A portrait of the company Ottobock


(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 3 2015)

Committed, humane, authentic, enthusiastic, cosmopolitan, entrepreneurial and courageous – those are the attributes which the company and the brand Ottobock represents. Over 6,000 employees worldwide are working with passion and commitment to fill these words with life – in respectful contact with handicapped people. The company has been producing quality products which have increase the mobility and freedom for people with physical disabilities for almost a decade. The constant challenge – changing technical innovations into technology for people. This demands innovative strength and the courage to take new paths. Owner professor Hans Georg Näder is running the business which is already in its third generation.

Professor Näder, since the foundation in Berlin in 1919, the medical technology company Ottobock HealthCare has pursued the vision of improving the mobility of handicapped people with innovative products. How did the decision to found this special type of company come about?

Prof. Hans Georg Näder: Our company history is pure inspiration for me. My grandfather Otto Bock founded the company in 1919 in Berlin-Kreuzberg. Today you would call this a classic start-up. He produced parts for prostheses, as a serial production in order to supply the huge number of disabled veterans with aid, from a backyard in Köpenicker Street. With this innovative business idea, he laid the cornerstone for the orthopaedic industry – and the success of Ottobock HealthCare.

Where is Ottobock represented in the world?

Prof. H. G. N.: A network of distributors and service companies in 54 countries with more than 6,300 employees worldwide make it possible to create proximity to customers through global presence. With five divisions; Prosthetics, Orthotics, Neurorehabilitation, Mobility Solutions and MedicalCare, we offer our customers an almost incomparably wide range of products, perfectly suited system solutions and extensive services. 

How can you be sure to be a little ahead of the times?

Prof. H. G. N.: I am driven by curiosity and enthusiasm myself. As team leader, I pass on this message to my management and employees. Of course our worldwide research centres are predominantly in demand for the development of product innovations which significantly support the sustainability of our company. But the employees in all other divisions also contribute to making the brand Ottobock a success in the world with their commitment, ingenuity and passion.

Your commitment to handicapped sports has long become a permanent part of your company philosophy. Representative of this are the Paralymic games, which Ottobock has already been actively accompanying and supporting since Seoul in 1988. What kind of role model function do you think people who are successful despite their handicaps have?

Prof. H. G. N.: As a result of their achievements and success, athletes with a handicap show people that sports can reward you with vital energy and a zest for life, that you should focus on what you can do, not on what you can no longer do. The sprinter Heinrich Popow, gold medallist at the Paralympics 2012 in London and closely connected to Ottobock for years, says “I do sports not despite my disability, but because of it. Thanks to sports I don’t feel like a handicapped person, even in daily life.” As a manufacturer of products for competitive and leisure sports, we have the opportunity and responsibility of bringing the topic of people, disability and mobility into the focus of society within the sphere of the Paralympics.

In 2009 you opened the capital city representative office of your company with the Science Center Medizintechnik (Science Centre of Medical Technology). What was the motive for founding such an institution?

Prof. H. G. N.: Merely the claim ‘grasp what moves us’ makes the intention of the Science Center clear: behind it is the idea of presenting the secrets of medical technology in a transparent way. On three floors, interactive exhibits demonstrate the interplay between nature and technology. Both outsiders and experts can learn more abut their own body and understand inventions which restore mobility. Entering, trying out and touching are expressly desired. With the Science Center between the Brandenburg Gate and Potsdam Square, we have succeeded in giving medical technology a platform in an exposed position with far-reaching appeal and to decisively contribute to innovative knowledge transfer on a broad scale. Since the opening, more than 650,000 visitors from all over the world have made the expedition through the multimedia exhibition.

In 2010, you purchased the historic site of the former Bötzow Brewery. How does that go with your company?

Prof. H. G. N.: Bötzow is our think tank for the future. We develop our future visions of the family business 4.0 at the location of the global attractor of Berlin. There, the digital world, technologies, products, designs and services melt into one. In the mid-term, Bötzow will house Ottobock’s strategic divisions, a patient care centre for individual patient care at the highest level, and wheelchair manufacturing. More than 200 employees will work there. In addition, the site will be developed step by step according to star architect David Chipperfield’s master plan. The respectful refurbishment in line with heritage requirements maintains the DNA of the building and makes a mixture of commercial and cultural use possible. Already today, the Bötzow Berlin is a venue for temporary exhibitions of internationally renowned artists as well as home to Tim Raue’s Restaurant ‘La Soupe Populaire’ and the bar ‘Le Croco Bleu’ with Gregor Scholl.

Why the fusion of technology with art and culture?

Prof. H. G. N.: My passion for art began in the 80s in New York with ‘Polaroids’ by Andy Warhol. Since then, the addiction has not released its grip on me. So it’s not a question of fusing business with art for me – it is an illustration of my reality of life.

With the recently opened Open Innovation Space at Bötzow, Ottobock has further strengthened its business presence in Berlin. What does this mean exactly?

Prof. H. G. N.: In the past few years we have made a name for ourselves at Bötzow with art and cuisine. With the Open Innovation Space, our first project in Bötzow has been realised. From now on it’s all about active innovation. Specifically, that means a rapid time to market, novel prototype creation, small batches, special designs, innovative services and solutions. The Open Innovation Space is the optimal addition to our classic research and development locations: ‘everything is possible’ versus regulated and clearly structured development processes. The Open Innovation Space links co-working spaces, high technology and creativity in a unique way. As the initiator of the project, we are focussing on the procedure for the quickest and most novel production of prototypes there first. In addition we are advancing the key issue of the digital future within this environment, and are expanding our network with universities and other scientific institutions. The exciting interdisciplinary mix, the collaboration with the Berlin Technology scene and creative minds from all over the world makes Open Innovation Space a breeding ground for new ideas which inventions emerge from.

Company and family history are inseparably linked with each other at Ottobock. In 1990 you took over the management of the company as the third family generation. What is the good thing about being able to carry on the heritage of your father Dr. Max Näder?

Prof. H. G. N.: I was 28 years old as my father officially transferred the management of the group to me. He had accompanied the continued development of the business to becoming a successful global player until his death in 2009. I am proud to be able to continue the work and vision of my father, who would have become 100 years old on 24 June this year. On this occasion we dedicated the opening of the Max Näder Haus in Duderstadt – my parent’s house which was restored and renovated into a company and family archive – to him. It is a knowledge bank and meeting point and therefore links history and future.  One of the most emotional and beautiful experiences together was the repurchasing of our expropriated headquarters at the Thuringian lake Königsee, the previous home of my father. I like to think back to such moments, as they make me conscious of what I have to thank my father and grandfather for, and what responsibility is linked with this heritage. I will also think of this when we celebrate the 100-year existence of our company in 2009.

What goals do you have up your sleeve for the coming year?

Prof. H. G. N.: Our company has been growing by almost twodigits for more than 20 years. Continuing this dynamic development into the future – that is the challenge which we face today. We have defined our growth and development goals for the coming years within the framework of a long-term strategy process. New products and markets are opening up enormous growth potential for us. The digital future makes it possible for us to intensify the relationship to our customers and users worldwide. We have set high aims for the future. The successful realisation of our strategic plans is an important milestone in the direction of our plans to go public.

The future is now

An interview with Mike König, Head of IT at Ottobock

Mr König, the name Ottobock has stood for innovative medical technology of the highest quality for more than 90 years. What was the drive behind the company occupying itself intensively with the subject of information supply chain management – in other words, the smooth flow of informational data inside and outside the company?

Mike König: We are living in an information society – everyone and everything is networked. Whoever cannot supply the market with constantly up-to-date and correct information has a huge competitive disadvantage. A good product is no longer enough. It depends on the additional information which describes the added value and use of the product for the customer. This is where the flow of information begins – from the development of the product and production to marketing. The necessary data for this has to be available at the right time, usually in multiple languages and be of an appropriate quality. Then Ottobock can continue to position itself as market leader in the area of medical technology, with excellent processes and the necessary know-how. The bottom line is that the investment in digitalisation and the creation of efficient processes for the company pays off in a variety of ways. 

What are the advantages for Ottobock?

M. K.: There are synergistic effects and also a considerable cost-saving potential. The availability of high-quality data is increasing and under compliance aspects, company risk can be greatly reduced. In particular product liability risk, which results from the supply of incorrect product information and assets in various channels of communication, will be significantly decreased. The workflow and accompanying transparency support daily work – teamwork and project-oriented thinking are required. These are qualifications which are indispensable and which make a company and its employees successful.

What reasons are there for the use of the product information and media asset management system from ContentServ? What role did the implementation partner, Studio1, play in this?

M. K.: The introduction of a PIM/MAM system presents the affected organisational units with great challenges. It concerns various parts of the company and should not primarily be set up as an IT project on the basis of the large procedural focus. It is more of an extensive process re-design and should be dealt with as an organisational project. It is to be seen as interdisciplinary and has an impact on the whole supply chain in a company. For this reason, we should not be open to experiments here.

After a valid and qualified selection process, we decided on the company ContentServ from Rohrbach. Due to the high complexity of the project, it seemed to make sense to choose an implementation partner who, in addition to proven experts, possesses fundamental knowledge of our branch, structures and products. Only in this kind of partnership can we successfully introduce the solutions. For this reason, we decided on Studio1 GmbH, who we have already successfully worked together with for many years.

What results do this type of process management deliver? To what extent can the quality of the data be increased? What influence did all this have on the subject of time to market and the existing compliance requirements? 

M. K.: These questions require an extensive answer. I would like to make this brief. Ottobock has been able to continue to climb the steep path of growth and will continue to do so in the future. Despite many new products being introduced on the market and ever-more complex service and support structures, we can maintain the high standard of reliability and customer satisfaction. The adherence to international compliance policies, particularly in our most important market outside Europe – North America – was able to be permanently achieved. We are not only on the market faster, but we are also more reliable. For a company run by the owner, this is a competitive advantage which is not to be underestimated.

How do you think we will work in the future? What new fields of activity are approaching employees? When can information technology provide support? 

M. K.: What I can say for sure is that the classic industrial company, which just manufactures products in the hope that consumers will buy them, is a model which will be phased out. The active use of available information in products and marketing will be a critical factor for success. Companies will act in an increasingly more data-driven manner. This not only applies to the internal completion of processes but also particularly to communication with customers and partners. The employee of the future is familiar with new technology and trends. The use of company knowledge and data assets as well as their assessment or evaluation will be a key qualification. The electronic data management and the automated processes based on this will become a critical factor for success. Their utilisation can no longer be ignored. They are the basis and drivers of our further development to an innovative company of the industry 4.0.

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Studio1 Kommunikation GmbH is a full service agency in consultation for, and conception and implementation of DAM solutions. This know-how is being further developed as a result of the newly founded Studio1 digital asset management GmbH & Co KG, with its headquarters located in Berlin-Mitte.

Studio1 Kommunikation GmbH


Ottobock HealthCare Deutschland GmbH

Picture credits © Ottobock

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