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Contrinex: Lighting the Way for Women CEOs

In Switzerland, where just over 4% of companies have women as their CEO, Contrinex stands out with Annette Heimlicher leading the organization. Even in the Fortune 1000 companies, women  represent only 5.2% of the CEO position. This demonstrates how Contrinex is at the forefront of the world’s largest companies.

Contrinex_HeimlicherAnnette_RGBSince 2012, Heimlicher has held the position of CEO of Contrinex. She focuses on growing the company’s business by introducing new and innovative products, particularly in the areas of optical sensors, safety products, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) systems, and through the expansion of Contrinex’s sales force in key markets. Not only has Heimlicher brought the company new inspiration she has also been the driving force behind the integration of all Contrinex activities worldwide into one uniform and consistent group.

Streamlining Improves Efficiency

As part of this integration, Heimlicher put into practice a streamlined process across all group companies using a software system that incorporates all the key business functions of an organization — allowing for consistent company-wide updates and real-time information — which creates a more efficient work environment. She has also driven the implementation of a new global supply chain process comprising of regional hubs in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. To help achieve these objectives, Heimlicher recruited a number of senior-level executives to strengthen the company’s management in sales, finance, and supply chain.

Working with Heimlicher since 2013 is Klaus Boehmer who holds the position of Senior Executive Officer and is also a member of the Contrinex Group management board. Boehmer is responsible for sales, key account management, customer service, and product management. His role is to implement the company’s unique Contrinex sales strategy, to define product pricing, segmentation and portfolio, and to manage the cohabitation of sales channels in the market.

ContrinexContrinex is a leading manufacturer of sensors for factory automation. Headquartered in Givisiez near Fribourg (CH) in Switzerland, Contrinex offers a wide range of innovative products. The company was founded in 1972 by Peter Heimlicher, a technology pioneer and dynamic entrepreneur. Since then, Contrinex has grown from a one-person operation to a multinational group with more than 560 employees. Contrinex is the world market leader in miniature sensors and a technology leader in the field of inductive sensors. Today, the company’s products include more than 8,000 variants.

From Sensors to Light Curtains

One of the newest and most innovative products from Contrinex are light curtains; also called access control barriers or Active Optoelectric Protective Devices (AOPD). These curtains consist of two devices – an emitter and a receiver. The emitter projects an array of parallel and synchronized infrared beams to the receiver unit. When an object interrupts one or more beams, the AOPD receives the information and protective equipment immediately stops the machine or renders it harmless. Light curtains and access control barriers are designed to ensure protection of operators working in hazardous areas. In high-risk applications, the products achieve a high reliability by implementing this fail-safe system. Low-risk applications are also available. Light curtains are a better method for safe guarding people and machines since they reduce the need for physical guards and/or barriers used in traditional machine guarding. As a result, the light curtains allow for improved operability and efficiency in the automation process.

Safetinex light curtains and access control barriers feature the highest safety level, i.e. they correspond to safety category 4 PL e, according to EN/ISO 13849-1 (formerly EN 954-1) and type 4 according to IEC 61496-1 and -2. These Contrinex products have also successfully obtained the highly rated TUV certification.

Light Curtains_400x400The light curtain industry is very competitive where most decisions are made based on product availability, price, and delivery. Ease of installation and operation are also taken into consideration when purchasing these products. Contrinex aims to have open safety light curtain assembly units in each key market that provide an “on demand” production model. This allows the company to be more responsive to customer needs based on size, connector, and cabling options.

Over the years, the light curtain industry has continued to evolve. Technology has improved and safety standards increased as companies work to ensure the safety of their employees and equipment.  Most notably, safety is now fully integrated into a machine design concept. Whereas before, safety features were considered as an “add on” to an existing machine. Klaus Boehmer, Contrinex Senior Executive Officer explains: “Customers expect the availability of standard and safety products from one and the same supplier. Furthermore, safety equipment today is not used to just protect but also to control machines. Communication will play a growing role in the future of this industry.”

These new trends in the industry have the Contrinex team planning for the future. The company will further its efforts to compete in emerging markets with standard and specific products to meet local needs. The strong Contrinex sales structure, already in place, will continue to adapt products to change with customers’ ever-changing requirements while maintaining flexibility to deliver on time and on budget.

It’s this type of innovation that sets Contrinex apart in the industry. Recently, the company was awarded the prestigious Entrepreneur of the Year Award by the global consulting company Ernst & Young. The award was given to Contrinex founder Peter Heimlicher for his achievement in growing the company from a one-person operation to a mid-sized international organization. Today, Contrinex manufactures its products in four locations including Switzerland, Hungary, China, and Brazil. Fourteen sales subsidiaries market Contrinex’s products and provide application and technical support. All subsidiaries provide the full range of products to fulfill customer needs, full service, and short delivery times. Three logistic hubs keep Contrinex products close to customers in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.

Multinational but Connected with Home

Although now a large multinational group, Contrinex still maintains its roots in Switzerland. It’s here that the company reaches out to the community to help the youth get involved in the “real world of industry.” Each year, Contrinex works with the local technical university on one or two large scale research products. These projects lead to an exchange of know-how in a very positive sense and offers opportunities for students to get involved and gain hands on experience. In addition, Contrinex employs two or three trainees who are part of Switzerland’s professional skills program. These young men and women follow a three-year program in a specific profession. At Contrinex, the trainees focus on the areas of electronics, IT, and logistics.IMG_2282a

The Contrinex philosophy of reaching out to others also permeates the company itself. In the past three years, Contrinex has made significant efforts to implement a strong middle management team. These managers are responsible for the professional and human leadership in their area and are managed by objectives. CEO Annette Heimlicher leads the company in a very entrepreneurial way and expects all managers to do the same. More responsibility has been granted to these managers and they also provide input into defining the company’s business objectives. This change in management style has been very well received by the staff and lots of new ideas and projects have been proposed and incorporated into the company’s activities. This “inclusive” style is indicative of Heimlicher’s leadership and has led to a high degree of satisfaction and recognition among the company’s employees.

Having a woman as a CEO has made a profound change in the company culture at Contrinex – providing a better understanding of employees’ needs, better listening, and a good team spirit. The Swiss call it having “an iron hand in a velvet glove” meaning a firm authority exercised in a diplomatic way. In any country, this type of leadership allows each employee to have accountability and a sense of ownership toward the company resulting in a positive impact for everyone.