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JANUARY 2021: PEOPLE OF HICO – MICHAEL SCHWAN, CEO

Publication date: 18 January 2021

Half-man, half-amazing! In our most recent People of HICO featurette, we sit down with HICO-Group CEO, Michael Schwan. As the leader of an international team, Michael had a lot to share about how the pandemic has shifted the work culture and dynamic at the company, the industry, as well as life, in general. Enjoy!

How has your role as CEO changed during the pandemic?

I don’t think my role changed as much as it was amplified. To put it simply, I went from being a leader to a leader in a crisis. I am now more motivated than ever to go the extra mile for my team and our partners. The way I see it is a crisis doesn’t limit you – it takes you a step further toward working smarter and harder.

If you could choose one thing that changed for you the most since the pandemic (and the lockdown) started, what would that be?

Traveling! In the last 6 months, I have been to just one customer event. One. My car is actually the biggest witness to my lack of traveling, as I am nowhere near my 30,000 kilometres per year warranty limit. Lots of driving left to do in 2021, but where to, you know? For me, it is one hundred percent the absence of travel.

If you could use only one word to describe 2020, what word would it be?

Revealing.

Which word best describes “life at HICO” in 2020?

Change.

Did you pick up any interesting hobbies since the pandemic started? 

Walking, does that count? On a serious note, I actually put a treadmill in my office! It is the single best purchase I made in probably the last decade. The treadmill is right next to my desk so I am always “on the move”. During the first lockdown, I was not happy with how I was feeling, always sitting in one place, not being active enough… So I set a goal for myself to become better by the end of the year in terms of my daily activity. 

When you think about it, what changed life the most for humans throughout history was “steps”. We are built for walking, to be active, to see the world, to question it… it is something that drives me too in my daily life, so the treadmill only made things come full circle.

Research shows that CEOs read dozens of books annually. What is the last book you read?

‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat’ by Oliver Sacks. It is fascinating!

If you could “read” the market right now, what changes can you notice as a direct effect of the pandemic?

I think the pandemic has definitely brought out the value of collaboration and information self-service for many businesses. I see an increasingly growing effort in basically every industry to achieve company-wide data literacy. It is all about the “employee of the future” and empowering the individual. To a certain extent, it is about empowering them to learn, master, and even create their own dashboards which entire teams can benefit from.

Do you think these new trends will bring us some new solutions that we didn’t think of previously?

I think, for the most part, we are looking at “empowering the individual” transforming into “empowering the platform” which could substitute the individual completely. One of the biggest trends in the last few years have been machine learning, AI, and creating systems that can outsmart people, and even make decisions completely autonomously. I think right now we are just creating the building blocks for it but I don’t think we are getting something that is fully self-functional in at least another 10-15 years. A fully automated workplace of the future sounds scary and fascinating at the same time. I am interested in knowing how that could impact business intelligence and data collaboration as a whole. 

As a CEO, what is the best tip or advice you would share to other businesses battling the effects of the pandemic?

Don’t be afraid to take risks. In all of this chaos, don’t look at what’s going wrong – look at chances and opportunities. Corona is not a limitation, it’s just a market change, a very rapid market change, and there are ways and opportunities to survive.

Well said. To bring our conversation to an end, could you maybe share a list of your personal highlights from 2020?

Apart from my new treadmill habit, this list would definitely include my last trip to South Africa for a partner onboarding, which was at the beginning of the year. Then, my colleagues, of course. I couldn’t imagine 2020 being as successful for us as it was without the amazing colleagues who helped navigate our team through this year. And at the top of that list would be the increased company of my nieces, the most beautiful women I have ever seen in my life.

Bonus question… You’ve been given an elephant. You can’t give it away or sell it. What would you do with the elephant?

I would build a small park for it and have my nieces tend to it. They would love me forever! Oh, is there a second elephant? Can they make babies? My nieces would love that even more!

Uhhh… we’re not sure about that, Michael, but we surely enjoyed this conversation. Thank you! Looking ahead, we’d like to wish the best of luck to you and the entire HICO-Group family in the (hopefully COVID-less) future!


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