das magazin / 9 March

    We have a very personal approach to social responsibility.

    An interview with Wolfgang Süßle, CEO of the L&R Group

    The main theme for the third edition of our publication “das magazin” is “personal commitment”.

    In our interview with Wolfgang Süßle, CEO, we look at the role of each individual's commitment as well as our wider responsibility to society. He explains why discussions around purpose, responsibility and a creative drive are fundamental to his daily life as CEO.

    What do personal commitment and responsibility mean for the L&R Group, and for you personally as the CEO?

    Whether it’s within our company or in the wider community, we are constantly focusing on our dedication and commitment as individuals, always keeping in mind our own responsibilities to ensure our overall success, whilst striving to enjoy our work in the process. As a company, we must ensure that we are continuously asking ourselves how we can live up to the responsibilities we have with respect to society. For some time now, many economic and strategy publications have examined what the “purpose” of a company should be, and I too ascribe to the belief that our economics needs to develop in a new direction in order to be successful in the long term.

    Do you see more than just a short-lived trend when considering these discussions around the purpose of companies?

    Yes. Each company needs to have a purpose, a raison d’être. For me, this is closely related to the trustworthiness and attitude expressed by the company. What does my company stand for, and how transparent and trustworthy does the company come across when communicating with different stakeholders? How sustainable are the company’s development processes, and how does it market its products and services? Customers and employees alike are looking for answers to all of these questions when making decisions. At L&R, the definition of the purpose of our company group is nothing new, and we have been working on it for more than 160 years. We are working to improve people’s health. We work in line with this duty each and every day. Both our passion and our purpose are also reflected in our claim “People.Health.Care.”. We marry up the products, solutions and services we offer with our objectives of serving and caring for people and improving their health.

    How do your customers and business partners benefit from your attitude and commitment?

    Our company openly pursues a long-term, future-oriented company strategy which looks to support our customers in the problems they face. For example, we provide services in hygiene and streamlining of processes in hospitals, we act as direct partners for our patients when it comes to wound care, and we stand by our customers worldwide, providing them with training and education. Always innovative, and with a finger on the pulse: our customers and partners know that we are a reliable player.

    Do the employees at L&R share the same philosophy of purpose as the company?

    According to the Harvard Business Review, the most important task of any manager is to cultivate and protect the sense of “purpose”. Creating something in common as a result of collaborative work is vital in order to draw on the best of each individual’s talents, whilst at the same time securing a future for the company. For me, it is not only about finding new talent: first and foremost, we have to take care of the over 5,300 employees with us here at L&R. We are a transparent organisation, and we place trust in our teams and invest a great deal in our company-internal communications. Regular surveys as well as education and training programmes, such as our company’s own L&R Academy programme, represent a key part of our corporate structure. The senior management team examines issues relating to employee leadership, such as how tasks are delegated, what levels of trust can be found, or looking at personal responsibility taken by individuals. Our Corporate Social Sponsoring Programme, “L&R We connect”, means that employees can also become more actively involved by taking part in CSS projects. This is a perfect example of how we make every effort to promote personal commitment. 

    In your opinion, what is the greatest challenge facing us nowadays in terms of medical care, health and medical devices?

    I can certainly say that one of the most significant challenges we face is ensuring sufficient medical care for an ageing society seen in many countries, as well as ensuring that health systems receive the financing they need in general. In this area, the law-makers, service providers and patient representatives all have to work together to find new solutions. L&R, and our competitors, have to go a step further to ensure we correctly understand and comply with the new regulations, as well as the changes to the law coming in 2021, whilst also overcoming hurdles regarding reimbursement. Another issue affecting all different areas of our business is the MDR, which puts a particular strain on the resources of many departments at L&R. These tasks are, of course, something which we gladly carry out in order to ensure the highest possible levels of safety for our patients.

    What mega-trends can you see in the medical device sector and in the services related to this sector?

    One trend which I would definitely highlight here is digitalisation. Though the health sector was no early adopter in this area, we have now developed a comprehensive digitalisation strategy for the L&R Group, and we are continually moving forward in implementing this development roadmap. The subject of digitalisation is similarly of great importance for our customers. In this area, we work closely with our clients to develop models for future solutions, for example through our service concept “L&R OPTILINE”. Achieving medical care that is both appropriate and affordable is a huge challenge when faced with the realities of current demographic change. Patients have never been better informed, and are now acting more proactively than ever before. We see more and more patients who want to take more control over their own care. This is another reason why we have created information campaigns and easy-to-use solutions which patients can use directly, such as ReadyWrap, a compression treatment which patients can apply themselves.

    What consequences do you expect to see for users, patients and business partners, such as clinics?

    We can see big differences here internationally. When considering Germany, Austria and Switzerland, we can say that there are many different opportunities open to us for staying fit and healthy, e.g. by ensuring good preventative care, and leading a healthy lifestyle. On the other hand, costs are being passed on to patients for these treatments which are becoming increasingly more expensive. The same goes for hospitals which have come under significant economic pressure, and are forced to shoulder a great deal of the financial burden, something which would not be very effective in other areas. Other factors include emergency departments becoming overstretched, infections taking hold in hospitals, and a lack of doctors in rural areas, to name just a few. Here too, it is our responsibility to offer support and to develop new lines of thinking for providing solutions. That’s why at L&R we are working to continually improve on our expertise. In 2019, we acquired the compression stockings branch of the French stockings producer MTA (Medical Textile Ariégeois). In doing so, we ensured that we can now offer a full range of compression stockings whilst maintaining the well-known Veinocare brand name. The full product portfolio has now been approved for the French market and is reimbursable. It becomes particularly apparent how these products complement the L&R range when combining this portfolio with L&R’s Velpeau products. This acquisition symbolises yet another important step for us in further developing our expertise and scope to offer a holistic compression therapy.

    What responsibility does the L&R Group take on with respect to its customers? How is the L&R Group dealing with these challenges? And what about its approach to these megatrends?

    Our approach to work is customer-focused, i.e. the customer will always be at the forefront of our minds when looking at different challenges, problems or requests. This applies at the senior management level, as well as for our departmental managers and leaders and all our employees around the globe. We believe in maintaining the highest levels of quality, innovation and expertise. Our customers and business partners place their trust in us, and expect us to work with them to develop sustainable and future-oriented solutions adapted to their specific needs. Beyond introducing new products and solutions, we are placing an ever greater focus on the increasing demand for services, such as those we offer through L&R OPTILINE. Our research and development department is constantly working on new concepts of how hospitals and other care facilities will develop in the future so that we can draft new solutions to fit those models today. We are committing more than ever to our responsibility and communication with users, patients and experts from the sector. Our informational campaigns and other strategies we employ for raising awareness are enlightening whilst remaining appropriate to the target audience: examples include “hygiene in practice”, “Fit in spite of arthritis” and “the Wound Centre /[die Wundzentrale]”. These campaigns act as a service tool for both users and patients alike. At the L&R Academy, an internally-run programme, we offer training courses to continuously refresh users’ knowledge so that they are always up to date.

    What appeal does the L&R Group have for you personally? You’ve been a managing director for 18 years now, 9 of which you have spent as CEO. Surely you have a significant impact on the future direction of the company?

    I am attracted to the work in a sector where I am faced with challenges time and time again, but I am also drawn to L&R’s own ambitions, such as its constant striving towards internationalisation. Living the values of a family enterprise within a company which acts like a global player: that is an exciting task which can offer a great deal of scope for creativity. Despite not being under any obligation to create a yearly sustainability report, we published our second report of this kind in 2019, in which we describe our commitment to the three pillars of sustainability. Our CSS programme, as well as our extensive product donations for crisis areas, are particularly important to me and will be developed even further in the future.

    Transformation and change are on the daily agenda of any company today.

    Everyone is talking about societal change recently, you included. What exactly is meant by ‘change’ when referring to an international company with over 5,300 employees across the globe?

    Transformation and change are two elements which are on the daily agenda of any company today. We have already developed targeted strategic processes to prepare for change, and in particular, laying the right foundations for a future of sustainable growth despite operating in a tough market. Continuous changes do present, however, ever larger challenges for our employees. In theory, terms like agility and resilience are used in a positive light. In practice, however, implementing these changes requires the right support, training and motivation from all those who are striving to overcome these new challenges.