Würth Elektronik eiSos CTO, Alexander Gerfer, shares his commitment to ethics and innovation in an exclusive interview with Shenja Panik. The interview discusses the Hightech Innovation Center's initiatives for environmental responsibility, fairness, and predictability, and highlights how ethics are integrated with business success at Würth Elektronik.

Alexander Gerfer, CTO of Würth Elektronik eiSos
  Shenja Panik: Congratulations, Mr. Gerfer, on winning the 2023 Ethics in Electronics Award for your tireless commitment to sustainability, green tech, and vertical farming. Thank you for inviting us to your Hightech Innovation Center in Munich today and for taking the time to answer some questions. Can you please describe your role in the field of ethics in electronics?

Alexander Gerfer: To explain, it’s important to look at the background: growing up on a farm with cows and chickens, you have to take on responsibility very early on. Another crucial aspect is the German saying, “Was du nicht willst, das man dir tut, das füg auch keinem andern zu” (meaning: Do as you would be done by). These are the basics of my upbringing. Our focus at Würth Elektronik is always on our customers. We do not discriminate against customers depending on the size of their company or their importance. We maintain a very cooperative relationship with each and every one. We let them benefit from our expertise through advice, sample designs, online presentations, development kits, and software tools that help with dimensioning. We dont charge any money for this or for laboratory samples of our components. Everyone is equally important to us. We support anyone who needs knowledge about selection and application. We supply and support everyone, from start-ups to established companies, from those ordering small quantities to buyers of large batches. We have no minimum order quantities. Its based on our company culture. . As a start-up, you can fail during development because of a cent component. I know that from my own experience. Thats why we always aim to solve problems quickly — and dont give preference to the one that promises maximum turnover.

Handover of the Ethics-in-Elecronics Award 2023 to winner Alexander Gerfer (Würth Elektronik eiSos).

Shenja Panik: Not everyone gets the same chances as a start-up, so its awesome that Würth Elektronik is actively working to level the playing field. What other initiatives or strategies being implemented in Munich to foster sustainable and ethical business?

Alexander Gerfer: In our new Hightech Innovation Center in Munich, we test prototypes of electronic devices and assemblies for electromagnetic compatibility and make targeted suggestions for improvement. After all, EMC certification is often a major hurdle for developers.

Fairness, predictability, equality, mutual support these are the principles for management within the company and for how employees treat each other.

As part of the Würth Group, we also proactively contribute to the preservation of our environment, both through our products and environmentally friendly business practices. Nowadays, it is more important than ever to take care of the environment.

We always think a step ahead. Take Vertical Farming, for example: Cultivating food in multi-level greenhouses is already making a contribution to locally producing high-quality food. However, this contribution needs to be significantly expanded. According to estimates from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), by 2050, ten billion people will inhabit this planet. This necessitates a 50% increase in global agricultural production by the year 2050. Yet, agricultural land has decreased in recent decades, from nearly 40% of the worlds land area in 1991 to only 37% in 2018. Plants will literally need to grow towards the sky if we want to ensure everyone is well-fed. Climate change and demographics pose enormous challenges, and we need to work on solutions now—even if they are initially perceived as inefficient and “too expensive.”

There is no shortage of good ideas on how to make our world better. However, every significant idea today requires electronics for its implementation. Here, we contribute as a reliable supplier, but more importantly, as a helping hand for small and medium-sized businesses and ambitious startups. While we must generate profits as a company, at Würth Elektronik, the focus is not on short-term profit but on the meaningfulness of the project.

Shenja Panik: What does this award mean for you and your network?

Alexander Gerfer: For me personally, the award is a very special honor. We also shared it with the team because I am not doing it alone. It is an honor for the whole team working on these projects but above all, it is an incentive. It would probably be an overestimation to claim that the world has only improved in recent times. Unfortunately, signs of confrontation prevail in many areas, and regrettably, even the most fundamental ethical principles are being disregarded. It is even more important that we remain true to our principles, selflessly assist, act together, treat each other with respect, preserve our living space, and proactively drive innovations for the benefit of the public. We all face significant challenges. We have enormous problems to solve, and it is best to start addressing them together, right from today.




Shenja Panik: You told us about your background and the way it brought you to this point. What are now your primary sources of inspiration when making ethical decisions?

Alexander Gerfer: Certainly, first and foremost, there is my very personal ethical and value compass that I inherited from home. I was instilled with a sense of responsibility towards nature and fellow human beings at a very young age. This is why, for example, the topic of Vertical Farming with LEDs is very close to my heart.

Important to us in the Würth Group are our corporate values, which determine our attitude and business conduct in all key areas. Mutual trust, predictability, honesty, and straightforwardness, both internally and externally, are fundamental principles that Prof. Dr. h. c. mult. Reinhold Würth formulated back in the 1970s.

The Code of Compliance of the Würth Group spans 32 pages, outlining general behavioral principles, guidelines for dealing with business partners, information on avoiding conflicts of interest, and implementing the Code of Compliance.

Before making any decision, any of my colleagues or I ask: Is my decision or action in accordance with applicable laws? Does the decision align with the known values and rules of Würth? Assuming my colleagues and family were aware of my decision, would I have a clear conscience? If everyone were to decide this way, could I live with the consequences? If my decision would be in the newspaper tomorrow, could I justify it?

As I said, being fair in your decisions and being respectful and grateful for every contribution, but also very important is being predictable and reliable.

Shenja Panik: How much resilience is required to implement ethical and sustainable initiatives in a large company?

Alexander Gerfer: In our daily business? Little to none, as we select our employees very carefully. Compliance, for us, means not only adhering to all applicable regulations, laws, and company guidelines but also a corresponding internal attitude of employees, which is a crucial component for the sustainable business success of Würth Elektronik.

Therefore, we expect our managers, employees, and business partners to uphold nationally and internationally valid laws and regulations. In addition, as part of our value catalog, we are committed to adhering to the standards, guidelines, and norms clearly defined in the Code of Compliance. This shared value compass passes to all areas of the company and is internalized by all employees.

During the selection process, we assess applicants not only based on their professional qualifications but especially on their personal attitudes.

Do they align with our principles? Do prospective employees identify with our corporate values, or have they merely memorized them? Are they more focused on sustainable success, or just quarterly figures? Do they view colleagues as partners or arrogantly? Do they think holistically and environmentally conscious, or egocentric and opportunistic?

These and many more questions must be answered before hiring. Knowledge can be acquired through on-the-job training, and skills can be learned from experienced colleagues. However, the indispensable foundation is ethical guidelines that everyone must bring within the group. So, there is not much resilience people working here believe in what we do and how we do it. And we experience daily that our employees handle responsibility very adeptly. Here, corporate leadership, executives, and employees pull together.

Ethics is not enforced but lived within our organization.

Shenja Panik: It is not about going from project to project but maintaining a company philosophy. All of you are involved in the question of how to make the world a better place.

Alexander Gerfer: It is not only our own people whom we empower, but we also enable individuals outside our company. Drawing from my own start-up experience and its challenges, I realized the importance of reaching out to developers in the early stages, particularly in the realm of hardware, which is one of the most challenging steps at the beginning. A wrong decision here can undermine even the best idea. Thus, we provide help and support. And we learn ourselves in the process... So, our overarching vision is a fully predictable understanding of customer needs.

Ethics and business success are not contradictory for us; instead, they are inseparably linked.


About Shenja Panik

Shenja Panik is a passionate sociologist writing for the content team of EiE, specializing in ethics within the electronics industry. Her work revolves around exploring and promoting ethical considerations in the ever-evolving landscape of technology.