April 06th 2016

Management Challenge – Strategy vs. Daily Business

Christoph Vilanek, CEO Freenet Group

Within the scope of the MCI Alumni & Friends lecture series, the Entrepreneurial School® welcomed Christoph Vilanek. Since 2009 he has acted as CEO of the largest independent German telecommunications and web content provider, Freenet Group, with almost 5.000 employees.

In his talk, Christoph Vilanek, native of Tyrol with a distinguished and multifaceted career, draws on the example of Freenet in order to demonstrate the importance of a corporate strategy and explain how a thriving company may retain courage, enthusiasm, and innovation in the face of its continuous success.

He opens his inspirational talk with basic considerations of corporate strategies: Companies require a corporate strategy just as their employees demand for it. Employees do not need a plan per se as much as they need stability and certainty. However, experience has shown that the best strategies very often only reveal themselves in hindsight. Also Freenet has developed its own business strategy: It may be paraphrased as “Digital Lifestyle”. Upon its introduction in 2011, the strategy spread excitement among the company’s employees. Ever since, they have represented the concept to the outside world with great commitment.

Freenet’s concept of “Digital Lifestyle” spans all branches of telecommunications, the internet, television, and energy as well as all products and services which can be controlled via mobile devices and the internet. The combination of smart phone and remotely controlled television opens up potentials of intelligent domestic engineering, i.e. “smart homes”. The smart phone thus increasingly adopts the role of a digital Swiss army knife, so to speak.

From 2007, when Freenet was first listed in the Frankfurt stock exchange, the company has undergone an enormous development. The merging of three companies in 2009 marked a huge step forward. Another notable milestone was achieved with the implementation of the previously mentioned corporate strategy in 2011. In spite of the promising results of all business operations, the company’s successful positioning, and the positive development of sales, the top management decided to face a critical assessment according to the motto “success is the prerequisite for failure”: The assessment challenged the company’s very foundation and unsparingly revealed any weaknesses. In the light of constantly changing market conditions, which do not allow for concrete planning, it is necessary to develop and maintain strengths such as enthusiasm, entrepreneurial and progressive thinking, or the courage to take clear decisions and also embrace failings. It is moreover essential to recognize durable possibilities for organic and anorganic growth, and to allow more space for risk.

At this point, the circle of daily business comes to an end: Every single day you have to be flexible enough to venture into new directions, and to provide your clients with the best possible customized services. That is to say, you have to be ready at any time: shape to race!

Peter Mirski, MCiT Head of Studies, took responsibility for the moderation of the event.