Skip Navigation
BlackBerry Blog

Siemens Chairman: Unlocking Trust in a Digital World

AUTOMOTIVE / 02.14.24 / Bruce Sussman

The way Siemens AG Chairman Jim Hagemann Snabe sees it, there are strong similarities between succeeding in Formula One racing and in the business world. The Danish executive knows quite a bit about both.

Before taking the top job at Siemens, one of the world’s largest technology conglomerates, he served as CEO of another iconic German IT giant: SAP. During his time at that company's helm, he spent more than a few marketing dollars to put the SAP name onto a Formula One racecar. This first-hand exposure to the world of F1 left him with a healthy respect for the motorsport’s styles of leadership, which he spoke about during his keynote at BlackBerry Summit 2023 in New York.

"The Formula One ecosystem has two types of leadership," says Snabe. "The first kind of leadership is what I would call 'within season' — a continuous-improvement kind of leadership where you try to cut half a second from your time in each successive race." Continues Snabe, "The second type of leadership happens when the racing season is over. The team announces a new set of rules, published in a book. Based on these rules, everyone builds a new engine and a new cabin inside the car, as if the team is starting over," he explains.

In F1 racing, winning previous world championships is no guarantee of future races. You have to reinvent yourself — and your team — each season, for a shot at winning again.

Snabe says this is also true in business, especially now, because we find ourselves at a global inflection point. This is a moment in history with such dramatic changes occurring, continuous improvement is not enough to give you a competitive advantage in the long term. Instead, we must step back, reinvent, and start over. BlackBerry and Siemens, which are partners in deploying transformational technologies such as high-volume power-producing wind turbines, provide two excellent examples of how organizations can accomplish this level of reinvention.

Unlocking Trust in Our Digital World

The technology piece of this reinvention includes unlocking the full potential of digital transformation and the IoT (Internet of Things), Snabe says, but that will require greater confidence and trust in our digital capabilities than many consumers currently have. "Technology is putting us in a place where we can create a dramatically better future. But if you're not getting the necessary trust in technology, it won't work," Snabe says.

Watch Jim Hagemann Snabe's BlackBerry Summit keynote, Delivering the Dream: Technology for a Trusted Future, as he shares inspiring insights for business leaders. 

Successful Business Leaders Must Find a Fresh Take

Today's business leaders require a “courageous” kind of leadership Snabe says. While that word could mean many things, to Snabe, it's this: "You are not betting your decisions on the known facts of the past. You're beginning to imagine a future where some people may not even believe you, because that future doesn't exist. But if you do it and are really convincing, you will inspire people to be part of a journey of transformation and opportunity. One that might create the next phase of life for your company — and maybe even create a better future for society."

To help urge other leaders to recognize and seize this opportunity, Snabe runs his board meetings at Siemens AG using lunch as a firm dividing line. You talk about the past until lunchtime, but before the meal is served, the discussion of the past must turn to imagining a better future. "Management can decide,” he quips. “When do they want to eat?”

Snabe says the future he imagines at Siemens — and at Swedish sustainable battery maker Northvolt, where he also serves as chairman — includes energy systems wholly redesigned, based on renewable, “fossil-free” energy sources. He says these will become much cheaper than coal, oil, and gas, and just as stable. But making the change away from carbon-based power will require vision, as transformational change always does. "The Stone Age didn't end because we ran out of stone. Here's an opportunity to create something better and more affordable."

Hard-Won Lessons: Surviving a Crippling Ransomware Attack

Snabe previously served as chairman of the board at the world's largest shipping company, Maersk, when a ransomware attack disrupted part of the company's operations and nearly all of its communications.

"I was devastated by the impact that this kind of attack can have. But I also felt lucky, so lucky. At least we hadn't connected the vessels. They continued operating autonomously on the oceans with 20,000 containers on board. And at least we had not connected the cranes," which load and offload the shipping containers. "If we had done that, the implications of this kind of attack would have been catastrophic."

Still, he says, the world is driving toward a time where nearly everything will be connected, and part of the global IoT. At Siemens, for example, sensors now predict when a train door the company made will jam — up to 10 days before it happens — so that somebody can fix it and allow the train to remain in service. "We also have sensors in all the wind turbines and data from every factory robot. All of this is connected, and you can imagine what it means in terms of security and surface to protect."

Protecting that wealth of data is critical to unlocking its full potential. This is why Siemens partners with BlackBerry and focuses on powering and protecting IoT devices, including more than 500 million connected endpoints on the planet.

"We need a technological convergence layer that connects the physical and the digital world in a way where we have these things: We are hyper-connected, scalable, secure, trusted, and, of course, mobile,” Snabe concludes. “That is what BlackBerry is doing. This is the essence. Without that, forget about the whole thing."

For similar articles and news delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe to the BlackBerry Blog.
Bruce Sussman

About Bruce Sussman

Bruce Sussman is Senior Managing Editor at BlackBerry.