«It was a privilege for me to accompany a company that has remained market leader over the course of 12 years as an independent provider of telecommunications services.»
Urs T. Fischer, Chairman of the Board of Directors
Urs T. Fischer has been Chairman of the Board of Directors of the mobilezone Group since 2009. After graduating with a diploma in engineering from ETH, he held various management positions at IBM Switzerland and the Digital Equipment Corporation. He was CEO of Sunrise Communication AG and was CEO and member of the Board of Directors of Ascom Group, as well as General Manager of Hewlett-Packard (Schweiz) GmbH.
After 12 years, he is stepping down from his post as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the mobilezone Group at the 2021 General Meeting. In light of his impending departure, we asked him a few questions.
Urs Fischer, you are stepping down after more than a decade as Chairman of the Board of the mobilezone Group – a long time, especially in an environment characterised by new and changing technologies.
mobilezone was a classical retailer in 2009. We had two lines of business at that time. On the one hand, there was the B2C business based on the shops, and on the other, there was the B2B business, which was still in its infancy at that time.
We operated a little more than 120 shops in all of Switzerland at that time. The three biggest mobile providers – Swisscom, Orange (Salt today) and Sunrise – combined operated 220 shops in the market. Today, the three biggest mobile providers operate a good 300 shops in total. We were able to keep our large,
Switzerland-wide, shop presence stable.
Then, there were also external influences that shaped us. The market launch of the iPhone 3 in July 2008 rang in a new era. When Apple began to stir up the mobile communications market with it, players such as Nokia, HTC, Motorola, LG and Sony Ericsson were still in the market. The market share of smartphones in 2009 was just five percent. By 2014, it had reached 70 percent. And today, you really have to look hard to find mobile devices that are not "smart".
Urs Fischer, you are stepping down as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the mobilezone Group after more than a decade - a long time, especially in an environment characterized by new and changing technologies.
In 2009, mobilezone was a classic retailer. At that time, we had two lines of business. One was the B2C business based on the stores, and the other was the B2B business, which was still in its infancy at that time. At that time, we operated just over 120 stores throughout Switzerland. The three major mobile providers Swisscom, Orange (now Salt) and Sunrise together were represented on the market with 220 stores. Today, the three largest mobile communications providers together operate a good 300 stores. We were able to keep our very large store presence stable throughout Switzerland. Then there were also external influences that left their mark on us. The market launch of the iPhone 3 in July 2008 heralded a new era. When Apple began to shake up the mobile phone market, players such as Nokia, HTC, Motorola, LG and Sony Ericsson were still on the market. The market share for smartphones was just 5 percent in 2009. By 2014, it was already at 70 percent. And today, you really have to look for mobile devices that are not "smart.
In 2009, mobilezone was a purely Swiss company. Over the course of time, we expanded into Germany and enjoyed strong growth. We positioned ourselves strategically in the telecommunications industry in Switzerland and Germany. That way, we also increased sales and the profitability of the Group considerably.
In my opinion, mobilezone has become more and more professional over time: in its processes, when launching products, in its IT, during the launch of new systems, looking at omnichannel, for example, and not least in the areas of governance and risk management.
Today, we have a broader base in all our business areas – whether in the value-creation chain for purchasing and sales, or in the re-use of devices and the related lifecycle of a smartphone.
Besides the physical business, the online business is becoming more and more important. This is a transformation that doesn't take place from one day to the next. Rather, it is a journey that is being strategically planned and supported by management.
It was a privilege for me to accompany a company that has remained market leader over the course of 12 years as an independent provider of telecommunications services.
We have held a dual role in the ecosystem of the telecommunications industry: On the one hand, we are the market leader in Switzerland and Germany as an independent provider; on the other, we are very small, when you compare us to the big mobile providers or even the manufacturers. And nevertheless, time and time again, we find a niche where we can stake our claim. We are small and agile. This agility enables us to repeatedly find potential for innovation and exploit it.
We finished fiscal year 2020 better than the "best case" that we defined in the second half of March, during the first lockdown. And we demonstrated courage by having submitted the guidance for 2020 and 2021 by 13 May. This was very well received by the investors. Although we hadn't planned for a second wave, we surpassed our targets and, on the whole, came through this crisis year safely, which naturally pleases me a great deal.
What I remember in particular is the culture of debate at the Board of Directors and Group Management level. It was demanding, and sometimes even a struggle, but the arguments were always based on fact. The other thing that I remember is that our CEO Markus Bernhard and his team have managed to maintain, and continue to develop, a family-like corporate culture in a young industry with young employees.
Your successor will be Olaf Swantee, an expert in the European telecommunications industry. What are your hopes for his time in office as Chairman of the Board?
I have known Olaf for 20 years. We have worked together previously at the Digital Equipment Corporation. With his experience, I know that he is absolutely the right man to preside over this Management Board, and I wish him lasting success. He will have this success if he promotes an employee- and customer-centric business policy. If the customers are happy, then the employees are happy, and if the employees are happy, then the shareholders, and ultimately the company, is happy.
First and foremost, I will spend time with my wife. She has had to accept some compromises in recent years. In addition, I will keep two of my chairman of the board duties. I am the honorary chairman of the board of a home for people with disabilities. A new building is planned there, which will take a great deal of time. And then, I would also like to take time to satisfy my curiosity for social and political interrelationships. There are many books on my bedside table that I would like to read. They include biographies of people such as the Dalai-Lama or the chief prosecutor of the Nuremberg Trials, for example.