How can anthropologists ask about a mushroom

Cohesion and trust in God

How an extortionate hacker attack can marginalize a global family business - Thomas Pilz, the managing director of Pilz GmbH and Co KG from Ostfildern, reported vividly and vividly online in our second after-work conversation about the changing economy. Pilz answered questions from Stefanie Oeben, who heads the executive department at the Episcopal Ordinariate and is responsible for the series of talks together with the academy. Together with his sister Susanne Kunschert, Pilz is the third generation to manage the company, which is considered a technology leader in safe automation technology. With around 2500 employees and branches on all continents.

Authorities are still investigating internationally

Pilz experienced how quickly the reputation of such a renowned company could be jeopardized in 2019, when the company was hacked over a weekend, rendering it unable to act from one minute to the next. Pilz not only vividly described the chaos and economic hardship that these modern blackmailers can bring companies into, but he was also firmly convinced that an open approach is necessary in order to be able to protect himself and others from such criminal attacks . The company was completely paralyzed for five weeks, with neither computer, telephone nor Internet working. But he did not give in to the hackers' demand to pay, otherwise all company data would be published, Pilz described the dramatic days. The fact that the tax office was at the door precisely at this time for a routine tax audit made matters even worse. Pilz still does not know who is behind the attack on his company, but the investigations by the authorities assume an international connection. Without the solidarity and loyalty of its employees, the company would not have survived this “second catastrophe”, Pilz was convinced. In 1975 his father, who was running the company at the time, had a fatal accident and his mother had to take over the family business from scratch. She managed it successfully until it was handed over to her two children in 2018.

The experiences from back then and a solid Christian foundation on which the family still stands today give Pilz the confidence to survive the corona crisis after the hacker attack. Pilz welcomes the fact that Baden-Württemberg now wants to set up a cyber security agency for the state, even if it comes too late for him. "Baden-Württemberg is early on in politics, but politics lags far behind compared to criminals," he says laconically. In any case, it is an overdue step, because the hackers are currently booming through home office. Security gaps are currently being exploited many times over.

Confident Christian, active Catholic

Pilz lived in the USA for several years and the question of whether Stuttgart will experience a fate like Detroit as a result of the restructuring process in the automotive industry makes him pensive. "Detroit is not doing well, the companies have migrated and the city has not recovered from it," he says. "The Corona crisis has driven structural change in this country at a time-lapse pace". Politicians must therefore now set incentives for new technologies. Pilz is less concerned about development: “We don't have to run to Silicon Valley,” he says. “We have good engineers. But we need funds for a European cloud. We're behind ”.
That is why his company invests 20 percent of the money in research. Pilz is convinced that this is necessary because developments are getting faster and faster. Above all, however, he invested in his employees. “We hold our employees accountable. You also have to decide, ”is how Pilz describes its corporate philosophy. To ensure a good atmosphere in the company, admits the entrepreneur, is of course a sheer necessity: "I am unlucky to be in the shadow of large and well-known companies: Whether Bosch, Daimler or Festo - they all need people with the same qualifications" .

Sustainability is therefore a concern of the company; “At the bottom of our hearts we are a bit green”, Pilz admits and cites the company's geothermal system, the solar system and the careful selection of materials as examples. Pilz is also working hard for women - not only in his company, by the way, but also in the church. Pilz is not only a professed Christian, but also an active Catholic - in the parish council of St. Konrad. He therefore campaigns not only for women in leadership positions, but also for women in ordinations of the Church.


We will continue our after-work series of talks on changing economies on Wednesday, March 3, at 6 p.m. Then it will be Karin Sonnenmoser be our guest. She is CFO at the listed company Ceconemy, which operates the Saturn and Mediamarkt retail chains. She tells us what she has learned in a leading position at the VW Group, what a double lockdown means for a company with more than 50,000 employees, and what she thinks of the federal government's plans to prescribe a quota for women on the boards of large companies.

(Barbara Thurner-Fromm)


This article is part of our series "Wirtschaft im Wandel":