Knowledge and innovation are the key to the success of Switzerland – and ABB. But we can only remain successful if we continue to invest in top talents and R&D, if we are able to develop new, innovative products for our customers, and if we can successfully market these products. That is why we need Switzerland Innovation.
Dr. René Cotting, Head of Operations, Innovation and R&D ABB Group
Interview with Dr. René Cotting, Head of Operations, Innovation and R&D ABB Group, and representative of the company on the Switzerland Innovation Foundation Board.
What does innovation mean for you and your company?
Innovation is the key to ABB’s success. For Swiss technology companies, innovation is central to ensuring that they can hold their own against competitors on the international market. For ABB, innovation goes beyond mere invention. Our goal is to create marketable products that are able to meet rapidly changing customer requirements in new ways, and can be introduced onto the market in a lasting, sustainable manner. At the end of the day, innovation is always the result of an ingenious invention and successful marketing.
What is your company doing in the area of research and development (R&D)?
The ABB Group invests around USD 1.5 billion annually worldwide, and employs more than 8,000 people in the areas of research and development (R&D). At our Group research center in Switzerland, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and is one of seven ABB Group research centers around the world, more than 200 employees work in research and more than 500 work in product development, all of whom come from more than 35 countries. We are also active in start-ups around the world and work together with more than 100 universities on innovative projects.
Your company was among the first sponsors of Switzerland Innovation. What made you want to commit to this project from the beginning, and what do you expect to gain from this commitment?
Innovation parks such as Switzerland Innovation strengthen Switzerland’s standing as an innovation location. We hope that our involvement results in the following three things in particular: Firstly, an increase in our capacity for innovation through partnerships or collaborative projects. Secondly, the discovery of new, beneficial technologies, and thirdly, access to highly qualified employees.
Switzerland has been one of the world’s most innovative countries for many years now. What does Switzerland do better than other countries?
Switzerland has a number of significant advantages over other countries: it is home to leading R&D institutions; has an excellent education system in place; fosters close cooperation between representatives from business, science and politics; and the Swiss economy invests a great deal in the area of R&D. The decisive factor here is the large number of highly qualified researchers from within Switzerland and around the world. This model for success is difficult to duplicate: knowledge and innovation are core Swiss resources and are part of Swiss culture. The strength of the Swiss franc makes sure that we are on top of our game, and means that we have to stay there. This is not possible without innovation.
In your view, what is needed to encourage more companies to choose Switzerland as a location for their R&D activities?
In the future, Switzerland has to do more to improve the environment for innovation and promote R&D activities: standing still means moving backward. This includes targeted support for future technologies at top universities, tax incentives for R&D – something that is par for the course in other countries – and access to top talents from Switzerland and around the world. Another important factor is better training for skilled personnel within Switzerland, for example by designing a more attractive STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) curriculum that also includes studying abroad at other hubs of innovation such as the US. Today, in the age of digitization, it is more important than ever that we work even harder to develop this area and introduce a wave of enthusiasm for technology. There are good initiatives out there, but we will only be successful if we can translate this enthusiasm into innovative products in areas of high growth, impress our existing customers and attract new ones. ABB will play a vital role in this effort.
Dr. René Cotting
Head of Operations, Innovation and R&D for the ABB Group
Chairman of ABB Technology Ventures