LEADERSHIP IN TIMES OF DIGITALIZATION

Insights from four FLI Thought Leaders

Roots of Innovation

We asked four experts whether there is a success formula to foster innovation: Dr. Hannes Ametsreiter (CEO Vodafone Germany), Dr. Antonella Mei-Pochtler (Senior Advisor BCG), Lin Kayser (Founder of Hyperganic Technologies), and Hanno Renner (CEO Personio). 

Is there a recipe for innovation?
How can companies, regardless of size and maturity, establish an innovation culture?
And how can leadership unleash the innovative potential of their teams?

Given the ever-increasing competitive pressure and the pace of developments in our world, these are probably some of the main questions floating around in companies these days. This is why we asked four true innovation leaders to share their insights at our last Future of Leadership Conference:

  • Dr. Hannes Ametsreiter, CEO of Vodafone Germany
  • Dr. Antonella Mei-Pochtler, Senior Advisor at BCG
  • Lin Kayser, Serial Entrepreneur and Founder of Hyperganic Technologies
  • Hanno Renner, Founder and CEO of Personio

During the panel "Discovering the Roots of Innovation", our four thought leaders discussed with Thomas Eilrich,  chief editor of DUB Unternehmermagazin. Here are their key messages in a nutshell.

Dr. Hannes Ametsreiter (CEO Vodafone Deutschland)

The sky's the limit for Dr. Hannes Ametsreiter - or perhaps this should refer to outer space, since he's currently establishing the first LTE network in space as CEO of Vodafone. At the FLI conference, he shared his insights about fostering innovation in large corporations: 

Especially in large organizations, being innovative can be hard. Innovativeness means to be open to totally new things, ideas and changes. As a big and established organization, however, one of your biggest strengths is to offer security and linearity. Hence, there is an inherent clash between your legacy and the needs for being innovative. Yet, establishing and innovation culture is possible - if you take certain principles to heart:

  1. You need to walk the talk! If you don't show your people what is important to you and if you don't do it yourself, then nobody will follow.

  2. Confidently, build on your strengths! Do not try to copy anything that is already out there. If your organization didn't have any strengths, it wouldn't exist. Make yourself aware of them and use them as the breeding ground for new ideas.

  3. Become purpose-driven! Seek the purpose in everything that you do and build a narrative around it. Think for instance of connected cars. As a telecommunications company, do you simply want to connect cars for the sake of technological exploitation? Probably not. The higher goal is to make cars safer and decrease the amounts of accidents. The moment your purpose is not equipping cars with sim cards, but saving lives, your mission becomes much more motivating.

Dr. Antonella Mei-Pochtler (Senior Advisor BCG)


"Germany's best known consultant" (Der Spiegel), Dr. Antonella Mei-Pochtler, became one of the youngest partners ever at the Boston Consulting Group and has held many different leadership positions since then. For instance, she was member of the global Executive Committee from 2006 to 2010. For her achievements, she has received various awards, such as the "Women Leaders in Consulting Lifetime Achievement Award" in 2013 by Consulting magazine. Here are her insights how to foster innovation in large companies: 

  1. Being innovative is not about a debate between large versus small companies. Regardless of age - every company has an inborn purpose and lots of potential to be innovative. Sometimes you just need to trigger a bit of "creative gene mutation". 

  2. As an innovation leader, you need to have entrepreneurial drive and addictive passion. You need to be able to transmit your passion to everyone in the company.

  3. Innovative companies need to be willing to take risks and follow their ideas with persistence - even if that sometimes contradicts predictions of financial markets or general opinions. This also means to create a space for experimentation and failure within your company. 

Lin Kayser (CEO Hyperganic Technologies)



FLI board member Lin Kayser is a Munich-based serial entrepreneur and investor who has worked in disruptive industries for more than 20 years. As co-founder and CEO of Hyperganic Technologies AG, his focus is on transforming the future of production through additive manufacturing. Here are his three key messages to drive innovation:  

  1. Embrace serendipity! A leader must not be afraid to recognize and seize unplanned opportunities! It is not management, but great and visionary leadership that may foster innovation. Often, this also means that you need to overcome your fear of failure. According to Lin, you can even turn fear into a guiding principle: Whenever your gut feels uncomfortable about one of your ideas, without a really logical explanation, this might be the one to follow up.

  2. Innovation leaders also need to assume responsibility. You need to be willing to stand up for your ideas - even when they fail.

  3. Breakthrough innovations usually come from the outside. In large organizations with strict hierarchies fostering disruptive innovations is hard.  So, as a large corporation, you should proactively get out of your comfort zone, cross silos and seek new impulses from outside. 

Hanno Renner (CEO Personio)


As CEO of Personio, Hanno Renner's goal is no less than to revolutionize human resources processes for SMEs across Europe. The Munich-based startup has already won over $14m in funding since its foundation in 2015. Before founding Personio, Hanno studied at the Center for Digital Technology and Management (CDTM), which was also academic founding partner for the Future of Leadership Initiative. Here are his principles how to build highly innovative teams:

  1. A great start is to base your leadership philosophy on the formula suggested in Daniel Pink's book "Drive", which identifies three key principle to unleash the full motivation and innovative power of your team:

    Mastery - giving your people the opportunity to find their own field of expertise and support them to acquire the necessary skills to excel in there.
    Autonomy - Do not micromanage. Empower your people, trust them and provide them with a great deal of autonomy. In that way, you will turn compliance into engagement.
    Purpose - Give everyone in the company a sense of meaning and purpose. And "everyone", means "everyone". Not just your core product or strategy team. It is crucial that also the back office or HR department are clearly aware of the main purpose of the company and know how they contribute to the overall goal.

  2. Go for peer recruiting! Let your people recruit their own peers. In that way, they automatically gain a sense for ownership for their own team and are more likely to work well with their new colleagues. This will automatically  translate in a great team climate and boost performance.

  3. See everything as a possibility to innovate! Do not only try to innovate your core product. Everything what is happening in your company is worth being innovated. Maybe it is your small everyday supporting processes that need a new twist to make your team more effective, efficient and motivated.

About the author: Laura Bechthold

Laura Bechthold is the FLI's spokesperson. Before that she has worked as a entrepreneurship researcher and social entrepreneur. She holds a B.A. in Corporate Management & Economics from Zeppelin University, a M.Sc. in Sustainability Science and Policy from Maastricht University, and a Master of Business Research from Ludwig-Maxmilians-University in Munich. Further, she is currently in the final stage of her PhD in the field of "Fostering Female Entrepreneurship" ​ at the Max-Planck-Institute for Innovation and Competition. She has worked as program coordinator and educator at the Center For Digital Technology and Management (CDTM).

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