What it takes to become a smart technology CEO
Being at the helm of two companies has its challenges, but Stefan Schwab knows that he is well-equipped for double duty, thanks to his EMBA.
The German is the CEO of Enlighted — a Silicon Valley-based IoT solutions company — and Comfy, a workplace intelligence platform. He credits his EMBA from ESMT Berlin for teaching him new things when it comes to leadership and the challenges that come with being a leader.
Schwab grew up in Augsburg, a city in southern Germany, and studied mechanical engineering and political science with a focus on economy. After graduating, he joined Siemens in Karlsruhe as part of the Building Technologies Division.
Apart from Germany, Schwab has worked in Singapore and Australia. Despite his extensive work experience, Schwab felt room for professional improvement and decided to enrol in ESMT Berlin’s Executive MBA programme.
“I chose ESMT because it combines theory and praxis nicely. I also got great feedback from its alumni,” he says.
Midway through his EMBA in 2018, however, Schwab moved to the US.
Siemens had just acquired Enlighted, a company founded in 2009 by networking technologists, to expand its smart building strategy using advanced lighting control and smart sensors to future-proof buildings. Schwab was handpicked to take the reins.
“This is a challenge in itself as I had three things going on through this transition: handing over my responsibilities in Australia, ramping up in the new role which is also geographically far away, and pursuing my EMBA which I was roughly at halftime during the transition,” he explains.
Schwab, however, knew that a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. He was already honing his traits as a business leader, and Enlighted was the perfect opportunity to put theory into practice.
Tech meets business with an EMBA
It wasn’t just soft skills such as patience, flexibility, and communication that has helped him in his career. Schwab also gained hard skills, including analysing complex data, understanding its relations, budgeting, and using decision trees.
He believes tech professionals can benefit from business education. “It helped me put the customers and employees back to the centre,” Schwab says.
“It touched on many things that make a venture successful and scalable, like organisational dynamics. Further education helped me see things from a different perspective with an open mind.”
Collaborating with a diverse cohort of bright and diverse students throughout the 19 months spent on the programme didn’t hurt either.
“The connections remain once it’s over,” he says. “Now I have a huge set of people I can tap into to ask for feedback, coaching and advice.”
He’s constantly putting his knowledge and skills into practice in leading the startup.
Today, Enlighted is a world-leading provider of IoT solutions for smart buildings, and the proof is in the numbers: it has four million sensors installed across 410 million feet; over 200 clients in 31 countries — 20% of which are Fortune 500 companies; and houses 16 terabytes of data for thousands of commercial buildings.
He added another feather to his cap when Enlighted received several industry recognitions, including the 2021 BIG Innovation Award for their Safe application. Schwab himself was named IoT Company CEO of the year from the IoT Breakthrough Awards.
Innovative solutions to global challenges
Schwab recently became the CEO of another Siemens-owned company called Comfy the App this year. Both Enlighted and Comfy have worked together during the pandemic to increase value for both its clientele.
“The solution was designed to address three key challenges our customers are facing as they bring their employees back to a hybrid working environment,” he explains. This includes employee management, space management, and portfolio strategy.
From providing a vibrant, yet safe space for work, to performing long-term facility planning — Schwab believes the key to successfully managing the new reality of workplaces will be accomplished with data and insights.
As a CEO to two businesses, he had to act quickly when the pandemic struck. “Overnight we had to change to a complete remote work environment, not only in the US but also across our overseas offices,” he recalls.
“This had a huge impact on the culture of the company. It also challenged our collaboration model. Our market, connections, and insights disappeared overnight for a certain period.”
His interdisciplinary team began helping consumers navigate the uncertainty while they were doing so themselves. There were many occasions where Schwab struggled to maintain his positivity, but he needed to give both companies a purpose and direction to secure its futures.
In the last 16 months, the lifelong learner is proud to say that his newest, most valuable skill has been: resilience.