBV expanded very rapidly. Within 18 months, Peter Gürtler opened 21 new EBV offices in 15 countries: Great Britain, Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Slovenia, Greece, Hungary, Turkey, Israel, Russia, South Africa, France, Poland and the Czech Republic. Most of the new branches were started from scratch in accustomed EBV style; only in Greece and South Africa did Gürtler acquire existing distributors and attune them to the EBV way of doing things. After three years, sales had doubled to a billion Marks. EBV is now a truly pan-European organisation, with 50 branches in 23 countries, including South Africa and Israel.
It was something chess world champion Garry Kasparov could not have imagined in his worst nightmares: In a match under tournament conditions, the Russian genius was defeated by IBM chess computer Deep Blue. The skills of the electronic chess system are based primarily on its enormous computing power, with up to 100 million positions per second. Eventually Kasparov did, in fact, win the series of six games by 4:2, but, after Deep Blue‘s power had been upped to 200 million positions per second by a hardware upgrade, the revenge match a year later went 3.5:2.5 in the machine‘s favour. Following the defeat, Kasparov stated that he had observed signs of high intelligence and creativity in some of the computer‘s moves which he had not understood.
On July 5 a sensation was revealed: Dolly the Welsh mountain sheep. Dolly was unique, precisely because she was not. Created from one of her mother‘s udder cells, Dolly went down in history as the world‘s first cloned mammal. The researchers at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland, needed 277 experiments before they succeeded in bringing a cloned embryo to maturity inside a surrogate sheep mother. Dolly – named after busty country-and-western singer Dolly Parton – suffered right from an early age from arthritis and excess weight, and aged prematurely. She was put to sleep at the age of six after contracting a serious lung infection. Sheep normally have a life expectancy of ten to twelve years. Today the world‘s most famous sheep can be seen, stuffed, at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. An entire zoo full of cloned animals were born after Dolly, even though many experiments failed: Cats, dogs, horses, cattle, goats, pigs and wolves were all cloned by the same method as Dolly. And scientists are even thinking about recreating a mammoth from the DNA of ancient cadavers.
Now a film could fit on a little silver disc too. After the success of the compact disc (CD) as a storage medium, the demands of consumers and the entertainment industry continued to grow. The search was on for a user-friendly medium for video comparable to that for music. A number of electronics companies were working in parallel on two different high-capacity systems. Following pressure from the (American) film industry, a common standard was agreed and the DVD (Digital Video Disc) was introduced in 1996. It was originally intended merely to hold video, but other potential applications emerged. As a result, DVD came ultimately to stand for Digital Versatile Disc. The average 700 megabyte capacity of the CD had been expanded to 4.7 gigabytes on a DVD. Five years later came the tipping point when, for the first time, more films were sold on DVD than on VHS cassette in Europe.
EBV took off in Great Britain with a clever advertising idea. Though competitors were already trembling as rumours circulated that Europe’s top distributor of semiconductors was intending to expand into the UK: “Customers had never heard anything about EBV,” explains John Langford, who was the General Sales Manager in 1996 and who, along with many skilled colleagues, built up the UK and Irish subsidiary. EBV dived in deep right at the start with three offices. It took just six months to set up the entire organization. “Leasing an office in England is just as risky, expensive and time-consuming as buying a house,” he says with a groan when remembering all the legal red tape and collapsing of contracts.
Zero name recognition, no image - bad conditions for entering a market, you might say. Yet right on the office’s opening day, they sent UPS packages to potential top customers around the country. Once opened, a helium-filled balloon popped out that had attached to it a greeting card and the EBV telephone number right inside. “The telephone did not stop ringing,” recounts Langford. “The promotion worked.”“The service mentality was, and is, what is unique about EBV.”
Additional mailing campaigns and good press contacts also helped. Even in those days, we had a good connection with “Electronics Weekly.” “The magazine simply liked the EBV story,” he says. The result: each new franchise agreement with the new British distributor was duly recognised in the trade magazine. Langford naturally has his own EBV story – and it began with his job interview in Munich on a cold January afternoon in 1996. The meeting place was at a four-star hotel in the city when, just before the allotted time, a man dismounted from his bicycle in front of the revolving door in a well-worn trenchcoat and rolled-up trousers (to protect them against the oil from the bicycle chain). The man came up to him, ‘’Herr Langford, I presume?’’ Langford quickly recovered his composure; the first rule of sales is always to expect the unexpected: no Porsche or Mercedes, no Boss suit, but no surprise as to how he had built up such a successful company. “Erich Fischer was a charming, unassuming but dynamic character. His charisma was obvious right from the start,” explains Langford.
Business began at a furious pace. At launch, the UK line card included such blue chips as TI, Motorola (Freescale & ON Semiconductor, today), National Semiconductor, Temic (Vishay and Atmel today), and Fujitsu, but very quickly the UK company had seven franchises, by adding AMD and Harris. In the first six months, the offices generated sales of 3.3 million euros. In 1997 Langford and his growing team, now 32 strong, really took off and, along with ten manufacturers, generated 22.5 million euros in sales in the company’s first full year of business, as well as adding Ireland to the countries served. The 1998 accounts again showed a dramatic leap in sales, to 42 million euros. “The service mentality was, and is, what is unique about EBV,” says Langford of the company’s success. Today, EBV in the UK and Ireland has a market share of almost 20 percent and ranks number two in the distribution network with a workforce of over 60 employees.
Even any resistance to the principle of centralised warehousing in Germany was quickly overcome in the first months. Inventory levels, delivery time, quality and reliability gained the respect of the customers. And British and Irish customers have extremely high expectations,” says Langford. One example related to the date of manufacture. Nowadays the data code is a standard feature, but at the time it was a novelty for the industry. And EBV was the first distributor to operate a properly running First-in, First-out system. Care and attention to detail are the top priority. Sensitive components are bedded in green packaging to protect against jolting, for example, and the boards and magnetic tapes are packaged so that they do not become electrostatically charged. “The head office has always given us fantastic support,” explains Langford. “For example, we persuaded our warehouse to despatch even on the traditional (and many) German public holidays.” Ninetysix percent of our deliveries are completed Europe-wide within 24 hours.
After its brilliant start in the UK and Ireland, the company’s expansion into South Africa in 1998 also fell to Langford. At the time, EBV had 43 offices throughout Europe and bought the Cape Town based distributor Electrolink. Nevertheless, the early days were a culture shock: the office in Johannesburg had been in the same location for 30 years and was located behind barred doors and windows with fully locked doors in a part of the city more or less abandoned due to high crime. The replacement office is totally different – set on the top floor of a very modern, low-rise office block in a small private industrial estate with Springbok and other wildlife in the grounds and a panoramic balcony to relax on (between taking orders!). Today, 11 years later, EBV is well positioned with a market share of 20 percent in South Africa.
After the expansion into the southern Hemisphere, John Langford assumed overall responsibility for the Nordic countries in 1999, where local market servicing had been launched through the 1990s. He is now Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing North Europe and RSA. In the Nordic region, EBV has eight offices in five countries (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Estonia), and a rapidly growing market share.
The magical tale of Harry Potter brought a surge of new life to an old-fashioned medium: the book. The enormous success of the young magician’s adventures surpassed the wildest dreams of the publishers. The initial British print run of the first book, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”, in June 1997 was just 500 copies, but soon the sorcerer’s apprentice was charming children and adults alike all around the world. The seven books (the last one appearing in 2007) were to be translated into 67 languages, with global sales topping 400 million. Harry Potter made his creator, J.K. Rowling, Britain’s richest woman.
While Harry Potter was casting his spell, in the northern Spanish industrial city of Bilbao, the Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art was being launched. Created by top American architect Frank O. Gehry, the building was greeted as a masterpiece of avant-garde design. The futuristic complex presented an unusual combination of structural elements, integrating the museum function into an aesthetically stunning setting. Visitors flocked to see it from its very earliest days. Today around a million a year come to wonder at it. The museum has become a commercial success as well as an artistic one, creating thousands of jobs in the Basque region. The upgrading of a city based on spectacular architectural design was subsequently to become known as “the Bilbao effect”.
After more than 150 years, Great Britain finally handed its Crown Colony of Hong Kong back to the Chinese in 1997. On July 1st, the People’s Republic of China took control of the approximately 1,100 square kilometre commercial and trading hub at the mouth of the Pearl River. Based on the doctrine of “one country, two systems” devised by Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping, the democratic, capitalist system in Hong Kong was to be allowed to co-exist alongside the Communist planned economy for a minimum of 50 years. Since that time, Hong Kong has been a special administrative zone with a degree of autonomy, and has remained one of the leading financial centres in Asia.
The “Queen of Hearts” was dead. Princess Diana, ex-wife of heir to the British throne Prince Charles and darling of the tabloid press, died in a car accident in Paris on August 31st at the age of just 36. Attempting to escape the chasing paparazzi, her chauffeur-driven limousine smashed into a concrete pillar. Conspiracy theories about her death continue to this day, with some people believing she was murdered. Diana’s sudden death provoked an unprecedented wave of emotion and mourning not only in Great Britain. The funeral on September 6th became one of the largest media events of all time, with more than 2.5 billion people worldwide watching on television.
The company‘s rapid expansion, with more than 20 offices openings in just two years, is reflected in its books. EBV‘s sales turnover rose 62 percent from 1996 to 1998, breaking through the billion Mark barrier for the first time. The company had reached a critical mass at which public relations could no longer be treated as a peripheral task.
Erich Fischer was well aware, even back then, that good promotion was key to business success. The word “marketing” was not yet as widespread as it is today, yet the company founder was already busy briefing customers on new developments in semiconductors and positioning EBV as a semiconductor specialist. It was in 1972 that the first issue of “EBV Aktuell”, a regular product update, appeared. Fischer was obsessed with advertising and promotion right from the start. He brooded for weeks on end, for example, over the EBV logo – an abstracted transistor circuit – until he was happy with his design.“Customers are not interested in how good our products and services are, but rather what benefit they can draw from them.”
With the establishment of a dedicated Marketing department, Peter Gürtler introduced professional advertising and PR structures to EBV. The first EBV Director Communications, appointed in 1998, was Georg Steinberger, former editor of the trade journal “Markt & Technik”. One of his first acts in office was to modernise the logo and create the slogan: “Distribution was yesterday. Today is EBV”. It is a slogan which still exists today, under- scoring that EBV has very much more to offer than just semi- conductor distribution.
The Communications department is responsible for upholding the public image of EBV and for stimulating demand. Communi- cations also handles promotional articles, flyers, trade fairs, advertising, product and technology brochures, seminars and presentations, the website – in fact, everything that appears in public under the EBV logo. “We see ourselves as the company‘s mouth- piece in the market. My job is to provide Sales with tools helping them to present EBV‘s products and services to its customers most effectively,” explains Schlemmer in defining his job. His role is in effect to be a service provider for Sales.
Consequently, regular interchange and close coordination with Sales and Technical Marketing is the foundation stone for the Communications department‘s success. “If our colleagues in Sales did not make use of our tools, we would be wasting our money,” Schlemmer stresses.
The success of the customers is key to the success of EBV. That maxim also embodied the thinking behind the customer magazine “The Quintessence” (TQ), launched by Schlemmer in 2007. The EBV “knowledge magazine” looks into subjects of key importance to the future such as LEDs, RFID, eco design and renewable energies, explaining all the different facets of new technologies from a neutral perspective and providing relevant product information. Contributors have included organic food entrepreneur Claus Hipp, senior managers from Greenpeace, famous lighting designer Ingo Maurer and Avnet CEO Roy Vallee.
The imagery employed in EBV‘s advertising is also clearly distinguished from the motifs of competitors in the industry. “Given that someone looks at an ad for just two seconds, its vital to communicate by visually appealing and striking motifs,” Schlemmer asserts. So when EBV takes up the issue of energy efficiency, for example, the picture is not of integrated circuits but, beneath the headline “Stop Freezing”, a man with icicles in his hair and a matted beard. Advertisements such as that one brought EBV the 2008 Advertising Award voted by readers of “Markt & Technik” magazine – the seventh year in a row that EBV had won. It was one of a total of seven awards for EBV‘s public relations work in 2008.
A milestone for EBV was the launch of its new website in 2008. The site content is presented in six languages – a unique feature in the global semiconductor distribution business, as is EBV.TV: the in-house online channel used by EBV to present key issues and products in self-produced videos. It was a herculean task for the four-and-a-half full-time posts comprising the communications team, who handled it alongside their day-to-day work in collaboration with the IT, Technical Marketing and Sales functions over a period of nine months. It all began with the question: What do our customers need? “Customers are not interested in how good our products and services are,” says Schlemmer, “but rather what benefit they can draw from them.” Consequently, Schlemmer undertook a tour of 30 top EBV customers around the EMEA region, talking to purchasing and development managers everywhere he went.
The result, based on feedback from customers and manufacturers, was a visually highly appealing website, with an intuitive page structure enabling information to be quickly and easily accessed. The effort and expense was all worthwhile. The figure of some 1.5 million external visitors a year speaks for itself. And the trend is rising.
Climate protection is to be embedded into binding international treaties. In the Kyoto Protocol – named after the location of the Third UN Climate Summit in Japan – the industrialized nations undertook to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases down to 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. However, only the EU and 34 other countries actually signed for to the Protocol in April 1998. The world‘s largest polluter, the USA, held fast to its rejection of the accord. The problem was that the Protocol can only come into force when at least 55 countries, accounting for more than half of the world‘s CO2 emission, have ratified it. This did not happen until 2004, when the Russian Parliament did so. It represented a small but important step for climate control.
Internet and Google – the two terms are pretty much inseparable nowadays. On September 7, 1998, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, computer science graduates from the elite University of Stanford, founded Google Inc. based in a garage in Silicon Valley. On the very same day, they launched the first test version of their search engine online. Their start-up capital of around one million dollars came from family and friends as well as from one of the co-founders of Sun Microsystems. Google expanded rapidly, based purely on word of mouth. The key to the new search engine was its page ranking system, whereby a complicated formula was applied to search not only for keywords in websites but also for links from other sites. This meant that the most relevant results were often right at the top. After that, there was no stopping Google. The company‘s stock market listing on August 19, 2004 made billionaires out of the two founders at a stroke. Google has been rated as the most valuable brand in the world since 2007.
On November 20, 1998, a Proton carrier rocket lifted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Russia on a historic mission. Onboard was the first component for the International Space Station (ISS). Since then the new outpost of humanity in space has been growing, piece by piece, like a gigantic construction kit. A total of 16 countries are involved in the orbiting research complex, which is scheduled to enter operation by 2020. In November 2000 the first crew moved into the ISS as it circled 350 kilometres above the Earth.
After thirty years, EBV has become a leading light in the European semiconductor distribution business – like Spoerle Electronic. The competitor based in Dreieich near Frankfurt is an equally long-standing and successful player on the market. Its corporate strategy has been quite different however. Whereas Spoerle expanded by way of acquisition, for example, EBV has relied almost entirely on organic growth, based on opening its own offices and on incorporating major selling lines into its range. And yet the parallels are remarkable. Both companies were born out of the far-sightedness of two strong personalities who took the plunge into an emerging business sector in the late 1960s. Erich Fischer and Carlo Giersch started from scratch and built up major players in their industry. They managed, and moulded, their respective businesses for decades. Giersch would throw any memo of more than one page straight in the bin, while Fischer’s habit was to issue short, concise hand-written directives. Both companies increased their sales many times over through the 80s and 90s. Since Giersch had no children, but nonetheless wished to safeguard a secure future for his employees, he sold a minority interest in the business to Arrow Electronics in 1985, at the same time becoming a board member of the Arrow parent company in New York. It was an innovative approach. Over the coming years he sold off his shares to the US corporation slice-by- slice. Fischer, too, retired from the business in 1996, selling out to Raab Karcher (a subsidiary of VEBA). In 2000 EBV was then sold to Avnet: the two major American players had taken over the two largest Europeans in parallel.“EBV was always regarded as technically well-versed not only by manufacturers and customers but also among my own staff.”
“My first contact with EBV was back in 1969 when Fischer snatched Motorola away from me,” recalls Giersch with a grin. In contrast to EBV, Spoerle – which Giersch founded in 1967 – has always been a broad-liner for semiconductors, passive devices and electromechanical components. “One to a million” was the motto back in those early days, aimed at delivering the maximum range.
“We have always been committed to the broad-line idea,” states Giersch, dismissing all other approaches as merely cherry-picking. By 1978 the company already had contracts with over 60 manufacturers; today the portfolio extends to more than 90. In the meantime, EBV has maintained its focus on a selective line card and strong technical support to customers. Spoerle always tries to deploy in-house staff in its sales operations. EBV places more value on technical know-how and so usually deploys external engineers from the industry. Giersch has always respected EBV’s high level of technical expertise. “EBV was always regarded as technically well-versed not only by manufacturers and customers but also among my own staff.“
Today the 72-year-old former boss manages his Giersch Foundation and his holding company F.L.C. from an old neoclassical villa on the prestigious Schaumainkai in Frankfurt on the river Main. The charitable foundation has three main areas of focus: medicine – especially for children up to the age of 14; science in the academic and research spheres; and the entirely private maintenance of the Giersch Museum. The museum is devoted to paintings and sculptures from the 19th and 20th centuries. This also reflects a parallel between the two entrepreneurs: Erich Fischer also provides extensive sponsorship to young artists and has established his own charitable foundation devoted to “the promotion of culture and civilisation”. In Giersch’s office, alongside numerous works of art, hangs a plaque bearing the motto: “If we don’t take care of our customers somebody else will.” It is a maxim which Giersch also drilled into his employees back in the early days of his business, as one of the foundations of effective customer service. “There were ten commandments, and they applied to everyone – from the warehouse to the boardroom,” Giersch explains. And the boss led by example in his approach too: “For me the buyer was always the important person, not the chairman.”
The relationship between EBV and Spoerle has always been characterised by mutual respect. “Of course we were competitors, but everything was always done very fairly. I would even get together with Peter Gürtler for a chat about things from time to time,” Giersch recalls. “We didn’t exactly make it easy for the manufacturers, because our stated aim was always to get the best for our customers. Thanks to our respective market positions, Spoerle and EBV together were of course able to influence things.” And so, as Giersch stresses, a determined yet fair attitude to manufacturers was one of the secrets to his success. If Gürtler and Giersch had gone on – Giersch states with assurance – the two would today absolutely dominate the European market.
Many of the achievements of the Giersch era are still to be seen in the business today. The company always placed great emphasis on training. A trainer for the warehouse personnel was recruited as far back as 1982. All staff levels are provided with the specific ongoing training they need. As one example, the company’s apprentices from all over Germany undergo tuition in Dreieich – “so that they all get to know each other,” explains Giersch. “After all, without the human factor no business can prosper.” That, too, is an attitude which Carlo Giersch and Erich Fischer share.
The last great adventure of the 20th century was undertaken by Swiss medical doctor and scientist Bertrand Piccard: a circumnavigation of the Earth by balloon – non-stop, with no engine, no steering, just blown by the wind. It was Piccard’s third attempt. On March 1, 1999 the “Breitling Orbiter 3” balloon took off from Chateau-d’Oex in Switzerland and after precisely 46,759 kilometres and 19 days, 21 hours and 55 minutes landed in the Egyptian desert. By that pioneering feat, Piccard finally matched the accomplishments of his famous ancestors: In 1932 his grandfather Auguste had taken a gas balloon 16,940 metres up into the stratosphere, and in 1960 his father Jacques had broken the deep-sea diving record, taking his submarine to a depth of 10,016 metres in the Marianas trench in the Pacific Ocean.
On August 11, a rare natural phenomenon enthralled people all across Europe – a total solar eclipse. It was just the thirteenth time in the century that the moon had passed between the sun and the earth. Only the corona, the outer layer of the sun’s atmosphere, remained visible as a narrow rim of shimmering light. Totality lasted 147 seconds, and was only fully observable in the core shadow within a 116 kilometre wide band which included southern Germany and Austria.
For the “Star Wars” community, a dream finally came true after a 16-year wait. “Episode I – The Phantom Menace”, part four of the science-fiction saga, hit cinema screens. The original “Star Wars” film appeared in 1977. George Lucas’s work took 924 million US dollars worldwide – many times the cost of its production. It was the most powerfully and successfully marketed film in cinema history. Sales of bedding, comics and video games had topped three billion dollars even before the film launched. In 2005, Forbes Magazine estimated the film’s total merchandising revenue over 28 years at almost 20 billion dollars, making “Star Wars” the most profitable film project of all time.
NATO marked its 50th anniversary in 1999. However, despite the addition to its ranks of the former Eastern Bloc states of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, celebrations were muted because, in its 50th year, the alliance began its first war: Without the backing of a UN mandate, NATO aircraft attacked Yugoslavia in order to force a withdrawal of its troops from Kosovo and so prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. The USA, Canada, the Benelux states, Great Britain, France, Italy, Portugal, Norway, Denmark and Iceland were the original signatories to the North Atlantic Treaty back in 1949, seeking to counteract the military and ideological expansion of the Soviet Union. Germany has been a NATO member since 1955.
When Avnet Electronics Marketing acquired EBV Elektronik in late 2000, the company had completed a series of acquisitions since 1991 that had brought it scale and scope in the European distribution market – close to 2 billion US dollars in revenues – but ultimately no definite differentiating strategy or culture. After integrating SEI, Avnet EM EMEA was working to define a profitable business model providing a differentiated value proposition to customers and suppliers with a very efficient and effective backbone and leveraging its purchasing power. Moreover, it was looking at establishing a new corporate culture promoting empowerment, responsibility, entrepreneurship and teamwork. EBV displayed exactly this model.“Looking forward to the future of distribution in EMEA, EBV’s model will remain a reference in the semiconductor industry.”
EBV, at that time, had a little more than 30 years in the business and had steadily grown to become a pan- European leader in semiconductor distribution. By the end of 2000 the first billion euros in sales had been achieved. Its key success factors were a customer-driven value proposition, a focused line card, close and longstanding relationships, a remarkable demand creation strategy, a centralised and state-of-the-art purchasing organisation, an excellent and reliable logistics system and, last but not least, the best team in the industry guided by a unique and powerful corporate culture. It offered a portfolio of best practices that Avnet was keen to embrace. Making EBV the benchmark for its business model, Avnet launched the “Speedboat” model in July 2001, which to date has been Avnet EM’s most successful and profitable business strategy.
Patrick Zammit joined EBV later in 2001 as its President. Coming from Avnet to manage a very successful, self-confident and professional organisation that had grown its business for 30 years organically was a challenging, but very rewarding experience. The clear goal of Avnet was to protect the EBV business model and culture.
In 2001 and the following years, EBV faced the same downturn as the market but managed it considerably better, gaining significant market share, honing its technical expertise towards customer projects, developing new vertical market models and further optimising its line card by adding key lines like STMicroelectronics and NXP. The combination of local presence – over 60 offices everywhere in Europe – with a centralised back office and of technical expertise with a strong commodity business makes EBV robust and future-proof under any but the worst market conditions.
The “Speedboat” model, best but no longer solely represented by EBV, has proven successful when it comes to creating customer and supplier focus, and it will do so for a very long time to come. All acquisitions after EBV and the inception of the “Speedboat” model have been successfully integrated by our model and found a home in one of the Speedboats – while maintaining most of the acquired qualities.
Looking forward to the future of distribution in EMEA, Zammit predicts that EBV’s model will remain a reference in the semiconductor industry. As manufacturers specialise in a limited number of technologies, product families and customers continue to disaggregate their design and production chain and look for cost-effective solutions, the EBV value proposition and organisation will naturally meet the market’s new requirements.
Zammit acknowledges EBV: “Dear EBV team, you are well recognised and praised by customers and suppliers for your dedication to providing best-in-class service and support, your commitment to fixing issues and concerns and your ability to identify and grasp opportunities.”
In his time as both EBV, and latterly Avnet, President, Zammit has appreciated often meeting and working closely with the EBV team: ”They are a team of very intelligent hard workers who also know when and how to enjoy life and celebrate success. My times with them have been very enriching and rewarding, both from a personal and professional standpoint.”
Thanks to EBV Elektronik, Avnet EM EMEA is today a very successful company and a better choice for customers and suppliers than nine years ago when the “Speedboat” adventure began. Zammit concludes to his former team: “Thank you, EBV Team, in the name of Avnet EM EMEA! Please keep up the great spirit and continue developing your company in a challenging, but also exciting technology market.”
How the world looked forward excitedly to this date! On New Year’s Eve and into New Year’s Day 2000, people around the world celebrated the dawn of a new millennium – although in pure mathematical terms it really didn’t begin until a year later. The feared worldwide “millennium bug” as zero hour passed failed to materialise. The years of investing in the change-over from two- to four- digit date formatting, to prevent computers from incorrectly interpreting the year 2000 as 1900, paid off. At the turn of the century, the world‘s population was just over 6 billion. And one thing was clear: the new millennium would be overshadowed by the battle against extreme poverty. Because more than a billion people have to live on less than 1 US dollar a day, hunger, disease, infant mortality, illiteracy, lack of clean drinking water are the consequences.
At the beginning of February 2000, the most spectacular takeover battle in the history of German business ended. The British telecommunications giant Vodafone swallowed up Mannesmann, with its successful D2 mobile phone network– against the will of management, union representatives and German politicians. The stock swap was valued at some 190 billion euros. For almost three and half a months, the long-established German company resisted the acquisition, pulling out all the stops to fire up the emotions of its shareholders. The marketing campaign alone, during which the share prices of Mannesmann rocketed, cost more than 200 billion euros.
It was a great day for Europe‘s airline industry: The world‘s largest passenger airliner would in future be built by Airbus. After investing some 12 billion euros in development costs and ten years of development work, the A380 entered the construction phase. The four-engined giant was specified to transport as many as 800 passengers, on two floors. Most airports would have to remodel to cope with its enormous size. In April 2005, the first A380 took off from Toulouse on its first test flight. But problems with material and design delayed start of production. And so it was that Singapore Airlines purchased the first plane off the production line in October 2007, after a delay of several months.
One year later than scheduled, but with a great deal of confidence, Microsoft‘s “Chief Software Architect” Bill Gates introduced Windows 2000. The operating system, developed at a cost of two billion dollars, was the largest commercial software project in computer history. With Windows 2000, Microsoft was seeking to close the gap to the competition, which had been forging ahead in the business internet and e-commerce sectors. While the new software package sold well for desktops, it did not meet expectations in its actual target market: server systems.
The explosion in sales once again forced EBV to expand. During 2000/2001, the warehouse and headquarters moved yet again – to Poing, east of Munich. Yet even the highly developed communications systems had reached their limits in trying to cope with the company’s now 750 staff. Although the open-door policy had to that point been a key element of the EBV philosophy, “there was a need for more structured communications,” recounts Robert Sennes. In hiring him, EBV had invested in a HR Development Manager who knew how to approach the soft factors such as employee motivation and management culture. Sennes – who, after 14 years at EBV, has just finished a two-year sabbatical as a life coach – brought to the company an unfiltered outside view. He sums it up this way: As a business, EBV does not sell products or patents. The unique thing about EBV is the preservation of a certain set of values. “And they must be upheld each and every day”, explains the now 49-year-old. “To that end, a company needs to implement daily mentoring and coaching once it reaches a certain size”.“All business success depends on the quality of the relationships.”
His first strategic measure as Manager of the HR Development was to introduce training for middlemanagement. For the purpose, Sennes brought in oneof the top management consultants from Switzerland. Ultimately, a series of three three-day workshops in five languages were rolled out across Europe. In addition, he introduced the one-on-one review meeting at which the employee and the supervisor provided mutual feedback. It marked a mile- stone for EBV. “Among EBV‘s greatest assets are people who think for themselves, express their own opinions and take responsibility,” says Sennes, who has made it his job to uphold the spirit of Erich Fischer, who led the company to its success.
Openness, equality and authenticity are the keywords in this process. The company founder never compromised his values in the slightest and even arrived at top business meetings on his rickety bicycle with rolled-up trouser legs. Appearances were not important to him. Since the beginning, Fischer and EBV have always appealed to lateral thinkers and strong characters, encouraging individual decision-making and a willingness to contradict established ideas. So that it stays that way, HR managers have a lot of flexibility to help employees develop personally in a way that meets their needs. If needed, training workshops and language courses are tailored to the individual employee. “All business success depends on the quality of the relationships,” Sennes states with conviction. Indeed, since 2001 all new recruits at the branch offices have been invited to the company‘s headquarters for socalled “New Hire” training workshops. There, they get to know colleagues from other departments such as Accounting, Customer Service and Purchasing. This enables them to put a face – and a smile – to the voice on the telephone. “New employees go back to their branch office highly motivated because they have been so warmly welcomed at the company headquarters,” explains Sennes. “The nicest compliment I‘ve ever received came from a French colleague. She called me a ‘heart trainer’.”
Based on his detailed knowledge of the business, Sennes together with his colleague Daniela Säger has, since early 2008, been entrusted with a new process and organisational development new task under the umbrella term of “PPM” (Project Portfolio Management).For him, this represents his “personal personnel development process”. EBV management has established this task force in order to analyse, assess and optimise all core processes from a “birds-eye view”. Experienced colleagues from the relevant departments provide support during this process. Currently, the project team is investigating the cooperation between Internal Sales and Customer Service. This, too, reflects the quality approach employed by the company. Because only a good process can create a high level of customer satisfaction. Even though all departments at EBV are well organised, sometimes optimisation stops at the department‘s door. “Only if I can see beyond the bounds of my individual department can I generate sustainable growth,” explains Sennes.
The world of travel entered a new dimension. American Dennis Tito became the first space tourist. After hundreds of hours at a training centre in Moscow, the US millionaire fulfilled a life-long dream on April 28, 2001: he travelled onboard the Russian Soyuz rocket TM32 to the international space station ISS, which orbits the Earth 340 kilometres high above us. Tito accompanied two cosmonauts on their mission. Two days later the spaceship docked at the ISS. On May 6, 2001, Tito landed back down without incident in the Steppes of Kazakhstan. The tourist trip into space cost him 20 million US dollars. His trip was seen by experts as the beginning of a new era of space travel. Now a US company is already planning moon orbits for mere mortals. Space travel should then be possible for the exclusive price of 100 million dollars.
A major step in the fight against cancer and Alzheimer‘ s disease was also achieved in 2001. Two research groups that had been in hard-fought competition with one another to sequence the human genome published their rough versions at the same time. From the complete sequencing of the genome, scientists and doctors expect to reach conclusions about genetic diseases and risk genes for Alzheimer‘s, diabetes, asthma, and cancer. In the future, thanks to DNA decoding, it may be possible to treat patients individually by developing therapies based on the patient‘s genetic pattern.
September 11 is actually designated as the “International Day of Peace” by the United Nations. Yet September 11, 2001 was also the date of the infamous terrorist attacks on the United States. It will go down in the annals as the blackest day in US history. 19 members of the Islamic terror organisation Al Qaeda hijacked four domestic flights. Two of them crashed into the World Trade Center buildings in Manhattan and one crashed into the Pentagon in Washington D.C. No one knows the intended target of the fourth hijacked aircraft – flight UA 93 – which achieved tragic fame by crashing in Shanksville, Pennsylvania after a battle between the hijackers, crew and passengers. The entire world witnessed on television as the towers of the World Trade Center, symbols of the global might of the US economy, collapse one after the other. More than 3,000 people died in the attacks. In view of their dramatic global consequences, with the USA’s declaration of the “War on Terror”, the events of 9/11 are now seen as a historic turning-point.
In the film business it would be a collection of Oscars – for best director, best script or lifetime achievement. Instead, the foyer of the EBV head office in Poing houses mementos such as a moped and a Fender guitar. The unconventional marks of recognition for “33 Years in MOTion together” and several “Distributor of the Year” awards are signs of an equally unconventional partnership. In fact, Motorola has been working with EBV from its first beginnings right up to the present, 40 years later. Many EBV managers first earned their spurs working for Motorola – not least, senior executives including founder Erich Fischer himself, Peter Gürtler and current CEO Slobodan Puljarevic.“As a manufacturer, you need to have close contact with the distributor. After all, they are the ones who are positioning your products in the market.”
Erich Fischer first went into business for himself in 1969 with a Motorola franchise covering the North Rhine- Westphalia region of Germany – regional agreements still being the norm back then. Initially he bought goods to a value of 100,000 Marks from the semiconductor manufacturer, which was soon to become widely known as the inventor of the mobile phone. In recognition of his past service, ex-manager Fischer was allowed to pay off the bill in four instalments over the course of a year. Three years later, EBV had already become the largest Motorola distributor in Germany. After five years, it was the largest in Europe. And that is how it still is today. “We always looked for partners who thought strategically, with whom we could exchange ideas and jointly develop products,” says Siegbert Sauer, account manager for EBV from 1979 to 2002, initially with Motorola, later with spin-off ON Semiconductor.
When Sauer was appointed Sales Manager Germany, Distributors at the age of just 29, he decided to grow a beard so he would at least look older. “After all, I had to deal with tough, experienced business people like Erich Fischer,” he says. Motorola was already turning over some 20 million Marks a year with EBV at the time.
“Many manufacturers were battling to get on EBV‘s line card at the time,” Sauer recounts. “Even world market leaders spent years knocking on Fischer‘s door. But size was not the top priority back then.” The EBV boss remained true to his strategy: a maximum of ten mutually complementary product lines, allied to high technological expertise. The concept fascinated Sauer, who was himself an electrical engineer. He greatly appreciated the expertise of the EBV team, and preferred visiting Honeywell together with EBV‘s regional sales manager rather than alone. “The chemistry was just right,” recalls Sauer. “All it took between us was a word.” That was what he liked most. In any case, he rarely had to bother getting used to new faces at EBV. In 23 years, he only ever dealt with two line managers. That is what you call continuity. Still today, EBV is the number one in the US manufacturer‘s EMEA distribution network, which in 2004 took its chip division to market under the name Freescale.
“As a manufacturer, you need to have close contact with the distributor,” Sauer asserts. “After all, they are the ones who are positioning your products in the market.” So Sauer did not spend long haggling over margins. He knew that annual growth rates of 20 percent and more, as were commonplace at the time, had to be financed. Additional manpower, higher stock turnover, larger warehouse units and more extensive product training ultimately profited the manufacturer too.
In the mid-1980s Sauer was promoted to Sales Director Central Europe, and saw at first hand the pan-European expansion of EBV. The mutual trust and confidence between the two partners has always been high. EBV was the first distributor to be awarded a Motorola franchise outside of its own country. And when Sauer moved to spin- off ON Semiconductor as Director Distribution Europe Sales in 1989, EBV remained his strongest partner with the highest network share.
January 1 saw the end of the German mark, the French franc and the Italian lira, among others. The euro became the official currency in twelve member-states of the EU, replacing the national bank notes and coins. For a transitional period of up to six months the old and new currencies were operated as legal tender in parallel. While the front of the euro coins was the same in all the countries, the reverse was adorned by national symbols such as the Brandenburg Gate for Germany, the Colosseum for Italy, Mozart for Austria and the bust of Marianne for France. The euro notes were identical everywhere. But not all member-states joined the currency union. Denmark, Sweden and Great Britain had negotiated exemptions. Today 15 of the 27 EU memberstates belong to the euro- zone.
For fans of Pippi Longstocking the year 2002 began with sadness. Astrid Lindgren, the creator of the famous children‘s book character, died on January 28 in Stockholm at the age of 94. Her books are a fixture on millions of children‘s bookshelves all over the world. Even adults love her little heroes from books such as “Karlsson on the Roof”, “Emil and Piggy Beast” and “Ronia the Robber‘s Daughter”. In her works, Astrid Lindgren was always a vehement and open proponent of allowing children to express themselves freely.
This moment is so much bigger than me,” sobbed Halle Berry into the microphone on the evening of March 25, “it‘s for every nameless, faceless woman of colour that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.” Halle Berry became the first African - American woman to win the Best Actress Oscar, taking the prize for her role in “Monster‘s Ball”. The 2002 Oscars were a triumph for black movie stars generally. The Academy Award for best male lead went to Denzel Washington for his portrayal of a corrupt policeman in “Training Day”. And an honorary Oscar for film legend Sidney Poitier marked Hollywood‘s recognition of one of the pioneers of black cinema. Poitier had been the first black actor to win an Oscar back in 1963.
Even 40 years after their first gig, the original giants of rock ’n’ roll are still capable of filling stadiums across the world. The Rolling Stones – named after a line from a song by blues singer Muddy Waters – launched their anniversary “Forty Licks” world tour. The grandfathers of rock – all approaching 60 – would perform on stage more than a hundred times on this tour alone. The British band fronted by Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards gave their first concert on July 12, 1962 at the Marquee Club in London. It marked the beginning of a unique global career, truly embodying the spirit of “sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll”. The Stones fit their bad boy image perfectly. Master showman Mick Jagger, above all, is the prototype sex symbol rock star: narcissistic, exhibitionist, decadent. His lasciviously protruding tongue became the band‘s logo. To date, the Rolling Stones have performed over 2,000 gigs, produced 44 albums and compilations and sold some 240 million records and CDs.
The latest trend from Italy, flexible automobile insurance, rates policy holders on their driving behaviour. The motto: Pay as you drive. The rates, which are dependent on usage and take into account car ownership, automobile value and bonus levels, may save passenger car drivers an average of 130 euros a year. This novel insurance model is made possible by a new telematics solution created by the MetaSystem Group, a consortium of seven electronics companies from Italy. The “Clear Box”, a registered trademark of the group, uses high-end positioning systems to track individual driving behaviour and calculate the risk of insuring a specific driver.
“The Clear Box is currently our main business in the telematics sector,” explains Purchasing Director Giovanni Frulloni. The group of companies specialises in automobile technology, telematics, photovoltaics, telecommunications and radio transmission. Founded in 1973, one of the company’s first inventions was the car antenna. Today the group are experts in automobile alarm and anti-theft protection systems. Thanks to their powers of innovation, the MetaSystem customer list looks like a who’s who of the European automobile industry: from the A in Alfa Romeo and the P in Peugeot all the way to the V in Volkswagen. Frulloni therefore has a constant demand for electronic components.“Logistics service is strategically vital for us and EBV offers the best consultation in that department.”
Any supplier in the industry has to be able to not only deliver high-end technology but also meet tough logistics demands. “Logistics service is strategically vital for us,” says Frulloni. The purchasing manager changed distributors in 2003 for precisely that reason and brought EBV on board. “EBV has an excellent reputation and I already knew Paolo Norrito, their salesman from Milan.”
Globalisation, cost pressure, and increasingly short develop- ment cycles have forced MetaSystem to continually optimise its own production and supply chains as well as minimise inventory and warehousing costs. Just-in-time in this milieu means more than just efficiency. It is the near synchronisation of processes between suppliers and manufacturers. Disruptions in the flow of materials can very quickly put a stop to the assembly lines at the factories. Innovative supply chain management can therefore give suppliers a significant competitive advantage. It goes without saying that an equally reliable partner is very much welcome in a complex network such as this one.
“EBV’s comprehensive logistics services provide us with an ideal support system. And the quality and consultation are excellent.” It comes as no surprise then that EBV’s greatest strength is the planning and management of materials and information along the entire logistics chain. The point here is that there are no standardised service concepts that will fit every customer. Regardless of whether MetaSystem is looking for one isolated approach to specific components, a “Total cost of ownership” analysis, process automation, tailormade supply methods, or Internet-based restocking systems, EBV has the right experts and the right tools. As a result of its full-service strategy, EBV is also able to offer competitive market prices. Yet another convincing argument for Frulloni.
His daily business takes place via the EBV Milan sales office but he has close contact with the upper echelons of EBV as well. Whether it’s the VP Sales & Marketing for Southern Europe or the CEO, both of them are interested in Frulloni’s concerns and plan regular visits to MetaSystem in Reggio Emilia. EBV is currently one of the most important distributors in Italy; Avnet is the largest.
The company’s bundled know-how and impressive portfolio of commercial trademarks and copyrights make MetaSystem a truly innovative address. With a turnover of 243 million euros in 2008, the Italians own more than 150 active patents on both a domestic and international level, and 150 of the 1,150 employees are involved in R&D. The “Clear Box” also possesses a range of additional possibilities. Engineers are currently tweaking a solution, for example, to integrate criteria such as “environmental footprint” into the calculation for insurance policy tariffs. The technology for displaying the CO2 values of a car is already patented. It could be an innovative contribution to protecting our environment. The company is already working with 36 automobile insurance companies, among them the five largest in Europe, and has access to more than 740,000 consumers in Italy, Spain, France, Great Britain, Holland and Austria. By the end of 2009 that number should reach 1,000,000.
After almost 65 years in production, the last VW Beetle rolled off the line at the Volkswagen plant in Mexico. Production in Germany had been discontinued back in 1978. The last one off the line was number 21,529,464. Its assembly was broadcast by satellite from the factory in Puebla. A Mariachi band played to mark the occasion. It was the end of a cult car. The rear-engined Volkswagen “people‘s car” had first been developed by genius car designer Ferdinand Porsche as far back as 1935, but the start of the Second World War put a block on production. In the years of Germany‘s Economic Miracle following the war, the bulbous little car quickly became highly popular as a cheap- to-buy, economical-to-run yet robust run-around. In the USA it soon acquired the quirky nickname “Beetle”, and at some point VW began using the name in its advertising. The 1962 Beetle slogan: “It runs and runs and runs ...” has become legendary.
In 2003 a country with no coastline shook the sailing world: The Swiss yacht Alinghi became the first to bring the America’s Cup to Europe in 152 years. Observers from the sailing superpower of New Zealand were incredulous: that a country which had previously been utterly irrelevant in competitive sailing should break their dominance of the oldest and most prestigious ocean sailing race in the world. It was the first victory by a European team since the Cup began back in 1851. At that time the regatta was still known as the “100 Guineas Cup”, and was held off the Isle of Wight on the south coast of England. The first winner was the schooner America from the New York Yacht Club. As the title-holder, the Alinghi team was able to choose the location for the next contest – and went on to win the America’s Cup a second time in 2007 off Valencia, Spain.
China was catching up with the USA and Russia in the Space Race. On October 15, at the satellite launch centre in the Gobi desert, a Chinese developed and manned space capsule was sent into orbit for the first time. Onboard was Yang Li Wei, who was to circle the Earth 14 times on his 21-hour flight. The mission spectacularly demonstrated that China was now capable of putting manned vessels into orbit based on its own technology. The government spoke of a triumph for the fatherland. The Chinese proudly named their space hero a “Taikonaut” – a play on words with the Chinese word “Taikong”, meaning space. On his return, fighter pilot Yang became a hugely popular singing star. He even sang a duet with action film star Jackie Chan at a Hong Kong stadium packed with screaming fans. Since that first launch, the People‘s Republic has developed some very ambitious plans, including putting its own space station into orbit. And the first Chinese moonwalk is scheduled for the year 2017. Before the Americans go back there.
Rudy Van Parijs well remembers his first day‘s work at the EBV Brussels office. His new colleagues greeted him with the phrase: “We don‘t really need an FAE.” Field applications engineers (known as “FAEs”) are nowadays integral and essential to the company‘s operations, but back in the early 1990s virtually all the sales offices within the EBV organisation considered them to be superfluous. After all, they believed, EBV sales staff were themselves electronics engineers and up to speed on all the latest technical developments. But Erich Fischer recognised that increasingly complex products demanded specialist development know-how. Another consideration was that many customers were planning with new technologies in which they had little experience. After lengthy discussions, Fischer won the argument, and as a result Van Parijs became the second FAE outside of Germany, and the fifth overall.
The Belgian subsequently became manager of the Benelux office, and when he moved to company headquarters as Vice President Technical Development in 2004 he built up his division into what was, effectively, a service department for Sales: “Our aim is to make the lives of our FAEs and sales staff as easy as possible,” he states. He now lays down the product and technology strategies, heading a team of over 120 FAEs who, together with their colleagues in Sales, work closely with customers throughout the product development cycle: from the concept phase and selection of the optimum components, through the design process to mass production.“The EBV customer brochure ‘Marketing Innovative Products’ performs an extremely important filter function.”
The Technical Marketing function supports precisely that consulting role. “We perform an extremely important filter function,” Van Parijs explains. One of his team‘s jobs, for example, is to assess the prospects of new products. The international marketing team comprises members from Belgium, Spain, Denmark, Germany and Turkey. “Our error rate is low,” Van Parijs asserts. “The advantage of such an international team is that everyone contributes very differing market knowledge. And thanks to the many languages we speak, we can provide colleagues out in the field with material in their local language.”
A cornerstone of EBV‘s strategy is its customer brochure titled “Marketing Innovative Products”, or MIP for short. Incorporating ideas which have often been copied, the roughly 100-page ring-binder format provides EBV customers with an insight into the quintessence of the latest technologies and innovative products on a twice-yearly basis. It is printed in a run of 10,000 copies. Products are selected by a “democratic” internal process whereby EBV staff decide in advance which products they consider to be the most promising. From the feedback received from all over Europe, 400 favourites are submitted for final selection. The product descriptions themselves are formulated only by EBV FAEs, who have the ultimate say on what merits inclusion. Since the data sheet for a chip often comprises hundreds of pages, it is obvious that the authors must have a high level of expertise.
The internal training courses – EBV was the first distributor to introduce its own training scheme, as far back as 1992 – also serve just one purpose: to appraise, analyse and test products from the wide range offered by semiconductor manufacturers in order to filter out the best for the customer. “In earlier times the FAEs were focused on the product level, but today the demands on them are much higher; they have to be capable of explaining the complete application, comprising between 30 and 300 chips,” Van Parijs reports. “They have at least to be aware which of their colleagues has a better knowledge of the chip.” Since the FAEs are spread all across Europe, networking and interchange of experience are vitally important. Consequently, all the FAEs and some of the Sales staff gather twice a year for a week-long EBV technical training seminar. On top of that are the manufacturers‘ training courses. All in all, each FAE undergoes a minimum of 20 training days a year.
But the investment is well worthwhile. EBV FAEs draw up several thousand “product permits” a year, for example. And their levels of expertise are consistently high throughout the EMEA region. To prevent solutions to already known issues being lost, for example, EBV has established a knowledge database. Some 5,000 cases, with their solutions, have already been documented. If an issue has not yet been detailed, the FAE concerned logs it – complete with the solution of course. All FAEs and sales engineers have access to the database, enabling them to provide their customers with fast solutions to recurrent development queries.
Europe goes comet-hunting. On March 2, at the European space centre in Kourou, French Guyana, an Ariane 5 rocket propelled the space probe Rosetta off on its mission. After a journey through our solar system lasting more than ten years, the three-ton probe is scheduled to reach the comet Churyumov Gerasimenko – named after its Ukrainian discoverer – in 2014. Orbiting the comet‘s core, which is just four kilometers in circumference and looks something like a dirty snowball, it will set a lander down on the surface and spend up to two years analysing what it finds. For the world‘s scientists, therefore, the Rosetta mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) is as important as the first manned landing on the moon. It is hoped the mission will deliver information on how our solar system, including the Earth, was created some four and a half billion years ago.
EU goes East! On May 1, 2004, ten new member states joined the European Union, marking its fifth and to date largest wave of expansion. The new member states are mainly in Eastern Europe: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia, as well as the Mediterranean islands of Malta and Cyprus. Many places held celebrations to mark the accession. In La Valetta on Malta and other capital cities, huge fireworks displays lit up the night sky. Another major step towards the unification of Europe had been achieved.
In the same year, German Formula 1 driver Michael Schumacher set a record by winning 13 of the season‘ s 18 races, taking the World Championship for the seventh time, and for the fifth year in a row. He had become the most successful driver in the history of Formula 1, breaking almost all the records there were to break in the Grand Prix world. Schumacher became a byword for perfection and discipline like no one else. In addition to his seven World Championship titles, by the time he ended his career in 2006 he had won 91 Grand Prix and had been on pole position a total of 68 times. He had won by far the most World Championship points, been on the victory podium more than anyone else, and driven more laps and more kilometres than any other driver before or since.
At the end of the year, mother nature revealed herself from her most terrible and destructive side. A seaquake measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale off the north-west coast of Sumatra on December 26 triggered a series of tidal waves, otherwise known as tsunamis. The giant waves devastated coastal areas around the Indian Ocean, causing unimaginable suffering and damage. Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, Myanmar and the Maldives were the most seriously affected. In total, more than 230,000 people were killed by the tsunami, including 165,000 in Indonesia alone. Millions lost their homes and everything they had.
The legislation introduced in the 1980s to ban lead from petrol and make catalytic converters obligatory marked the start of a new era. Car-makers had to convert their engines to fuels not containing lead-based anti-knock agents. In 2006 the electronics industry was faced with a similar upheaval to that undergone by the auto industry. With effect from July 1, a new EU Directive, known as RoHS, restricting the use of certain hazardous substances, listed lead in electrical and electronic equipment on its index of banned substances. As a consequence, tried and proven production processes were no longer usable. In the semiconductor industry the main items affected were boards soldered using lead, though the RoHS Directive actually banned six substances in total: lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE).“The impact of RoHS on the electronics supply chain extends well beyond the question of ‘lead-free yes or no’.”
The banning of lead from soldering metal had serious technical and commercial consequences for electronics manufacturers. They had to analyse their board designs, convert their production to new soldering processes, check the availability of components, acquire missing information, and much more besides. The cost of converting to RoHS- compliant production lines alone was millions of euros. Moreover, the electronics companies had to have lead-free components in stock in time for the specific change-over point. This was just the job for EBV, which took the opportunity to demonstrate the full breadth of its capabilities. The impact of RoHS on the electronics supply chain extends well beyond the question of “lead-free yes or no” however. One day the issues are technical, the next the issue is one of availability, and the next to do with detailed material disclosure.
The problem was that in the months prior to the deadline date it was difficult to find half-way usable component data providing information on simple but key properties such as RoHS compliance, peak temperatures of housings or reliable availability. The confusion began right from the identification stage: 40 percent of component manufacturers did not change their component numbers for example. Many were also very late on the ball when it came to material declaration and disclosure of processing parameters. One of the arguments cited was because Europe was not the world market. On the customer side in turn, the demand for information was far greater than the willingness to start ordering new components. Moreover, each company had its own ideas about matters such as the timing of the change-over and component marking. So a 100 percent match-up between manufacturers‘ plans and customers‘ requirements was almost impossible. EBV filled the gap created by the inconsistent procedures and poorly coordinated information policies of the semiconductor manufacturers and electronics producers. The semiconductor specialist adapted its own logistical, IT and information resources so as to best serve its customers.
A first step was to provide unique identification of the goods in the system and the warehouse. The components were visually pre-separated and assigned dedicated stickers. In a second step, the EBV logistics experts and 120 applications engineers, in close consultation with the customers, made plans aimed at minimising supply problems. The third step involved a medium- to long-term information policy. This culminated in EBV‘s in-house database solution, incorporating detailed information extending well beyond merely “lead-free”.
It is the most famous formula in the world. It is symbolic of science in general: E = mc² revolutionized human understanding of space and time. 2005 marked the centenary of Albert Einstein‘s Special Theory of Relativity. The formula it contains states that time is dependent on the speed of the moving body. Consequently, indications of time are relative to the referenced system. This means that in a spaceship time passes more slowly for human beings than on Earth; they age less rapidly. The equivalence of mass and energy also follows directly from Einstein‘s principle of the relativity of space and time. Accordingly, the mass (m) of a body is a concentrated form of energy (E), linked by the square of the speed of light (c = 299,792 kilometres per second). Thus a tiny mass can be converted into enormous amounts of energy. This is the basis for the explosive force of atom bombs and the energy generated by nuclear power stations, for example. Einstein was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize for Physics in recognition of his theory.
On August 29, Hurricane Katrina swept across the south coast of the USA, leaving chaos and devastation in its wake. Whole areas of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana were under water. Millions of people fled or were evacuated. After several of its levees broke, the city of New Orleans was particularly badly affected. The“Big Easy” sank into the flood waters overnight. Looters roamed the deserted streets; the Governor announced a state of emergency. The devastating hurricane was followed by the humanitarian catastrophe. Food was short; drinking water and power supply had completely broken down. The final death toll was 1,500 people. Three years later, just 260,000 of the original 450,000 inhabitants of New Orleans have returned to their homes. Large parts of the city remain a wasteland.
Actually all programmer Steve Chen and Web designer Chad Hurley wanted to do was broadcast their home-made party videos on the Internet. But the platform they devised to do so, known as YouTube, captured the imagination of the new generation of interactive Web users. Now anyone can upload their private movie clips. Whenever something strange or embarrassing happens anywhere in the world, we can be sure that it will shortly after be available to view on YouTube. Just a few months after its launch in February 2005, the portal was the 14th most visited site on the Web. Every day, 100 million videos are viewed on YouTube and 65,000 new home-made clips are uploaded. Because the uploaded clips spread like wildfire, industry and advertisers soon discovered the portal. In October 2006 YouTube was bought by Google for a staggering 1.65 billion US dollars.
The semiconductor manufacturers were flooding the market with reference design kits. Many were using their own components for their boards as far as possible, even if they were not always the ideal solution for the function concerned. That led to problems. As a result, more and more customers began turning to EBV for help in selecting alternative peripherals. For EBV this was an incentive to begin developing its own reference designs. After all, EBV saw itself not as the extended workbench of the manufacturers, but rather as an engineering service provider. Every reference platform entailed questions such as: What is required on what markets? What applications are strategically important? What do customers need? As an answer to those questions, the EBV applications specialists would define a solution and select the best components and technologies for it from EBV‘s and the customer‘s viewpoint – entirely independently of the manufacturers.“EBV’s core business remains semiconductor distribution. We regard reference designs as complementing the services we offer.”
EBV first had to work hard to convince the semiconductor manufacturers to play along with the idea, because they were needed as partners in the venture too. No one before EBV had ever succeeded in getting several, in some cases competing, manufacturers around one table in order to develop joint reference designs using the most suitable components.
The first EBV board, named “DragonFire”, was launched onto the market in late 2006. This was not a simple demo version, but a complete, usable reference platform com- prising both hardware and software. In 2006, for example, a customer bought the “DragonFire” board and just a few months later ordered ten more in order to present the applications it had already developed to its customer in turn.
The underlying strategy reflected one of the strengths of EBV: the ability to rapidly identify and respond to customers‘ needs and key market trends. With the reference platforms EBV provides its customers with access to the latest technologies, which they can either implement one-to-one or adapt with minor modifications to their specific requirements. The advantage is a substantial reduction in cost and development work, meaning that products are brought to market faster. There are currently six EBV reference designs, with more boards in planning. EBV‘s aim is to be in a position to offer the right board for every application.
Although the reference designs marked a significant step towards turning the distributor into a supplier of system solutions, and certainly relieved customers of some of the development effort, the basic business model of EBV remained unaffected: “Our core business remains semiconductor distribution. We regard reference designs as complementing the services we offer,” states Rudy Van Parijs, Vice President Technical Development of EBV. The return on investment is still generated through sales of the semiconductors used in the specific solutions devised. Moreover, the development costs are shared with the manufacturers.
The fact that EBV‘s choice of components is dictated solely by the requirements of the applications concerned is the key to the success of the reference platforms. Today, interest from manufacturers in participating in the next platform development is enormous. “However when the components required for a reference design are being selected, the sole decisive factor is their functionality within the specific application,” Van Parijs affirms. Since most key technologies can be covered by multiple options from the broad EBV portfolio, the choice is not always easy. “But EBV will only remain successful over the long term if we choose the best solutions for our customers,” Van Parijs concludes.
The fact that competitors are copying EBV‘s reference design strategy exactly, even down to the names of the boards, underscores its success even further.
He was the pop star of the rococo age, and even 250 years after his birth his popularity remained undimmed. Born on January 27, 1756 in Salzburg, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart quickly showed himself to be a musical prodigy, revealing talents such as teaching himself to play the violin. His parents spent years touring Europe so that their genius of a son could play at royal courts and state academies. Little Wolfgang composed his first musical pieces at the age of just five, and by 12 he had written his first opera. He became a concert master in Salzburg, and later lived as a freelance composer in Vienna. Mozart‘s creative drive was unique. He would compose the most complex works within just a short space of time. It appeared that he was carrying all the notes around in his head, ready-formed as he sat down to write each piece. In a life spanning just 35 years, Mozart wrote 626 operas, symphonies, concertos and sonatas. Yet, despite his fame, Mozart was almost constantly plagued by money worries. He lived a profligate life, regularly having to borrow or beg large sums of money. The musical genius died, of unexplained causes, on December 5, 1791, shortly after the premiere of his most successful opera, “The Magic Flute”. The only person in attendance at his burial in a pauper‘s grave in Saint Marx cemetery in Vienna was a gravedigger.
Was one of the projects of the millennium: the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze river, completed after 23 years under construction. The world‘s largest hydro-electric power station is a gigantic structure, even visible from the Moon. A 185 metre tall, 2.3 kilometre long concrete wall dammed China‘s main arterial waterway, creating a reservoir 600 kilometres in length and as much as 180 metres deep. Around one million people were forcibly relocated to make way for the dam waters. When working at full capacity from 2009 onwards, the power station downstream of the dam will supply around 85 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year to feed China‘s power-hungry economy. The prestige project was controversial from the very beginning however. Experts feared an ecological catastrophe, and warned of climate changes in the region entailing unforeseeable consequences. Some forecasters also predicted that the gigantic reservoir would be turned into a cesspit, full of all the sewage and industrial waste from the vast city of Chongqing.
On July 15, 2006 the art world marked the 400th anniversary of the birth of Rembrandt van Rijn, the greatest painter of the 17th century. Instead of painting still-lifes and landscapes, as was the fashion of the age, Rembrandt was fascinated above all by dramatic Bible stories. More than one third of all his works are devoted to the subject. What set Rembrandt apart from other artists was his use of light. He was a magician, a virtuoso playing with all the shades of light and darkness. His pictures show brightly lit figures against dark, blurry backgrounds; they are alive and dramatic in an entirely new way. At the height of his fame, Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam, where he received many portrait commissions from the prosperous middle classes. However, following the death of his beloved wife Saskia, who had so often modelled for him, he fell out of favour with his countrymen. His famous “Nightwatch” painting depicting a company of militia, which is today considered his masterpiece, was to be the high-point of his life, yet also marked a turning point. Those who had commissioned the painting rejected it because they did not feel that he had portrayed them appropriately. Over the subsequent years Rembrandt descended further and further into poverty. It was in his final years that he mainly painted his famous self-portraits.
According to forecasts, there will soon be millions of electric and hybrid-driven cars on Europe‘s roads. Indeed, the development departments of the car makers and their suppliers are working flat-out to produce alternative drive systems. “There will be increasing numbers of semiconductors in cars in future,” asserts Bernd Pfeil, since 2007 Vice President Sales & Marketing Central Europe of EBV. He regards the current collapse in sales in the car industry as an opportunity. “Entirely new fields of business and customers are opening up to EBV.” Moreover, German small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), who make up EBV‘s primary customer base, have strong regional ties. They regard relocating production abroad as of secondary importance.
Pfeil has been all too familiar with the problems in the car industry since he began as a salesman at the EBV Stuttgart office back in 1990. He is still located today in the Baden-Württemberg region, which is a major centre for component suppliers to the German automotive industry. Originally, when he answered the EBV ad in the jobs section of the “Stuttgarter Zeitung” newspaper, the engineer was looking merely to gather two years‘ sales experience before moving on. He has since that time spent 19 years with the company, "Entirely new fields of business and customers are opening up to EBV in the Automotive, General Lighting and RFID sectors." progressing from a salesman, through a regional sales manager post, to the European management team. Today as head of Central Europe sales and marketing Pfeil‘s responsibilities cover Germany, Switzerland and the Benelux countries, accounting for 45 percent of total EMEA sales. He heads a staff of almost 200 within his organisation.
He well remembers the long walks along the banks of the river Isar in Munich with Erich Fischer, reporting on progress to the EBV boss and devising forward strategies. “When we were done, Fischer would always put an apple in my pocket for the journey back to Stuttgart,” Pfeil recalls. “It was a lovely gesture.” It was most likely on one of those walks that the idea of a dedicated competence team for the automotive sector was born, and Pfeil was put in charge of it from 1995 onwards. It was pioneering work. The highly specialised engineers were fully attuned to the processes, procedures and quality demands of their automotive customers. The reward for that commitment is that EBV is today the number one distributor EMEA-wide in the automotive sector too.
The automotive sector is a key element of EBV‘s business in Central Europe, with the German states of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria traditionally being the strongest regions. Being close to the customer is a key factor. That was also the reason why EBV opened new offices in Germany in 2007 and 2008, to ensure customers never had far to travel. New locations established included Villingen- Schwenningen and Nuremberg, bringing the total number of sales offices in Germany to nine. And even in the crisis year of 2009, EBV is continuing to invest, on the lookout for a site to become office number ten. That sends out a strong message in support of Germany as an industrial base.
Just how much EBV is in tune with its customers in this respect is demonstrated by the example of Villingen-Schwenningen, where the company started with a simple home-office back in 2007. Less than two years later, a staff of five is serving the large numbers of SMEs around the Black Forest area. “Of course, existing accounts are still being served by the same salespeople,” Pfeil is keen to point out, “even if the customer concerned is now actually in the territory covered by the new office.”
EBV is always keen to make use of crisis periods such as 2009 to focus on the training and development of its sales engineers and applications consultants. That is all the more important when technological revolutions are in the offing, such as at present in the automotive and LED sectors. In this respect, too, EBV has responded promptly, establishing a General Lighting team focused exclusively on LED lighting applications. Pfeil outlines the challenge: “In this sector you have to sell light, not light-emitting diodes.” Indeed, the potential for LED technology appears infinite, extending to street and building lighting, energy-saving and lighting design among other applications. Since every lighting task is different, LED solutions are mostly tailored to individual needs.
The EBV competence team has detailed technical knowhow, enjoys access to the leading LED manufacturers, and can call upon a strong external partner network of architects and lighting designers. “We provide customers with a full package covering all their needs, incorporating lighting design alongside innovative lighting solutions,” Pfeil states. The series of seminars on lighting held by EBV since 2008 also provides a knowhow resource which has now been recognised by the Chamber of Architects as an accredited training course. As in the automotive sector, the Central Europe region plays a key role in the business within EBV. Another sector on which EBV has been focusing its operations in Central Europe since 2008 with a dedicated competence team is RFID. Increasingly global flows of goods, more and more stringent product traceability requirements and the need for efficient production processes all demand an information system which can be used to identify deliveries and individual products reliably, but which can also be accompanied by customised data. RFID provides these options. Thus the EBV RFID specialists – in conjunction with external partners, including component manufacturers and systems houses – are both mediators in delivering the necessary RFID technology and expertise and are also system suppliers offering comprehensive solutions. “Large companies benefit from EBV‘s products and services, as do small to medium-sized enterprises for whom we can facilitate entry into RFID technology. This is the only way to ensure that the potential of RFID technology actually bears fruit and is successful in use for all those involved,” Bernd Pfeil stresses.
The fourth UN Climate Report, setting out the latest global climate research, shook the world. It painted a grim picture for the future of our planet. The 3,000-page study depicted more clearly than ever before the causes and effects of greenhouse gases generated by human activity. There was no longer any doubt that global warming was occurring; it was now unstoppable, and at best might be slowed down. It is warmer on Earth today than it has been for 1,300 years. The climate researchers set forth dramatic scenarios warning of the sudden, irreversible consequences of climate change: melting of glaciers and Arctic ice; rising sea levels; heatwaves; drought; hurricanes; flooding; the extinction of entire animal and plant species.
In the same year, a global youth movement, founded on notions of tolerance and openness, celebrated its centenary. It was in the summer of 1907 that British nature-lover General Robert Baden- Powell held his first camp for young boys from all social classes. The event marked the birth of the Boy Scouts movement. Baden- Powell placed great value in taking boys on excursions and getting them together at large-scale events, so as to promote a sense of responsibility and solidarity. It was a developmental concept based on shared experience and community: camp fires, uniforms, singing – and of course one good deed a day. Baden-Powell‘s book “Scouting for Boys” was published in 1908, and soon became a bestseller. In it, he formulated for the first time the principle of “Learning by doing”.
While more than 38 million Scouts all over the world were gathering at centenary camps, the Apple community was marking the birth of a new age. The electronics concern was attempting to break into the hotly contested mobile communications market. According to Apple, their mission was nothing less than to redefine the mobile phone. People in the USA camped out for days in front of stores to get their hands on one of the first iPhones, launched on June 29, 2007. The unique feature of the mobile with the famous Apple logo was its newstyle touch-screen display. Despite costing a thousand dollars or more, 270,000 iPhones were sold in the first two days after launch. The iPhone not only became a much-desired lifestyle product, it was also celebrated by Time Magazine as the “Invention of the year 2007”.
It was a unique 24-hour event held on a unique date: 07.07.07. Shortly after 1 a.m. GMT in Sydney, Australia, the “Live Earth” global series of concerts kicked off. The patron of the project was former US Vice-President and environmental missionary Al Gore. His dream was to launch a new environmental movement. At nine major concerts and some 7,000 smaller events, more than 150 of the world‘s top rock and pop musicians, including Bon Jovi, Madonna and Genesis, performed in support of the campaign for climate protection. With billions watching live and on TV, Live Earth became the world‘s biggest ever musical benefit event. Some months later, Al Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his “efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change”. He had already collected an Oscar for his ecological documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”.
“Only those companies that set new ecological standards will enjoy economic success.”
Climate protection starts on a small scale: Every sheet of paper less; every time a computer is not left on standby at the end of the day; every short journey made without using a car is a gift to the environment. That is why EBV has launched a number of initiatives including the “Cycle to EBV” campaign in 2008. For every kilometre EBV staff throughout the EMEA region cycled to work between April and October, the company donated 15 eurocents to the German “Save the Rainforest” campaign.
With initiatives like that one, EBV is continually seeking to raise awareness among its employees of the need to be climate-friendly. They form part of the large-scale “ECOmise-it” environmental campaign, embodying EBV‘s commitment to its ecological responsibilities. “Only those companies that set new ecological standards will enjoy economic success,” is the underlying idea. EBV has set out its commitment in nine environmental directives representing the core of the campaign.
By implementing them, the company is seeking not merely to comply with environmental legislation, but to set standards in the industry as an ecological pioneer. The stated aim is that EBV should become a climateneutral company, and all employees are obligated to work towards achieving it. As one example, EBV balances out CO2 emissions resulting from business trips by air or car by planting trees or making donations to environmental projects. Over the coming months the company will be subjecting all areas – building services management, including water and energy consumption, its supply chain, its IT infrastructure, its waste separation practices – to a thorough review with regard to conservation of resources and energy efficiency. The aim is that environmental thinking should be established as a “green thread” right across EBV. But EBV is aiming to achieve more: With appeals such as “ECOmise your Application” and “ECOmise your Supply Chain”, the company is involving its customers and the manufacturers it represents in its eco- logically oriented business strategy. The first measure within this campaign is the “Best Accessible Technology” (BAT) certificate, by which EBV recognises products in its portfolio which meet the highest state-of-the-art standards in terms of energy efficiency. The BAT mark helps in seeking out green solutions which also necessarily deliver economic benefits.
The 120 applications specialists throughout Europe directly influence the components their customers select in order to optimise the energy efficiency of the applications concerned. In other words: aspects such as achieving maximum energy savings, reducing standby power consumption, improving motor control and extending the useful service lives of the products.
The EU‘s Energy Using Product Directive, known familiarly as the “Ecodesign Directive”, is also a factor which still tends to confuse many people. However, EBV‘s applications experts undergo continual training to keep them up-to-date with the latest developments in European and international legislation. And they have a unique cross-over position, especially in view of the fact that Ecodesign primarily affects developers and designers, because 80 percent of the environmental impact of a product is determined right from the design stage. Moreover, in conjunction with the independent institute for environmental strategies “Ökopol”, EBV also offers training courses dealing with the risks and opportunities entailed by the EuP Directive.
End of an era in Cuba: Frail revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, “El Máximo Líder”, officially handed over power after 49 years. Speculation as to the health of the 81-year-old had been rife since his withdrawal from public appearances following a serious operation in summer 2006. Castro‘s successor as Cuban head of state was his 76-year-old brother Raúl, who had already spent two years in office in an interim role. Castro will go down in history as one of the most colourful and controversial politicians of the 20th century. The son of a Spanish immigrant, he grew up in the period of the Batista dictatorship, when Cuba was busy acquiring a reputation as the largest bordello and gaming casino in the Caribbean. After years of guerilla warfare, Castro succeeded in overthrowing the dictator in 1959. With Soviet support, he began turning his country into a Socialist society. He became a symbol of hope for a life free from hunger and ignorance throughout Latin America. Yet in Castro‘s totalitarian state there were no political parties, the press was gagged and freedom of travel was curtailed. He drove millions into exile.
Also in 2008, physicists around the globe were excitedly awaiting the greatest experiment the world had ever seen: the launch of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) particle accelerator at the European nuclear research centre, CERN. On September 10, after 24 years of planning and construction, the Geneva-based nuclear physicists launched the first proton bundles – nuclei of hydrogen atoms – at still relatively low energy levels around the 27 kilometre underground loop made of steel tubes. At a later time the plan is for the particles to smash into each other at almost the speed of light – a feat not previously attempted by science. The particle collisions will release enormous forces within a tightly confined space, simulating the Big Bang. In this way, the CERN researchers are seeking to answer the ultimate questions in physics: How did the universe begin? What is it made of? What is holding it together? It is hoped that the LHC experiment will also prove (or disprove) other theories such as that of supersymmetry and dark matter. However, following a successful launch the particle accelerator had to be shut down after just a few days in test mode due to a fault in the cooling system. The restart is scheduled for July 2009.
US swimmer Michael Phelps is certain of his place in the annals of sport. The 23-year-old won no fewer than eight gold medals at the Olympic Games in Beijing. Eight is a lucky number in China, and so it proved for Phelps too: eight victories in eight races on eight days, though “only” seven world records. The Baltimore-born Phelps began swimming training at the age of seven, primarily to get rid of his surplus energy, as he was suffering at the time from Attention Deficit Syndrome (ADS). Over the years he developed miraculous levels of concentration, and took part in the Sydney Olympics at the age of just 15.
What makes companies successful? The standard reply to that question is: the corporate strategy. But that is only half true, according to Andreas Fleißner, adult education specialist and for over eleven years a software trainer with EBV. Conversations with colleagues continually revolving around the “spirit of EBV” and the old stories in which Erich Fischer and Peter Gürtler are talked of with something approaching reverence were the inspiration behind his choice of doctoral thesis subject in studying for his “Dr. phil”. And so, since 2008, he has been spending two hours every day after work investigating the extent to which management culture is responsible for corporate success, based on the concrete example of EBV. The sociologist is looking to identify the link between the founding vision of Erich Fischer and the success of the semiconductor specialist today. It is a success embodied not only in hard facts such as sales, profit, growth, market share and employee fluctuation rates (below three percent at EBV), but also – and perhaps especially – in soft factors such as employee loyalty, motivation, satisfaction and corporate culture. “You cannot consciously create success,” asserts Fleißner. “But you can establish the right conditions for it up-front.”“The management’s attitude to people is revealed in their day-to-day actions and has a direct influence on the quality of the teams’ work.”
EBV is the ideal research subject in that respect. The company has enjoyed uninterrupted commercial success since its founding. Because EBV is not a producer, but sells a service, it is not a product which makes the company unique but rather a corporate culture, a mentality, which pervades the whole organisation, from the accounting clerk to the top manager. Fleißner‘s hypothesis is that the founding spirit has never been lost throughout the company‘s 40-year history. Having been originally embodied by Fischer and Gürtler, it is being sustained today by employees from the early years who are now in senior posts. That is the theory.
And what about the practice? Visitors entering the company‘s headquarters in Poing immediately discern the fundamental climate in the organisation when they hear the laughter in the foyer; when they observe the light and airy architecture; and when they receive a friendly, open welcome. There are many concepts of management, but management culture is expressed by action – and is embodied on a daily basis by the roughly 180 management staff employed at EBV. “The spirit of EBV is also expressed in an expectation on the part of the employees,” says Fleißner. “They expect that their manager will trust them, and vice versa. They expect that they will be able to contribute innovation on their own initiative, and give feedback where appropriate.” Not cold business acumen, but respect, openness and trust are the cornerstones of EBV. Flat hierarchies, empowerment and a culture of quick decision- making are direct consequences of that human approach.
Fleißner himself has had a typical EBV career, founded on independent initiative and responsibility. When he was recruited back in 1998 as a software trainer, he had neither a predecessor nor a job description. “Yet when it became known that there was a trainer in-house, the demand for training in all departments surged,” the educational scientist recalls. Consequently, he today heads a team of three highly qualified and motivated trainers. He is currently engaged on a pilot project in which he is providing training to colleagues all along the process chain. “Different applications become relevant at each point,” he reports. “It starts with telephone behaviour and listening for keywords, through mastery of various applications and processes, to communications with other departments.” One really important thing: explanations are not given in computer language, but in language the users understand. That service-friendly approach is found time and again throughout EBV: all employees consider themselves as service providers to colleagues and other departments as well as to customers.
It is doubtless no easy task for Fleißner to capture the spirit of EBV scientifically. But having spent recent months devising scientific methodology and hypotheses and drawing up questionnaires, in 2009 he is beginning the series of approximately 20 in-depth interviews. After analysing and evaluating the questionnaires and interviews, he aims to submit his doctoral work in the autumn of 2010. He believes that EBV will also profit from his research, by providing the CEO with scientifically underpinned theses relating to EBV‘s strengths and the factors in its success. There is no question that company bosses Slobodan Puljarevic and Christian Meier are providing the doctoral thesis at the University of Koblenz-Landau with their full backing. After all, 40 years of EBV means 40 years of togetherness.
Some 140 years after the abolition of slavery, Barack Obama entered the White House as the first African- American President of the United States. On January 20, around two million people from all over the USA watched President Obama’s inauguration ceremony live on the National Mall in Washington. They wept and danced, cheered and sang, wanting to be part of the renewal of America depicted by Obama in his almost poetic speeches. The 47-year-old Democrat won people over primarily by virtue of his charisma, his youthful spirit and his optimism. Supporters were keen to compare him with John F. Kennedy. Following his historic election victory a few weeks previously, the son of a Kenyan father and a white American mother was being turned into something of a new Messiah figure. With his election slogan “Yes, we can”, he re-awakened the American dream of freedom, promising a fresh beginning and change.
On June 25, the world of popular music was shaken to its core by news of the death of Michael Jackson. He was just 50 years old, and had been about to make a dramatic stage comeback after a number of years’ absence. Indeed, since the 1990s, the “King of Pop” had been making headlines solely by virtue of his bizarre lifestyle and increasingly extreme marks of plastic surgery. During the 80s and 90s, the former child-star, who had performed on-stage for the first time at the age of six, rose to become a global idol. He was to go down in music history with his classic “Thriller” album, released on December 1, 1982. It remained at number one in the US charts for an unprecedented 37 weeks, and with sales of over 100 million became the best-selling album of all time. The 14-minute video accompanying the title track also became legendary. His groundbreaking videos, his distinctive high-pitched voice and his unmistakable dancing style made Jackson the most exciting entertainer of his era, and a role model for generations of other pop stars. He was the first black artist to appeal to all social classes and people with his music. With the follow-up album “Bad”, Jackson launched on his first solo world tour, and again broke all records, performing 120 concerts on four continents over a period of 16 months. His entire career was marked by superlatives: 13 Grammys; 13 number one singles; 750 million albums sold. Later, a news-hungry public observed the dramatic fall of the artistic genius as he faced allegations of child abuse.
By Toutatis! It was 50 years ago that the French youth magazine “Pilote” published the first adventure of the sneaky little Asterix the Gaul and his fat friend Obelix, in 38 episodes. Since that time, generations of schoolchildren have swotted up on their Latin and on their historical knowledge of the Romans by reading Asterix comics. Today, there are 33 albums featuring Asterix and Obelix, who fell into a vat of magic potion as a child, his dog Idefix, the Druid Miraculix and all the other inhabitants of the rebellious village. The comic series has been published in over a hundred different languages and dialects.
EBV Elektronik is offering via EBVchips a brand-new additional service in which it collaborates with customers to design its own semiconductors. EBVchips are produced by EBV’s manufacturers and distributed exclusively by EBV. For the first time in the history of the semiconductor industry, one distributor is now providing even small and medium-sized companies with access to specially customised products featuring state-of-the-art technology with the best price/performance ratio!"EBVchips takes the semiconductor distribution to a whole new level."
“With EBVchips, we now represent the interface between many thousands of customers and the manufacturer”, explains Slobodan Puljarevic, President and CEO of EBV Elektronik. “This takes semiconductor distribution to a whole new level.”
The tallest building in the world was opened in the desert state of Dubai. The tower to top all towers houses floors of office space, luxury homes and the world's first Armani hotel, measures 828 meters to the very top and is unbeatable in superlatives in almost every respect. It boasts the highest roof and has 163 usable floors, which can be reached by a total of 57 lifts. The building houses the longest lift in the world at 504 meters, which is also the fastest. It travels non-stop to the viewing platform on the 124th floor at over ten meters per second. The Burj Khalifa is quite simply a miracle of technology. 31,400 tons of steel and 330,000 cubic meters of concrete were used to make the tower which cost one billion euros to build. In clear conditions, the needle of the skyscraper can be seen from a distance of almost one hundred kilometres.
All technology freaks were awaiting the 27 January 2010 with baited breath: Apple presented the company's latest coup in San Francisco. The iPad, a cross between a MacBook and the iPhone, is ultra flat, comes with a high-resolution touchscreen and is operated in a similar way to the cult mobile phone. The device for surfing the net, listening to music, reading, playing videos and looking at photos was designed to create a new market - with resounding success: All of a sudden, millions of people are buying tablet PCs. Competitors are also benefiting from this boom by equipping their devices with the Google operating system Android.
Sloppiness, greed and inadequate checks led to the biggest environmental disaster in US history. On April 20, two explosions shook the BP oil rig Deepwater Horizon on the south coast of Louisiana. Eleven people died. As the burning wreck sank in the Gulf of Mexico, the borehole broke at a depth of 1,600 meters. The cause was a faulty safety valve. All attempts to close the leak on the seabed were unsuccessful. It took 90 days to stop the oil flow, after 780 million litres of crude oil had flowed freely into the sea. When the gigantic carpet of oil reached mainland America, the catastrophe became clear to see for the television cameras too. Oil-coated pelicans become a symbol for the almost 300 kilometres of contaminated coast in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. Shrimp fishers lost the basis of their existence and tourism came to a standstill. The US government issued a drilling ban and forced BP to set up a compensation fund for the victims of the catastrophe.
The oil disaster also had disastrous consequences for BP – initially at least. The company lost a third of its market value and the multinational oil company even appeared to be a take-over candidate for a time. One year later, BP is back to generating a comfortable profit and the oil companies are resuming their deep sea drilling activities on the Gulf of Mexico.
Team building à la EBV. For the first time, EBV cracked the annual revenue level of 1.5 billion euros. With a market share of 24 percent, EBV continues to be the leader in European semiconductor distribution. And because EBV actually lives the values of team spirit and respect, the company management invited all employees to a team building event in Andalusia.
In addition to the revenue success, there was also the success of a new company strategy to celebrate, which goes far beyond the distribution of components: "Thinking long-term, we wanted to create something sustainable to help reduce the area’s carbon footprint." The first EBVchip has been launched on the market. It is called "Genesis". EBV is now also a client for new semiconductor products, bundling the technical requirements of medium-sized customers from its vertical market segments. As the EBV engineers are extremely familiar with the product and technology portfolios of their suppliers, they can now approach the ideal manufacturer directly and offer key account business with the relevant quantities. Genesis, for example, an IGBT module for photovoltaic inverters, is manufactured at Vishay. The chips have an original component number from this manufacturer, who is also responsible for liability, warranty and delivery time. They are, however, available exclusively to EBV customers for between three and five years. Although EBVchips are initially only being developed for uses in vertical distribution segments, every customer has access to EBVchips.
Trip to Andalusia: Flying 1000 employees to the Atlantic coast of Spain has consequences for the environment. But EBV takes its ecological responsibility extremely seriously and by the time the planes took off for home again on October 3, EBV had made Andalusia a little bit more green and sustainable. As part of the EBV environmental program "ECOmise it", the employees planted a dune landscape the size of 70 football fields with 7,500 trees in danger of extinction. It is the largest reforestation project in the history of Spain. This means that the employees not only balanced out the CO2 consumption for their trip to Spain, but also helped the Punta Umbria region to improve its climate balance for the long-term.
The dictators in Arab countries are falling like dominos. One month after the start of the mass protests, Tunisia's widely hated dictator Ben Ali fled the country. Just a few weeks later, the Egyptian opposition forced Hosni Mubarak out of office after 30 years of rule. And in Libya, the tyrant Muammar al-Gaddafi fell from power in Autumn after a 42 year reign. The Arab spring began with an act of desperation from a young Tunisian street vendor, who set himself alight in protest against police brutality. Demonstrations followed throughout the country, which spread like wildfire to the neighbouring countries. Many of the mostly young protestors sent messages to the outside world via Facebook and Twitter and organised the uprisings. The centre of the unrest in Egypt was Tahrir square in Cairo. The regime fought back and gave orders to shoot at the demonstrators. As a result, at least 900 died. In Libya too, freedom from the Gaddafi clan cost many victims. For months on end, major battles were fought between government troops and the rebels. Gaddafi went into hiding and was found shot in October.
Gasps of horror were heard all over the world on March 11. After a major earthquake, the northeast coast of Japan was hit by the tsunami of the century. The gigantic tidal waves swept kilometres in-land, uprooting entire villages and towns as they went. Almost 20,000 people died, hundreds of thousands were made homeless. But that wasn't the biggest accident to happen on this day. The forces of nature damaged the Fukushima nuclear power plant, the cooling systems failed and three out of six reactors suffered core meltdown. Tens of thousands of people had to be evacuated, as the area around the power plant had become infected with radioactive contamination. Images of the explosion of the reactor buildings shown on TV shook belief in the ability to control nuclear technology all over the world. The Federal government, which had extended the operation of the nuclear power stations in Germany a short time before, decided to implement an energy revolution. The eight oldest nuclear power stations were shut down immediately.
The iGod is dead: Steve Jobs, Apple's mastermind and inventor of the iMac, iPhone and iPad, died on October 6. He was just 56 years of age when he lost his battle against cancer which had lasted a number of years. The usual bright links to the products disappeared immediately from the Apple homepage. They were replaced by a black and white portrait from better times with the single line: "Steve Jobs, 1955-2011".
Visionary, genius, IT poet: these were just a few words used to describe Jobs even before he passed away. His instinct for knowing the needs of customers made him into probably the biggest innovator of his time. He didn't sell technology, he sold digital lifestyle. In 2010, Apple became the most valuable company in the world.
Tiny semiconductor crystals, barely larger than a grain of sand, have been electrifying the scientific and technical world for some years now. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are comparable with any previously existing light sources, and they are enabling quantum leaps in technology. However: in order to exploit the full potential of LED technology – whether for street or building lighting, for vehicle headlights, as a means of power-saving, or as a lighting design tool – specialist know-how, experience and the right products are essential. EBV Elektronik provides all of that. The company is a leading expert in opto-electronic technologies, with an over 30 percent share of the European semiconductor distribution market. And no wonder: EBV has been supporting customers in the field with its in-house lighting expertise for many years. EBV's Field Application Engineers have detailed knowledge of the technology, as well as maintaining a close network of contacts with major LED manufacturers. That is important, because every lighting task is different, and LED solutions are mostly tailored to individual needs. In 2012 EBV took its service backup a major step further, establishing a professional Light Lab for customers at its home base in Poing near Munich. The facility is unique in the industry. "The light lab is yet another milestone in individual customer service." At the EBV Light Lab, customers from all over Europe are able to carry out radiometric and photometric testing all along the lighting chain. This provides even small companies with unrestricted access to high-precision measuring and testing technology. They are of course assisted and supported by an expert in-house engineer.
An idea of the vast potential for technical solutions available through the use of LEDs is also offered by EBV's new LightSpeed microsite (lightspeed.ebv.com). The site gives a highly useful insight into LED lights and their potential applications. Visitors can also access information on EBV's suppliers and their products, find out about the Light Lab, and follow links to technical literature and configuration tools.
EBV has also established a dedicated microsite specially for customers' own developers (designsolutions.ebv.com), and in the "System Solutions" area provides an online advice and support facility. At the heart of the site is the "Build Your Block" feature. It enables designers either to create block diagrams or to upload and modify their own. A database provides examples to help. Diagrams can then be submitted online for EBV to check. EBV's experts review and revise the draft, offering suggestions for improvement where appropriate.
Developers can also use the new site to submit specification for EBVChips they would like to see manufactured. Whether EBV's engineers actually develop a chip from it depends on its market potential. The company has certainly invested heavily in developing this new pillar of the business over the last two years, and in 2012 it launched five custom semiconductor solutions onto the market. "By analysing customers' ideas, we have identified product requirements enabling entirely new designs to be created," states Director of Technical Marketing Antonio Fernandez. The new additions to the EBVChips range were produced in cooperation with a number of semiconductor manufacturers: Avago, Freescale, On Semiconductor, ST Microelectronics and Vishay. The product names include Driver, Hermes, Hunter, SolexDrive and vTARIC, and they serve a wide range of different applications, from engine management, through alternator control, to M-Bus communications of smart meters.
Queen Elizabeth II has reigned for an incredible 60 years as head of "the firm" – the typically humorous epithet applied by the British to their royal family. The celebrations marking the Diamond Jubilee featured an event unmatched in splendour since the coronation of Anne Boleyn back in the 16th century: a magnificent pageant of ships on the Thames marking the highlight of the four-day festivities last June. Ships from India, Canada, New Zealand and other countries were brought specially to London to take part in the 11 kilometre long procession. There were 20,000 people taking part on the water alone. And in the midst of it all was the Queen, with her consort Prince Philip, resplendent on the specially constructed royal barge. Crowds thronged the banks of the river to cheer the monarch, who succeeded her father at the age of almost 26 way back in 1952. Since coming to the throne the Queen has dealt with 12 prime ministers, handed out more than 387,000 honours, sent 100,000 telegrams congratulating subjects for reaching their hundredth birthdays, undertaken over 260 state visits, and hosted some 100 state banquets.
On October 14th extreme sportsman Felix Baumgartner achieved a feat no one had ever done before. Broadcast live around the world, he broke the sound-barrier while free-falling. Wearing a pressurised suit, the 43-year-old plunged out of a helium balloon from a previously unmatched altitude of 39 kilometres. Beneath him lay the pale brown Nevada desert. The base-jumper shot downwards like an arrow, falling 36,500 metres in four minutes and 20 seconds before opening his parachute and landing safely a short time later. More than seven million viewers watched on YouTube as he reached his top speed of 1,342.8 km/h. The live stream was subject to a 20-second time delay, just in case the ambitious stunt ended in tragedy. After all, the risks of such an undertaking are incalculable: a wrong move, excessively strong winds in the stratosphere – any disturbance would be fatal. Baumgartner might lose consciousness, or go into a spin, or his suit might tear under the extreme stress, and so on, and so on. The adventurer had spent years preparing for those few minutes, backed by millions of dollars in sponsorship. Now, following his happy landing, he has hung up his parachute and retired.
For decades, some doom-merchants had been predicting a global apocalypse on December 21st, 2012. No other date in the modern era has been surrounded by so much myth, fear and hope. Because this was the day on which the Mayan calendar was due to end after 5,125 years, and a fundamental change in the order of things was prophesied. It was said that the prediction was underpinned by cosmic constellations, interpreted by people around the globe either as the end of the world, the end of time itself, or the start of a new era. Sellers of emergency equipment and survival packs were among those to profit from the predictions of doom of course. Hoarding was observed in places all around the world. Hollywood producer Roland Emmerich also made good on the back of the Mayan prophecy with his end-of-the-world epic "2012", which cost 200 million dollars to make and took around four times as much at the box office. Esoteric specialists claimed what was about to occur was a "time of magic" or a "quantum leap for human consciousness", and boosted their bank balances with endless streams of books, magazine articles and talks. December 21st 2012 had doubtless been turned into a highly significant date – comparable in many eyes to the dawn of the new millennium a few years before. But the world did not end. And for the modern-day Mayans, it simply meant the beginning of a new cycle in their calendar.
South Korean rapper Psy became an Internet sensation with his "Gangnam Style" music video. The song was released in Korea in July. On December 22nd it achieved a new world record of over a billion hits on YouTube. More than any video before. And no dance moves have ever been so frequently copied. Whether Madonna, Britney Spears or UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon – everyone around the world has been aping the wild routine. In fact, Psy – or to use his real name, Park Jae Sang – is neither young, nor good-looking, nor wild. The 34-year-old is shy, and rather thickset, with a round face. His dance looks like someone riding a horse and swinging a lasso. And yet "Gangnam Style" has become Korea's first ever global hit.
After having established its vertical market segment structure and built it through the EMEA region in recent years, in 2013 EBV created special microsites for each segment. The microsites provide an overview of their respective markets. Above all, however, they offer wide-ranging information on the technologies being deployed and their applications.
For example, visitors to the site can zoom in from the applications level to the semiconductors section. There all they have to do is click on a product to access details on it, including technical data and logistics. For more information, a form is provided to contact the relevant EBV product specialist directly.
The LightSpeed Segment microsite went online in late 2012, followed by the Vertical Segment Automotive site in October 2013. "Detailed technical solutions for specific applications can be found at a click." The Vertical Segment Automotive microsite provides visitors with background information on electronic features in 20 different vehicle groups. The information covers cars, SUVs, electric vehicles, motorbikes, buses, commercial vehicles and special-purpose vehicles. Related markets such as diagnostic instrumentation and toll systems are also included. The site illustrates potential applications for each group, including ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems), BMS (Battery Management Systems), car-to-car communications, diagnostics, EPS (Electric Power steering) and telematics, covering topics such as networking, lighting and power, as well as safety. Visitors can simply click to find the semiconductor their developers need to realise the automotive systems concerned.
The microsites for the other market segments – Consumer, Healthcare, High-Rel, Renewable Energies, FPGA, Identification, LightSpeed and RF & Wireless – are similar in design, and all offer high levels of user value. As Thomas Staudinger, EBV Elektronik Vice President Vertical Segments, comments: "Most industry websites do not meet the application-specific needs of our customers. Our segmental microsites provide a platform specifically tailored to the needs of each market segment."
The conservative Pope Benedict XVI takes the revolutionary step of retiring from office. It is the first time in 700 years that the Catholic Church has seen such an occurrence. Popes are normally elected for life. But in February the 85 year-old Benedict informs the College of Cardinals that he no longer possesses the necessary strength to carry out his duties, and that his wish is to spend the rest of his life in prayer and meditation. The Pope from Bavaria has not yet been eight years in office when he announces his historic decision. The then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had been appointed to lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics by the Papal Conclave held in April 2005. As Pope Emeritus – now his official title – Benedict moves to live in a monastery inside the Vatican City. He is soon to be living close by his successor in office, Pope Francis I from Argentina. Pope Francis is modesty personified, and chooses to live in the guest house rather than in the Apostolic Palace.
The man of the year is a computer expert. Edward Snowden, an employee of the US's foreign espionage agency the NSA, becomes the world's best-known whistleblower. In early June, the 28-year-old hands journalists from the UK's Guardian newspaper and the Washington Post highly confidential files revealing the extent of the NSA's surveillance machinery. The world is shocked, and the outrage generated has major consequences. As part of their spying activities under the blanket of the "War on Terror", the NSA is revealed to have been illegally tapping phone networks worldwide, and using a special spyware program to access user data from companies including Yahoo, Google and Facebook. It has been randomly monitoring e-mails, photos, videos, search requests and live chats. The illicit surveillance scandal spreads ever wider over the subsequent months. The NSA appears to make no distinction between friend and foe in deciding who to spy on. It has even been listening-in on telephone calls by EU politicians, the UN, and half the government quarter in Berlin. When the Guardian unveils Snowden as its source, at his own request, he is declared a Public Enemy in the USA. Faced with the prospect of 30 years in prison, the whistleblower flees to Moscow, where President Putin grants him asylum. When Snowden is awarded the Alternative Nobel Prize in recognition of his courage at the end of 2014, he is still living incognito in Russian exile.
"Playboy" turns 60, and has no plans to retire. It was back in December 1953 that Hugh Hefner - with a loan of 8,000 Dollars and an idea in his head - published the first issue of the gentlemen's magazine in the USA. The cover girl on that first issue to hit the kiosks is Marilyn Monroe, then still at the beginning of her career, but causing quite a stir with her sexy nude photos: Put together at a kitchen table using scissors and tape, the magazine priced at 50 Cents sells some 54,000 copies. Hefner's idea of combining erotica with top-class journalism in a high-gloss magazine is a success. Authors such as Saul Bellow, Woody Allen, Norman Mailer, John Updike and Roald Dahl publish their short stories in "Playboy". And even famous beauties like Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve, Madonna, Cindy Crawford and Kim Basinger strip off for Hugh Hefner. Six decades later, the magazine has made its creator extremely wealthy. It is published in 35 countries. The Playboy Bunny, with her stylised bunny-ears and bow tie, is still to be seen on every cover, as well as on all kinds of licensed products. It is one of the best-known brand logos in the world. And the 88 year-old Playboy founder has a wife who is 60 years younger than he is.
Nelson Mandela passes away in December at the age of 95. The nation mourns not only a great statesman, but an icon of democracy and peace. "Madiba", as Mandela was fondly called, had become a legend in his own lifetime. As a young man, he had spent years fighting an underground battle against South Africa's white Apartheid regime, before being imprisoned in 1962 for an incredible 27 years. He is pardoned in response to international pressure in 1990. Yet instead of seeking revenge, Mandela commits himself to achieving reconciliation between black and white, and paves the way for the country to become a democracy. It saves the profoundly divided nation from a bloodbath. He is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 in recognition of his accomplishments. When the first democratic elections are held in 1994, he becomes South Africa's first black President.
EBV is marking the 20th anniversary of its brochure "MIP" (Marketing Innovative Products). "MIP" is one of the longest-established brochures in the chip distribution business across the EMEA region. Published twice a year, the periodical provides customers with information on outstanding new products and technologies from EBV suppliers. "With our MIP brochure and the microsites, developers will quickly find the semiconductor solution they need." Its unique feature: topics and products are selected by the EBV FAE team in co-operation with the Sales team, in turn based on the experiences, needs and requirements of the customers. "MIP is a service targeted at our customers' R&D departments," explains Antonio Fernandez, Director Technical Marketing of EBV Elektronik. "For the last 20 years it has been helping developers drive innovation, incorporate more performance and efficiency into their products enhance their competitiveness, and at the same time cut their time to market."
In 2014 we launched a special website, "Industrial," presenting comprehensive information on all the technologies, applications and market segments - including manufacturing, energy management and transport. Karim Khebere, VP Technical Development of EBV: "Our aim is to help our customers in EMEA find the best experts and solutions to meet their individual needs." The "Broadcast Applications" area, for example, demonstrates just how comprehensively the website covers the current applications portfolio. Among other features, the microsite provides visitors with information on testing, measurement, production automation, embedded computing systems, motor control and energy conversion. And users are then just a click away from information on the chips which can be used for the application in question.
Since Summer 2014 the EBVchips page has been providing an overview of all available products as well as featuring a film about the EBVchips programme and offering a dedicated FAQ area. "With the launch of a dedicated EBVchips microsite, we have reached the next milestone, and have advanced our programme from a tried and proven concept to become a successful business model," states Eckart Voskamp, head of the EBVchips programme. "We are absolutely certain that the microsite will help us to market our EBVchips products even more effectively and to make the programme even more widely known among our customers and suppliers."
The new key visuals will also help: Each EBVchip now bears the name of one of the gods of antiquity, symbolising the chip's specific functionality. HERMES, the messenger of the gods, is devoted to communications and data transfer. EPONA, the goddess of horses and chariots, is a configurable hardware module with communications for any required motor vehicle alternators. MINERVA, the goddess of crafts, gives her name to a multi-channel programmable driver stage for industrial magnets and motor vehicle fuel injection systems. The TITAN pressure sensor is robust and strong, like the giants of the same name in Greek mythology. And VESTA – the most recent addition to the EBVchips pantheon – is the goddess of the (smart) home: an IP500 module supporting asynchronous wireless mesh networks for building management. At a high-gloss photo-shoot, artfully styled models depict the various deities – and at the same time dramatically spotlight the outstanding qualities of the new EBVchips.
When the first Ebola patients are registered in Guinea in March 2014, no one yet suspects that an epidemic is on the way. Scientists have been aware of the virus since 1976, when it was first isolated on the Ebola river in Congo. There have been repeated outbreaks in Africa ever since, though only local in extent and over a limited period of time. But in 2014 everything is different: An alarmingly large number of people are infected within a short space of time. The fever runs out of control, and has soon also spread death and fear to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Mali. The affected countries are helpless. They have no idea how to deal with the epidemic. The population is in a panic. Health-care systems are on the verge of collapse. Ebola is transmitted by bodily fluids such as sweat, urine, blood and saliva. This makes the risk of infection particularly high in the countries torn apart by civil war and stricken by poverty, with low standards of hygiene and sanitation. It is a tough battle for doctors to combat the epidemic, even with support from all over the world. There are no vaccines or effective medications against the deadly virus. Doctors can only hope to strengthen patients' weakened bodies. People in Europe and the USA think they are safe, until the first nursing staff are infected by Ebola patients flying in there too. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), some 7,000 people die of Ebola, and 17,000 are taken sick with it, by the end of 2014. Experts believe that the true figure is four times that, however.
After a 10-year journey through our solar system, the space probe "Rosetta" moves into orbit around comet 67P, named Churyumov-Gerassimenko. On November 12th, the refrigerator-sized research robot "Philae" detaches from the mother probe and lands on the comet's surface of dust and ice. It is a first in the history of space travel: a human-built craft landing on a rock originating from the earliest time of the Universe. Some experts compare the mission run by the European Space Agency (ESA) to the moon landing. While the Rosetta continues orbiting, Philae is tasked to survey the comet, drilling into its surface, and analysing air and soil samples. Initial analyses reveal that the piece of cosmic rock smells of rotten eggs. Scientists are hoping the data will help solve the puzzle of how our solar system was born 4.6 billion years ago. It is not without reason that the probe was named after the famous Rosetta Stone, whose inscriptions in three languages provided the key to decoding ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics back in 1799. The mission is a tricky one: not only because it is being undertaken more than half a billion kilometres from Earth, but also because the minilab which back on Earth tips the scales at 100 kilograms weighs just four grams on "Churi".
Even a murderous attack by the Taliban could not dent her courage. In fact, it encouraged her to become the global mouthpiece representing the rights of all children to an education. Schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai is awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her heroic struggle.
The 17-year-old is the youngest ever Nobel Prize recipient. Malala has in fact been defying the Taliban in her homeland of Pakistan since the age of 11. Although girls are excluded from classes, she continues to go to school, blogging on the website of the BBC's Urdu Service. This brings her into conflict with Islamic militants, who in 2012 stop her school bus and shoot her in the head. Malala survives with serious injuries. She is flown to Britain, where she undergoes a number of operations. She still lives in Britain with her family today. In the view of the Nobel Committee, Malala "has shown by example that children and young people, too, can contribute to improving their own situations. This she has done under the most dangerous circumstances".