"Due to the organizations foundation structure and long-term perspective, our customers continue to benefit from our solutions"
Stefan Claes is Director Benelux at ZEISS, a company that has specialised in optical and optoelectronic technology for more than 170 years. ZEISS is located in the Bondpark Business Center on the Graaf Engelbertlaan in Breda. In the hall where I sign up for my conversation with Stefan, I am welcomed by a large statue of a horse. I stop and admire it for a moment and then step into the elevator...
What does ZEISS do?
We make all kinds of technology to allow people to see better when doing things. This could be someone who needs glasses to see the world better, but also microscopes to allow a scientist to improve research results.
ZEISS was founded in 1846 by Carl Zeiß, who began making microscopes in serial format. In the late 17th century, Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek had already discovered the microscope in the Netherlands but for years they remained difficult to reproduce. Carl Zeiß was helped in the early years by friend Ernst Abbe, professor at the University of Jena. Microscopes by Zeiß and Abbe were used by famous scientists such as Robert Koch, Charles Darwin, and Albert Einstein. During this successful time, they realized that microscope technology could be applied to many other products, such as binoculars, surgical microscopes, and camera lenses. This was the beginning of the company’s diversification.
Despite being a successful company, ZEISS never went public. Can you tell us why?
That's right. The creation of our company is very important to us. The company is indeed not noted on the stock exchange, it doesn’t belong to a private equity group or a family. It’s wholly owned by a foundation that focuses entirely on improving research and science in our society. All profits of the ZEISS Foundation benefit the research sciences, creating a long-term view on how we see the business. To date, there are 36 Nobel Prize winners who have used ZEISS technology for their research, including the Nobel Prize winner Zernike from Groningen. That provides a lot of brand awareness. The foundation structure is very important, is gives us a long-term perspective on our markets and allows our customers to continue to benefit from our solutions. In addition, the fact that we do not pay out all profits as dividends means that a great deal is invested in innovation and development. This is the driving force behind many of our new products. 50% of total sales comes from new products which have been released in the last two years. We're constantly innovating and bringing new, cool technologies to market. These are used by our customers to benefit their own research, for medical operations, medical diagnoses or however they use our products.
How great to stay faithful to history in this way. Are you proud to be director of ZEISS Benelux?
Being CEO of this company is a great job. The best job, I think, in the Benelux. We have many great employees who work very passionately on our shared vision. At the same time, we have so many innovative products and technologies that help people make everyday life a little more successful. That gives a lot of satisfaction.
Why did you choose Breda as your location?
ZEISS has been active in the Benelux for decades. Until a few years ago, we had several locations in the Benelux. At some point, that became impractical. We think it is important that our people can connect, see each other, and thus work better together. This is why we have decided to merge these locations into one large Benelux hub.
Breda was chosen for various reasons. One of them, the most important, is the central location in the Benelux. Breda is exactly 1 hour from both Amsterdam and Brussels and is centrally located between Rotterdam and Antwerp. When we did customer mapping, it turned out that most of our customers are within a day's drive of the office in Breda. That is convenient and important to us.
I would describe Breda as big enough to do good business there and small enough to know the city. Furthermore, it is a good combination of the better Belgian and Dutch city characteristics. Together, I think this ensures that both our Belgian and Dutch colleagues have a pleasant working environment. My wish for Breda is that we stay on the path to make this city greener and a city with good accessibility for our customers, partners, and employees.