Bosch Boss Striving to Keep up Competency and Competitiveness

Interview

István Szászi

There are plenty of Hungarian leaders of Hungarian firms, and there is a sizeable cohort of expat CEOs of international firms based here. But Hungarian heads of foreign-owned multinationals are less common. István Szászi is one such example.

His role does not just take in Hungary; he is also the Bosch representative for the Adriatic region, and he is responsible for Bosch R&D centers in Bulgaria and Romania. Having replaced Daniel Korioth this summer, he recognizes that his elevation has made him a role model, most obviously in Hungary but also across the region.

He insists there is no secret to his career at Bosch, “just to be really open to cultures, to learning, to growing and showing and proving to the management, the stakeholders, that you can be successful.”

The cultural point is interesting. Szászi says he learned a lot about other cultures, he lived for eight years in Germany, and this influenced his leadership style.

His “Bosch story” started 17 years ago; Szászi tells the Budapest Business Journal he identified with the company culture, which he could see recognized and rewarded talent.

“You need to find out how you can be successful, which skills you need to apply to a certain situation, be it negotiation, a leadership situation, a face-to-face meeting with your associates, or an inspirational presentation, like a town hall meeting,” he explains.

“This is basically the task for leaders, for CEOs; to have a good perception, a good feeling of how to act in different situations. And this is my strength; I can balance how to behave in different situations, which communications style needs to be applied.”

Korioth left his Hungarian and regional role to take on promotion as president of the Bosch Group in Turkey and its representative for the Middle East. Szászi is full of praise for the results achieved by his predecessor but adds that teamwork was and is fundamental to continued success in the region, alongside maintaining competitiveness.

“But next to the competitiveness, we need to be competent. This is very important; this is our USP. So, this is my first aspiration; to improve our competitiveness and at the same time to improve the competencies. We need to adapt and adjust the organization; we need to adjust and improve our skills. And this is a continuous improvement process,” Szászi explains.

Broader Ecosystem

Part of that improvement program means looking beyond Bosch and tapping into the broader ecosystem, Szászi believes.

“The universities have some competencies, research and innovation, and basic or applied research competencies especially, that we don’t,” he points out. He also wants to involve what he calls the “innovation power” of local SMEs and startups.

No one should think Szászi simply wants to use the universities for the betterment of Bosch, however. Before joining the company, he spent seven years as an academic researcher and teacher. He says he knows how good the system can be from the inside and feels duty-bound to help higher-level education in Hungary.

“We need to support the universities with industrial knowledge, start common projects with them that bring the automobile industry inside the walls of the university. We have a responsibility to show up at the universities, to teach the students, to be a kind of industrial professor and bring our knowledge into universities,” Szászi reasons.

We hear a lot nowadays about a shortage of skilled labor. Does this affect Bosch today? Might it become a problem tomorrow? Szászi seems more upbeat on this than many to whom the BBJ has spoken.

Partly that comes down to his faith in the universities, as outlined above, and the “intense collaboration” his company has been building with them. But it also results from the drawing power of Bosch itself, with its ability to offer young talents the opportunity of “working on the most attractive megatrends in the automotive industry like autonomous driving, like electrification, like artificial intelligence or, in manufacturing, like Industry 4.0 and factories of the future.”

The group has three competence centers dealing with autonomous driving based in Germany, California and Hungary. The Bosch Engineering Center Budapest has 3,000 engineers and is Bosch’s largest R&D location in Europe after Germany.

“It is dealing with those topics that are part of the paradigm change that is taking place today in the automotive industry in terms of power train solutions, in terms of fuel-cell, in terms of pure battery electric vehicles,” says Szászi. 

He argues that the center offers engineers “something unique, not only for Hungary and within Hungary, but also Europe.”

Innovation Power

Across the region, from roughly 20,000 colleagues, 4,500 are R&D associates. That, he says, shows the “innovation power of the company.” Every week the Budapest engineering center submits five so-called inventor reports, three of which, on average, go on to be filed as patents.

Other areas of innovation Bosch is working on include Industry 4.0 and a blending of artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, or AIoT.

“Bosch is the number one industrial company in terms of IoT,” Szászi says. The firm has set itself the target that all its products should be connected to AI technology, either directly in terms of features or indirectly in terms of production. And the motto for all its technology is “It should be safe. It should be robust. And it should be explainable.”

And what of that other great buzzword of our times, sustainability? Szászi says this is “the most important area for Bosch. We achieved our ambitious goal significantly earlier and more cost-effectively than planned. Bosch was climate neutral in February 2020.”

The next goal is a further reduction in CO2 output by 2030 of an absolute 15% on the 2018 levels, the equivalent of 67 million tonnes. In the automotive sector, it has long-term ambitions to develop fuel cell technology, while mid-term targets center on e-axels, “a 48-volt system we believe will be critical to transforming the auto industry.”

Short-term measures include making internal combustion engines (ICE) as efficient as possible, crucial since 95% of the 1.4 billion vehicles on Earth today are still ICE-powered. It will be a long time before zero-emission engines are in the ascendence.

Asked if Bosch will bring more investments, jobs, or projects to Hungary anytime soon, Szászi points to recent expansions at the automotive steering factory in Maklár and the creation of a service center there, as well as a new production hall at the power tools plant in Miskolc.

Also in Miskolc, Robert Bosch Energy and Body Systems Kft. is preparing to expand production of a number of its products, including electric bicycles. The automotive plant in Hatvan is gearing up to manufacture new components related to electromobility and automated driving. In Budapest, the Engineering Center campus is undergoing a 90,000 sqm expansion, the first phase worth EUR 120 million.

 “What I can say is we are stable, we are investing. Hungary is very important within the Bosch Group and is a significant contributor to its results. We are certainly growing in terms of autonomous driving and e-mobility, which are crucial trends.”

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of December 17, 2021.

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