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Ulrich Jost, Kilchenmann AG

The CEO of the Swiss AV solutions provider and integrator reflects on the need for specialist staff as the industry moves towards comprehensive networking.

How did you come to be working in the pro-AV industry?
Thirty years ago I finished an apprenticeship in the area of consumer electronics. After a few years as a technician, I realised that the CE industry was developing in a way that put more focus on throw-away products; a huge fall in prices was already predictable in the ‘90s. These developments motivated me to move into the world of pro-AV. 

For how long have you been involved with Kilchenmann, and what is your current role?
Founded back in 1933, Kilchenmann AG was already the leading retailer for consumer electronics in the region of Berne, but it also had a small team of four working in the pro-AV area. I originally joined the company on the CE side, but after a couple of years – during which I spent some time in the US – I decided to move across to Kilchenmann’s pro-AV team.

The pro-AV market was developing very well at this time and our team working in this area grew rapidly. Indeed, pro-AV became a pillar of the company along with CE, and by 1996% 25% of our revenue was coming from the professional market.

As time went by, the CE market became increasingly pressurised, with specialist retailers and discount firms fighting a ruinous price war. In 2000, the Kilchenmann family sold its company to a number of its employees via an MBO. It was at this point that I took over responsibility for pro-AV and became one of the company’s executive team.

I progressed to become CEO of Kilchenmann in 2010. As of now, the company has 190 employees based in offices in Basel, Berne and Zurich.

What are the principal areas of activity for Kilchenmann in 2011?
Since 2000 the company has focused mainly on consulting, engineered and managed VC services. Along with the classic AV projects like conference rooms, boardrooms and auditoria, we undertake total solutions in the areas of video conferencing, digital signage, and audio evacuation systems in public buildings, eg. train stations, stadia, shopping malls.

What do you think is particularly distinctive or unique about the services that Kilchenmann is able to offer?
Thanks to the company’s very flat hierarchy, every employee of Kilchenmann has the ability to take authority and responsibility in a wide range of areas. As a result, the team is able to fulfil the requirements for open, honest and long-term relationships with customers and partners. Every single employee of Kilchenmann feels responsible for the success of an entire project – not just a single step of the process.

Kilchenmann has a very wide range of services to offer. Engineering, project management, system integration, maintenance and 24/7/365 service are made available to customers as total solutions or individually. The company’s size and status allows even large projects and roll-outs to be completed within a short time-frame.

Digital signage and video conferencing technology have become important elements of your business. What do you think the future holds for both of these segments?
Yes, it is true that we are already very active in both of these markets. As I perceive it, the technology will become more straightforward and much more available to users. Many providers will make services available for free. Kilchenmann cannot generate any additional value on hardware end-devices for the customer, so the focus necessarily lies on infrastructure and services.

In the area of digital signage, Kilchenmann is offering services in conjunction with its own hosting centre and help desk, as well as multimedia content production. Managed services, on-site operating, and highly educated networking and communications infrastructure specialists are all part of Kilchenmann’s offer in the area of video conferencing, and the company will continue to present itself as a local partner for global providers in the future. 

To what extent is networking now a part of your daily working life? And how do you see this area of technology developing in the future?
Most of our customers already have an existing network infrastructure. Usually the customer does not know that their network – often devised for IT services – will not be sufficient for the solutions they wish to realise with us. Multimedia services have different needs to those associated with a conventional network. Knowing that the customer is often unaware of the specific requirements, we have developed a great area of expertise in networking and can offer a total solution including the network or, alternatively, provide advice to the customer’s networking partner. In this way, through the planning and installation of extensive networking solutions in our projects, Kilchenmann has developed outstanding cooperation with networking technology giants such as Cisco and Juniper.

It is my view that having a high standard in networking is a must as the market continues to move from what we might call ‘classic AV’ towards full networking solutions. This is the reason why we not only hire AV specialists with decent networking experience – we also want networking specialists with decent AV experience.

With the pace of change accelerating, how might Kilchenmann evolve to match the emerging requirements?
This is a very difficult task which cannot be addressed by the CEO alone. Customer and employee feedback often highlights new developments at an early stage. Along with experienced partners, domestic and abroad, younger people’s opinions are being listened to and taken into consideration when Kilchenmann formulates its strategies for the future. Furthermore, it is very important that the management is close to the customers, carrying out projects and taking responsibility for them. The readiness to take on these challenges and sometimes make decisions on a quick turnaround is essential for the continued development of the company.

Finally, what does the future hold for Ulrich Jost? Any unrealised ambitions?
I have a lot of fun with my team and am very happy with my work. The extraordinary relationships with customers and partners keep pushing me to achieve maximum performance every day. I hope I will be able to keep up the same standard on my bike trip through South America, which I plan to undertake within the next few years. Ulrich Jost was speaking to David Davies.