Building Bridges, Finding Solutions

Asked what the word innovation means to him, YPO member Martin Wilderer is quick to share his definition: making connections and finding new solution to solve problems. For Wilderer, innovation is more than another business term; it’s a guiding principal for the survival of any business — and one that has driven his personal career.

Bridges and connections

A natural curiosity and eagerness to learn new things contributed to his fascination with innovation. “From early on, I had an opportunity to see things from different angles. My heritage, as half Czech and half German, meant that I grew up between two different lifestyles and points of views. That already instilled in me a curiosity and an ability to look at things from different angles,” says Wilderer. He later studied mechanical engineer and business, further developing an appreciation for “bridging different disciplines and perspectives.

After completing his doctorate in industrial ecology, Wilderer moved to China where he lived for 11 years with his Malaysian wife. “It was fascinating, how the two of us experienced the country differently, just based on our different backgroundss.” While setting up production as well as financial controlling systems, Wilderer found himself between two cultures and ways of thinking — bridging German and Chinese cultures, as well as engineering and finance schools of thought.

Incorporating sustainability in business

After working with a German corporate in Mainland China, Wilderer moved to the United Kingdom where he got involved in the world of entrepreneurship and investment. He joined a London-based family office to run an early stage company in hydrogen-fueled vehicles and other investments with a sustainability theme. Using business as “a force of good to tackle global grand challenges” was to become a lifelong personal passion. “There is nothing more rewarding than building up a business and doing good at the same time,” says Wilderer.

Leveraging digital advances

While working in sustainability project investments, Wilderer became interested in emerging technologies and what that means for organizational development, leadership and management. “I recognized the massive changes and uncertainties facing the business world presented exciting opportunities to approach problems from different angles,” says Wilderer.

Two years ago, the self-described environmental capitalist joined Environmental Quality Intelligence (EQI), a data and technology company that uses digital technology to identify key indicators of the organization’s performance.

“By collecting granular data on resource use, environmental and social impact, and correlating it with financial performance, companies can gain holistic insights into individual corporate risks and performance, bringing visibility to value chain and economic performance,” explains Wilderer. “Taking data from different pools and correlating them with each other can turn a black-box into a glasshouse, therefore providing early indication if things are going right or wrong.”

Innovation as a coping mechanism

In the face of disruption, and political and economic volatility, Wilderer believes it is crucial to leverage exponential technology to develop a controlling mechanism that can cope with the dynamic business environment. “By the time (required) changes are shown in the financials, the game may be over”, he says. “That is where technologies not only create the challenge but also provide the opportunity, helping companies make better financial, strategic and operational decisions — in this case using analytics and machine learning.”

From clean tech to analytics and the internet of things, Wilderer’s curiosity and fascination with innovation continuously drives him to find new connections and new solutions to business challenges.

“Change is a word that either promotes fear of the unknown or holds great deal of opportunity. The speed of change is outside of our control, but by innovating — meaning seeing things from different perspectives, making connections and flowing with the advances of digitilization — new opportunities arise,” says Wilderer. “The art is in creating organizations which are agile, open to change and innovative in nature without losing orientation of the purpose and goal the organization is aiming for.”

To carry the discussion further with YPO members, Wilderer will be championing a Geniecast as part of YPO Innovation Week. In Breakthrough Business Models Part 2: Learning from Three Case Studies, participants will engage with John Elkington, a global authority on corporate responsibility and sustainable development.

Rola Tassabehji is a writer and content marketing specialist with background in global brand management experience at Unilever and higher education at INSEAD. She is passionate about sharing stories of accomplished business leaders and has been interviewing chief executives and thought leaders from around the world for the past eight years.