Karl-Thomas has been appointed the new Chairman of Navico, having spent two years as Chair of the Board of Directors. He has a sparkling CV: the former Chief Executive for Opel, Continental and Volkswagen, he now holds a number of Board and Advisory positions for Hyundai MOBIS, Cartica AI and RTI.  We caught up with Karl-Thomas to hear how about his new role, the impact of COVID-19, and his love of sailing.

How are you enjoying your role as Chairman of Navico?

I’m really enjoying it! I currently hold several other advisory positions for organisations (both big and small), but being Chairman for Navico is something special. I’m lucky that with Navico I get to combine two big passions in my life – sailing and electronics.

I also enjoy working with Knut, he’s a brilliant leader and his enthusiasm is infectious. As a whole, Navico is a very interesting business with some big opportunities ahead. Some people may find this a little daunting, but I think it’s exciting!

You have a PHD in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, what is the key to developing the best electronics in 2020

The key to building successful technology is to use standard technologies and architectures and clearly de-couple hardware and software. If you do this, you can upgrade the hardware without the need to change any of the software and you’ll be more prepared for new developments (such as artificial intelligence.)

How will you be guiding and supporting Knut and the rest of the leadership team during such unpredictable times?

At the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, the entire board was having a weekly meeting with Knut where we caught up on every corner of the business from Sales and Customers, right the way through to Ensenada and our employees. Now things are a little more back to normal and we’ve reverted back to a monthly meeting with our owners (Goldman Sachs, Altor) where Knut and I give a status update on things.

Knut and I also have a weekly catch up where we discuss ‘the state of the nation.’ We have a close relationship based upon trust, which is really important.

2020 has been an eventful year for business and society generally, but where do you think the opportunities are for Navico?

2020 is unlike any other year due to COVID-19. What’s more, it’s far from over. We haven’t understood all of the consequences yet from an economic standpoint; they are still unravelling. Tremendous Government bailouts all around the world also mean that we haven’t felt the impact yet, but we will, and it’s likely we’ll see a long lasting recession.

Despite the uncertainty, what we do know is that the boating and other leisure segments have performed really well through the crisis so far. Everyone wants a boat right now, and those that already have one want to improve it! Harbours are busy and the opportunity for Navico is right now – but who knows exactly how long it will last.

The other big opportunity lies in technology. There is a fundamental shift towards software both on the boat with new operating systems and architectures and also off the boat when we connect it with the cloud. We can create an environment where the user experience is seamless – from home, to your boat, and back home again. Navico is traditionally a hardware company but to realise this goal, we must transition to software.

What’s your perception of how Navico has dealt with the COVID-19 crisis?

In general Navico has dealt with the crisis really well. One of Knut’s strengths is communication and I think it has been excellent both internally and externally. I had some amazing feedback from the CEO of X-Yachts that Knut went the extra mile to call him up, provide insight and share knowledge and data – this is just one small of why communication is so important.

As when people become infected with COVID-19, it’s the same with companies in that it can expose weaknesses or vulnerabilities. For Navico, our vulnerability lies in our logistics chain, processes and product complexity, which has led to us being unable to fulfil customer orders. However, we now have an opportunity to work on that and we are investing a lot to ensuring we improve in this area and become the best in the industry when it comes to supply.

What similarities do you see between the automotive industry and the boating industry?

The big carmakers are much bigger entities but I see them progressing on the same journey as us – i.e. – moving from hardware to software and building more intimate customer relationships. However, they are still on that journey and not yet getting it right just yet.

Making this shift requires a different culture and speed internally. It also requires you to be more agile in reacting to customer demands and changes. When you look at the demand of end users in the automotive industry they are driven by differentiated software – larger, more integrated screens that hold more data, hold more apps and connect to the cloud. This is really difficult to achieve!

Many of these demands translate to our industry, which is why I’m on my toes for Navico about this – there could be someone with the right solution – why can’t it be us?

What do you think are our strengths and weaknesses as a business? Where should we be focussing on improvement?

We are a typical product-focussed company which is a strength because we have fantastic brands and the best technology. I can vouch for this because the B&G kit on my boat is outstanding! However, one area where we know we can do more is the way we speak to our customers throughout their buying journey. It’s not just about providing the best product – the customer experience includes how we take orders, how we deliver products, how we provide after care and how we communicate software updates. I know the team are working exceptionally hard to improve the end-to-end customer experience from delivery, right up to upgrades.

What do you think makes a good Board?

A good board acts as an ‘enabler.’ It aligns on the strategy with the CEO and helps him / her build the right team and get all the resources they need. It doesn’t demand the leadership to do certain tasks but seeks to provide advice and support to deliver a long term goal.

We certainly still have improvements to make on our board here at Navico. For instance, we can do better to bring the strength of all board members and company owners to Navico.

As mentioned earlier, I hold several other positions including being on the board of Hyundai but also a number of start-ups. It has taught me a lesson that speed is absolutely critical – when it comes to bring new technology, the ‘fast guys’ usually win.

We understand you’re passionate about Sailing, what is it that you love about it?

I love sailing because you have to be smart with the wind and nature and you can travel huge distances. Two years ago, like Knut, I crossed The Atlantic with the ARC– Atlantic Rally for Cruisers.

I love the mix of nature, being at one with the ocean, but also the role of technology to make it all work.