Five business lessons from the greatest washing machines in the world
by David Lim,
In recent months, I’ve been working on a number of motivational and leadership programmes for Miele, a leading, family-owned German company who are in the ‘best in class” in what they do. Last week, Dr Reinhard Zinkann, the great-grand son of one of the founding partners, co-owner and Managing Partner, delivered a speech in which I believe summarises reasons for their success. I’ll expand on these points and trust you will find them compelling.
1) “Our product costs a lot, but we are not expensive”
How many times have we met with challenges in or own business when a client says our solutions or services are “too expensive”? A Mercedes Benz car may cost a lot but it may not necessarily be expensive for the value it delivers. So here’s a great approach to how we do anything: deliver exceedingly good results, a quality product that lasts for years, and exceeds customer expectations. Quality is remembers long after price is forgotten. The problem in may organizations is a lack of ability to cascade these value points down to the frontline of the business; and where our sales professionals are selling ‘boxes’ versus a solution to our needs. Miele makes, arguably, the world’s best washing machines and related appliances. The best is never made cheaply.
2) Take the approach of continuous improvement, forever committed to the improving and bettering our past performance
When you think of the best, most durable organizations and brands; they have spent a lifetime committing themselves to ever improving, listening to their customers, and coming back again and again with the best products for their needs. Kodak, the iconic company most associated with the still image lost it’s way not because of a lack of commitment to quality, but a lack of ability to listen to what their customers wanted. When you ingrain a spirit of continuous improvement in every person in the organization, only good things can happen. Miele’s motto “Immer Besser” or “Forever better” encapsulates not only a corporate mission, but the values that help keep then striving to be always better. In fact Dr Zinkann asserts the motto also implies forever different
3) Adopting a strategy beyond the short-term results of a listed company
This company has been family owned for more than a century. They could have become a listed company easily, being a global brand. However, on a strategic basis, they understood that there are always tradeoffs. One of the tradeoffs of a publicly traded company is the often-slavish focus on quarterly profits that can come at the price of giving up certain long term, and costly research and development or other strategies that take more than a year to come to fruition. Some highly influential, and visionary leaders like Jeff Bezos of Amazon could pull it off. When Amazon finally turned the corner of losses and registered it’s first profit in 2002, it had reached the tipping point. This was where the huge expense of winning market share and cost the company a huge sum, but leading to its post-2002 near-total domination of not only the online book-selling business but online e-commerce, period. Others may find it easier to achieve long-term goals by keeping their company a private one. The key is to make an informed decision. The Miele approach via technology and innovation also embraces that the post and pre-sales aspect is key on winning customers and keeping them, well into the next few decades. I would agree on taking the long the term view
4) Take the time to grow your people and celebrate the business and it’s future
In each of the programmes I ran, it was less about the actual content or fresh knowledge these people needed. It was more about how to harness what they already knew, so that they could believe in what they were doing, and believe they could be a success. By spending time out, at offsites and such retreats, staff from their China, Singapore and Malaysia offices could not only learn from each other, it also gave the top leaders a chance to rally the group, set the stage of future success, and remind themselves of the greatness that comes from applied inspired work
This company used to make a number of products, including, at one time, motorcycles. It now mainly makes one type of product, with many variations of the same product category. Focus carries huge benefits in terms of economies of scale, accumulating a wealth of knowledge that spills over to all other aspects of their products, not to mention avoiding dilution of their efforts. This is so much better than coming out of a meeting with a thought like “ Great, we’ve got an inch of progress in 20 different directions.” When you focus on becoming the best in a category, everyone will acknowledge your leadership in that area. Apple Computer’s legendary CEO, Steve Jobs was said to be an owner of a Miele washing machine, and praised the company for it’s design ethic.
David Lim is Asia’s Leadership Coach, and best known for leading the 1st Singapore Mt Everest Expedition. Since 1999, he has helped organizations build teams and grow leaders. Send him a note today at to subscribe to a no-cost leadership e-newsletter.