Interview with Bjoern Klaas, Vice President & Managing Director EMEA
Who are you and what is your position at Protolabs?
My name is Bjoern Klaas, I’m the Managing Director of Protolabs EMEA and a Global Vice President. I am also a member of the Executive Leadership Team and the European Leadership Team.
What does a typical working day look like for you?
A typical working day for me, firstly, consists of a lot of travelling, usually from Monday to Thursday or even Friday. It’s also very important for me to structure and plan my day, even if that's not always easy. I usually have several meetings a day in which I contribute my knowledge and my opinion, but which are also goal-oriented and need preparation in advance. But I consciously allow myself the time to work through things and think through topics; reflective learning, as they used to say at school.
What do you like most about your job?
The people I work with. Of course we’re almost always meeting virtually at the moment. I really value the safety this presents but it is a shortcoming for me personally. Many people find meeting this way most fruitful, but I don't like it so much myself. Also, I like to exchange ideas with the managers who report directly to me, but the exchange with all the other employees is also important to me. It gives me different points of view and I can learn from that and on the other hand I can distribute my messages better.
What I also like is analysing data as I’m quite a numbers person. I’m happy when the monthly figures come out, then I sit down and look at it very carefully.
What’s your favourite lunch routine?
In Telford I get my lunch in the most convenient way – from the petrol station, so everyone jokes about this. In Putzbrunn I use the lunch trolley, which rings so you know it's there. I must also honestly admit that I sometimes ask colleagues to bring something with them if an appointment extends into the lunch period, but I try to avoid that. Sometimes I wish I still had a regular lunch break in the canteen as I used to in the past. Maybe that's something I should do more often again, because at lunchtime in the canteen you can meet other colleagues again and develop innovative ideas.
What’s the most unique thing you’ve worked on at Protolabs so far?
I think the most special thing for the company is everything that we are doing at the moment, or have done recently. By that I mean the launch of our new e-commerce platform, the products and services we’ve launched and intend to launch, the HUBS acquisition and the adaptation of a more comprehensive business model. I am deeply involved in all of this. We are transforming our business and we must adapt to externally changing conditions, for example Brexit and the global need to reduce carbon. In themselves, each of these events or requirements has the potential for huge change and growth. Coupled with an imminent economic recovery, it was exactly the right decision to make all the investments in 2020/2021, even if it was often very challenging. But now we can reap the benefits and I am really looking forward to it!
Why did you choose Protolabs?
The first sentence that comes to my mind: Because it's an awesome company.
The decision came from my previous work experience: I was at a company that was a supplier for Protolabs, so I came into contact with the company. At some point I was asked if I would like to work for Protolabs and the decision was made relatively quickly. I like the innovative business model, we are the only digital manufacturer at scale with a great deal of potential. We also have a significant knowledge advantage over our competitors.
What advice would you give to yourself looking back on starting at Protolabs?
I was relatively naive in my approach. Protolabs is a company with fewer processes than I was used to. This is because Protolabs is around 20 years old, not 200, and we are in a constant state of evolution. We offer our customers new products that differ to what we offered them before. And that causes us to be in a constant cycle of innovation. So you must have a good degree of flexibility and be able to welcome change. I underestimated that at the beginning. I'm classically trained in my approach to strategy and applying traditional approaches often doesn't work for Protolabs because we're a manufacturing company in an e-commerce environment. We have a unique business model – I’ve learned to love that, but it took me six months to come round to it.
Describe what Protolabs means to you in 3 words.
Speed. Flexibility. Growth.
I would like to emphasize that last word in particular: as a company, we are currently in a phase in which we want, can and must grow. Therefore, growth is the most important word to me.