Leonardo Award

“Trailblazing innovations always start off with brave visions”

Dr. Wilfried Stoll

The owners of the automation company Festo, Dr. Wilfried Stoll and Dr. h.c. Kurt Stoll, will receive the Leonardo – European Corporate Learning Award 2012 in the category “Company Transformation”.

The initiators of the award are using it to pay tribute to the brothers' overall work in the area of education, ranging from Festo Didactic and Bionic Learning Network to their responsible dedication to education and further education around the world. In this interview Dr. Wilfried Stoll explains how Festo lives the “Leonardo spirit”.

Dr. Stoll, the Leonardo Award recognizes the award winners' commitment towards a holistic approach to education. What defines this holistic approach at Festo?

Today, the world moves in complex systems. Every brake in the automobile industry, for example, is part of a system with many interfaces and much time and effort spent on regulation and control. A holistic approach regarding our company is thus of great significance and also includes education. We believe that education should not only be a concern of the state but that we, as a company, also have to take on the social responsibility for current and future generations.

Only education will enable us to bring about change in the industry. 70 percent of our employees will be working in the so-called knowledge industry by 2020, as the development of technical components into intuitive and adaptive products is a long and arduous process. Corporate Educational Responsibility describes our holistic approach and demand. Which also means that we see ourselves as a learning organisation.

You partially also make things that Leonardo da Vinci actually once conceived – such as the Smart-Bird, an energy-efficient flight model based on the design of a herring gull. What part does the learning organisation play in such developments?

A very important role. Because, in order for such developments to take place, scientists and developers from a variety of different branches have to work and learn together. In order for that to work, the organisational and knowledge structures have to be just right. That works similarly to a kind of network organisation with many nuclei in which self-organisational and self-renewal processes take place. At Festo we have close to 1000 such atoms, i.e. projects, which create and operate individually but also have to work together almost like in a fluid.

Who is responsible for employee training in this system – the company, the management or the employees themselves?

Every Festo employee is personally responsible for his own training and development. We as a company provide the overall framework and take care of the funding. Our Academy includes a whole bundle of offers. But we expect our employees to take an active part – which also includes their spare time. And senior executives should set an example and illustrate such attitudes in their everyday work. They are also responsible for ensuring that employees use the practical phases between trainings sensibly and are aware of the scope of freedom and the limits they have.

You can only achieve freedom in an industrial process through the self-motivation and selfcontrol of each and every individual person. We actually take it a step further and believe that even renewal – in this case the life-long learning process – is something that should be undertaken on one's own initiative. And that already begins very early, in a person's youth.

Education creates an emotional bond. Even if you didn't like your maths teacher at school, you will still manage to appreciate his work later on in life. Kindergarten and school provide lasting impressions. For example, in order to inspire children's technical talents, we have initiated the "Leonardino + Galilea" project. But our offer for more than 40,000 participants a year in our academy also plays an important role. That can be seen by the fact that certificates handed out at seminars are pinned on walls in Festo offices all over the world – the participants are proud of them, almost as if they were a kind of diploma.