Two years after it merged with Siemens Nixdorf, Pyramid is still suffering culture clashes as the laid-back Silicon Valley work ethic meets Germanic formality head-on - a problem the company?s chief executive, John Chen, thinks is unlikely to go away.
Despite this, Chen, who heads up the combined Siemens Pyramid, sees the companies' 1995 merger as the best thing that could have happened to both of them from a product and customer perspective. But he admits that joining the two firms has thrown the differences in European and US working practices into sharp relief.
"We really only deserve a B-grade in merging our employees," he told 'VNU Newswire' in an exclusive interview at corporate headquarters in San Jose this week. "The way a Silicon Valley employee thinks and works is very different to the way they do things in the heartland of Germany."
As chief executive, Chen spends part of his time in Germany in the former Siemens Nixdorf operations. As an example of the cultural gap between the two work ethics, he highlighted the fact that Silcon Valley hi-tech companies are relaxed about employees setting their own work schedules when working on problems, often allowing them to wander off for days on end, while German workers operate in a more controlled environment.
"It takes so long to make decisions in Europe," he added. "In Silicon Valley we move quicker and set off in all sorts of directions. If one doesn?t work, then you start again. This drives the Germans nuts. They say we keep changing direction. In Germany, they go through reams and reams of data to reach a consensus decision."
Chen sees it as one of his jobs to try to bring the two cultures closer together. But in the meantime there are benefits for both companies and their customers from the merger, he explained. For Pyramid, the link to the Siemens name gave it international viability. "From Siemens Nixdorf?s point of view, their customers now have a tap into the very heart of the IT industry in Silicon Valley," he said.
But there is a lot of work to be done on improving the employee culture. "There?s still the problem of who is in charge," explained Chen. "It?s a sort of identity crisis. The Germans think to themselves, we bought the company, what is there left to discuss? But the Pyramid approach is seen as an agent of change and that?s good."
One of the ways in which he hopes to bring the two cultures closer is by encouraging more German workers to be seconded to Silicon Valley and sending their Californian counterparts to Europe. When staff return to their native cultures after a few years, the hope is that they return able to appreciate the merits of each country?s approach.
For example, Chen has nothing but praise for the process and methodology practices of the Germans. "I have seen nothing better," he said. "Products are tested thoroughly. Any product that comes out is going to be good. It might be late, but it will be good." But he also feels that to impose such strict processes on Silicon Valley staff would stifle their creativity and ingenuity.
Chen makes decisions on which behaviour is appropriate on a case by case basis. One decision that caused a few raised eyebrows in San Jose was to move all manufacturing to Germany, but Chen has no regrets. The volume of production is not sufficient to make it cost-effective to use Californian production facilites, he argues, particularly when there is an ISO certified facility in Germany that can provide the same service.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Chen has no time for one of the most prevalent current management theories in Silicon Valley, that of global marketing. Whereas companies such as Oracle believe that national marketing strategies can be implemented internationally, Chen thinks this is a recipe for disaster.
"Europe is completely different to the US," he insisted. "If you think that it?s the same thing, then you?re very greatly mistaken. Such thinking is very unfair on people as well. If I try to force people in Europe to think a certain way, they?ll want to leave and we?ll lose good people."
He cited two contrasting examples. The first was Olivetti, which in the 1980s set up in California without tempering its approach. The resulting failure of the company to make an impact was predictable, claimed Chen. "If you behave in an Italian way in Silicon Valley, then people won?t want to work for you," he said.
However, there are exceptions. The other example was of fellow German success story, SAP, whose meteoric rise in the US Chen attributes partly to the knock-on effect of its perceived success in Europe. It certainly isn?t down to its readiness to tailor its approach to different national audiences, he argued, citing an instance when SAP executive Hasso Plattner did a sales pitch for the company and insisted on speaking in German to a decidedly non-Germanic audience.
Will the cultural divide ever be completely bridged? Chen was doubtful, but this is unlikely to deter Siemens from adding to its US interests in the future. But future expansion might take the form of investing in US companies rather than taking them over completely. In the meantime, Chen will continue his efforts to get the best from both his European and US staff. "My job is to make the seesaw balance better," he concluded.
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