WILD Geschäftsführung Wolfgang Warum Josef Hackl Michael WratschkoIn the past five decades, the system partner has evolved from an extended workbench for Leica to a company known as an efficient troubleshooter with significant innovation power and resilience, especially in difficult times.

A large event with the workforce, their families, and international customers had been scheduled to duly celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary. WILD had to change these plans months ago, however, and will be inviting long-standing companions to virtual anniversary talks as of next week, which have so far been met with enthusiasm from its customers. They are emblematic for one of the company’s most important recipes for success: adapting to new situations as quickly as possible, and seeking innovative solutions.

A success story took its course at the Völkermarkt site exactly 50 years ago, one that is not common among the numerous high-tech companies competing in the dynamic environment of medical and optical technologies. On 2 December 1970, WILD Heerbrugg founded Wild Kärnten GmbH in Völkermarkt because of a lack of skilled workers in Switzerland. SevenWILD Austria 1971 Start der Produktion pioneers from the region around Völkermarkt – who were trained in Switzerland – started production at the site and manufactured the first precision devices. Among them was the theodolite, which went on to become synonymous with reliability and precision among surveyors around the world. What was originally an “extended workbench” did outstandingly well, and just a year later, a new production hall was built for a workforce of 130 people. “The first decade was about learning how high-tech production works, and how one can achieve Swiss precision”, CFO Michael Wratschko explains. The demands on the workers were high, and the manufacturing possibilities were limited by the machinery available at the time. This required an enormous level of dexterity, comprehensive assembly expertise, and a skilful use of optical elements. To this day, it is those special skills and the technological edge of the WILD employees that ultimately make the difference in the market. “Anyone can buy machines, but a unique expertise in the complex technology field of optomechatronics can only be developed with great effort and over a long period of time”, stresses WILD Group CTO Wolfgang Warum.

How WILD became a system partner

In the early 1980s, the wage cost advantage was diminishing for the Swiss parent company, and from there on, the focus was put on acquiring new customers. With little success, however, leading the company into a major crisis in the mid-90s. WILD’s economic situation reached rock bottom at the time, and a closure of the site was imminent. This was averted by Herbert Liaunig and Dieter Feger. They purchased Wild Kärnten GmbH and implemented a strict restructuring programme and a new strategy in record time.

WILD Mitarbeiterin in der MontageWILD moved away from the “extended workbench mentality” and reorganised the puzzle pieces of available know-how in the company. The result thereof is considered an essential success factor to this day: a unique combination of knowledge in the areas of optics, precision mechanics, electronics, software, and assembly technology.

WILD evolved from a pure manufacturer into a system partner with significant development competence. Collaboration across the Group’s different sites and the involvement of external specialists are increasingly transforming the system partner into a knowledge hub, enabling projects with a significant development depth and an extremely high level of technology. “We have learned to react quickly and flexibly to new requirements. This willingness to change and to succeed is an integral part of WILD’s DNA. The same applies to the fact that, as a contract manufacturer without our own products, we always put customer interests first”, CEO Josef Hackl explains.

Navigating the rough seas of crisis

The coronavirus pandemic has literally put the brakes on numerous businesses. WILD, on the other hand, has so far been able to cope well with this crisis, suffering only a single-digit slump in sales. There are several reasons for this: On the one hand, the company was able to successfully focus its skills on special markets such as additive manufacturing, endoscopy, and in-vitro diagnostics. For instance, WILD currently manufactures assemblies for the much-coveted PCR test devices, and does WILD Reinraumintensive research into disinfection using UV light. In addition, the company quickly reacted at the onset of the crisis by implementing innovative co-working and communication tools, which it now uses to establish contacts, to continue developing projects together, and to safely relocate the same. “Therefore, despite a considerable slowdown with some customers, we achieved significant growth in two of the four companies, and reeled in numerous new customers. Our order books are full. Our staff members can be very proud of that, and they can look into the future with a clear conscience”, says Wolfgang Warum confidently.

Troubleshooters still in demand

The three Managing Directors are convinced that, in future, customers will continue to rely on partners who offer holistic solutions: “Covering just a few individual work steps is not enough. Customers are looking for troubleshooters who can offer a tailor-made overall package and a well-functioning network, like our WILD Integrated Network.” To put the right tools in the hands of its workforce, the WILD Group will be investing around 2.5 million euros in digitalisation and in its technologically sophisticated machine park in the coming year. “Since customers will be reacting much quicker to changes in the market, we must also be able to decide quickly and to swiftly implement new processes and ideas. We are currently working on this, also with an eye on tapping into new markets”, the management reveals.