Aksel Ringvold speaking
echo interview, September 2021

Part and parcel of sustainability is an attractive pension plan


echo interview with Aksel Ringvold

echo interview with Aksel Ringvold, General Manager of Hilti Schweiz AG

elipsLife echo: As a globally successful player, Hilti has remained a family business. Has this fact contributed to its success?
Aksel Ringvold: Yes, it has. And I’ll tell you why. When it comes to planning, family ownership lets you take a long view, much more so than is the case with listed companies. At Hilti, we focus on the long term, not on short-term profit optimisation. In addition, we’re still shaped by a culture that goes back to the company's founder. This guides and shapes our working lives. For example, there’s a person at Hilti whose only job is to nurture and implement our corporate culture.

Where are your key markets?
Hilti pursues a global strategy. We have more than 120 subsidiaries worldwide and basically operate the same business model everywhere, with field service, engineering and support. In terms of market share, we’re strongest in Europe, where the focus is on German-speaking countries. That being said, Hilti is also strong in the USA and we’re also building up our position in countries outside Europe.

What are the biggest challenges currently facing the Hilti Group?
The construction industry, including we as construction suppliers, is currently caught in a real storm. We’re experiencing a severe shortage of raw materials. This means that steel production, for example, can no longer keep up with world demand. The consequences are rising prices and supply bottlenecks. To make matters worse, we’re facing massively higher prices for sea and air freight and a shortage of electronic components. So far, Hilti has come through this crisis relatively unscathed, thanks to a very professionally organised supply chain.

What’s the longer-term outlook?
When it comes to the long-term horizon, I prefer to talk about the opportunities out there. One important topic is certainly productivity for the construction industry in general and specifically the opportunities associated with the ongoing digital transformation of the business world. The question is how we can use our solutions to help our customers navigate these changes as productively as possible and so earn more money. 

Picture showing Aksel Ringvold in a discussion

What role do environmental and sustainability factors play for the company?
Sustainability is an important issue for us. In terms of the environment, sustainability covers the entire life cycle of a product - everything from manufacturing to recycling and disposal. As a sales organisation, CO2 emissions are also a key issue for us. In Switzerland we’re currently converting our entire car fleet of around 250 vehicles to electric operation. But sustainability factors also include issues such as safe workplaces, health management and safety at work. For example, Hilti invests in the fitness and healthy nutrition of our employees. In this way, we want to help reduce the average number of sick days per employee and at the same time strengthen loyalty to the company.

"We build the future better" is Hilti's current slogan in the market. To what extent does this also apply to your company's employee pension scheme?
To do the smart thing, we as employers need to keep our employees on board until they reach retirement age. What we offer is job security combined with programmes to help employees develop their professional and personal skills. At Hilti, no one should feel the need to change their job in order to maxmise their career or personal prospects. An attractive pension plan is part of this approach.

Worldwide, Hilti employs approximately 30’000 people and has to contend with many different social security systems. Does the company maintain generally applicable standards in respect to disability, old-age and accident insurance?
There’s no global standard, since each country we operate in has a very different social security system. I was in charge of Hilti Sweden before I took on the same function with Hilti Switzerland. The systems in these two countries are completely different. It wouldn’t make sense for us to try to define a ‘one-size fits both’ standard for these countries. So, it’s the job of each Hilti General Manager and their HR department to devise a social security package that is as attractive as possible.

Picture showing Aksel Ringold

The construction industry generates countless jobs. However, it counts as one of the low-wage sectors. How does this fact affect old-age provisioning? 
I need to correct you there. Hilti is not a construction company. What we do is supply the construction industry. And we’re certainly not a low-wage company. On the contrary, we pay very well. Our overall package - including our pension plan - is more than respectable.

What does the investment in occupational health management look like in concrete terms and how does the company benefit from it?

Let's take the working time lost due to illness. At Hilti we have set limits: between 2% and 4% sick days are normal, every now and then you get sick. But if the rate rises above 4%, we ask ourselves how we can support the person affected. With 500 employees, every sick day saved counts as a huge advantage. Today, occupational health management is a differentiating factor for employers. We’ve achieved our goal when an employee goes home in the evening and their partner says: "I'm glad you work at Hilti. Because it's good for you and good for us". 

What do the benefits look like in concrete terms? 
We offer a whole range of benefits - from healthy nutrition to opportunities to keep fit through sport. This is also where the Hilti organisations in different countries learn from one other. In Sweden, for example, we introduced a fitness class: All employees had one hour of their paid 42 hours per week available for sports or fitness activities. We also contribute financially to sports club memberships and fitness centre subscriptions. In addition, we organise team activities that get people out in the fresh air and exercising.

Hilti collaborates with elipsLife in the case management area. Which services are of particular interest to you?  
For us, early case management is the most important component. Being able to pick up employees very early in a process of absence or illness with the help of case management is enormously valuable. This is where we can see whether we’re dealing with a longer or shorter absence. In addition, this approach ensures transparency throughout the entire process. 

As part of Switzerland’s old-age provisioning reform, the National Council and the Council of States have approved raising the retirement age for women to 65. What’s your take on this?

Societal developments and the changing population demographics mean we have to keep talking about the retirement age. A pension system must be affordable. If this is no longer the case, new solutions are needed. When it comes to retirement age, equal treatment applies in my eyes: Men and women are worth the same - in all respects. That means the same retirement age for everyone. The fact is, however, that we still have a long way to go in Switzerland when it comes to equal rights for men and women. 

Should pensioners participate in the restructuring of the pension system or are already acquired pension rights taboo?
The pension system needs to be overhauled, but I find it difficult to judge which is the best solution. But to have an open and fruitful discussion, we shouldn’t begin with taboos. These are limiting factors in the search for solutions. Instead, we should put all facts and aspects openly on the table.  

Given the pandemic, demographic developments rock-bottom interest rates, do you think the pension funds are in a position to prevent the demise of the second pillar? 
As a non-expert, it would be presumptuous of me to offer tips to the specialists. However, the facts speak for themselves. We’re all getting older, and the question of who’s going to bear the resulting costs is quite clear. I believe the experts should be willing to look at and examine a wide variety of models. And to have an open debate about how to secure a pension system in the future that benefits the broad population. No one should fall through the cracks.  

Picture showing Aksel Ringvold
Personal Profile
Aksel Ringvold
General Manager of Hilti Schweiz AG

Aksel Ringvold, born in 1973, is a Norwegian citizen and has been General Manager of Hilti Schweiz AG since January 2019. He joined Hilti in 2005 as Head of Marketing at Hilti Austria. From 2007 to 2009, he was Global Head of Brand Management at the company’s world headquarters in Liechtenstein. In 2009, Ringvold was appointed General Manager of Hilti Sweden in Malmö. Before joining Hilti, he spent almost 9 years at Procter & Gamble, where he held various management and leadership roles in Scandinavia, Austria and Switzerland. Ringvold holds a BA/MA in Social & Political Sciences from the University of Cambridge and an International Baccalaureate from St. Clare's, Oxford. He is married, father of three daughters and lives on the Mutschellen in Canton Aargau. In his private life, the sports enthusiast enjoys spending time with his family, hiking or gardening.

echo interview with Aksel Ringvold