Interview with the new manager of our EP business line

Metal Deposition Solutions

Since this summer, Michael Herkommer, previously responsible for technical sales, has been steering the fortunes of our entire Electroplating business line. The manager, who is experienced in all areas of electroplating and has a passion for technology, has been instrumental in various successful product launches. Most recently, he played a leading role in setting up the new Semiconductors division and thus also initiated the future-oriented expansion of our product portfolio.

We asked Michael Herkommer where he sees the strengths but also the challenges for our business line as the new Head of Electroplating, where he would like to bring about changes and how he would like to do this, but also what he does in his private life as a balance to the demanding tasks - read his answers in a short interview here:

Interview

Umicore: Congratulations on your new position, Mr Herkommer. As the successor to Thomas Engert, who successfully managed the Electroplating business unit for many years, how difficult was it to get a foothold in the new position?

Michael Herkommer: On the surface, little is changing in my daily work, so it is not difficult for me to find my footing. Of course, there are more cross-cutting tasks on the calendar and the challenges of sustainably expanding our position in international competition will be no less demanding - especially since the general weather situation is difficult to predict at the moment.

But colleagues, topics and interactions are familiar to me and I think that is a great basis for further active shaping of the business line - in which I was already active as part of the management. 

Umicore: What do you bring to the business line that you would like to contribute in the future, or where do you see the focus of development?

Michael Herkommer: I was active in sales at most stages of my career. This background will continue to ensure that customer orientation will be the focus for me and thus for the business line.

However, it is also important to me that the consistent expansion of our "capabilities" is continued. Both here at the headquarters in Schwaebisch Gmuend and at the international subsidiaries of the Electroplating Division.

Umicore: You have been with the company since 2005 and know it well. What is the reason that the company continues to be so successful despite the various crises of recent times?

Michael Herkommer: First and foremost, the outstanding performance of the employees and a non-political environment. I have never seen such a protected environment in my previous professional positions. This is a main prerequisite for putting the energy and competence of the employees "on the road" and thus benefiting the tasks in a targeted way...

In addition, we are also supported by our broad positioning in terms of the markets we serve, both in terms of applications and regions. So far, this has always meant that we were never completely dependent on a specific market in a crisis. We must and will maintain such portfolio management.

Umicore: In your opinion, what are the strengths of the Electroplating division in addition to this broad positioning?

Michael Herkommer: As already mentioned, I see our qualified employees with their competence, experience and broadly developed networks as the primary factor here.

In addition, we (employees and management) are capable of evolution. I see the willingness and ability to change as a decisive prerequisite for being able to go new ways. We see this, for example, in the current development of our semiconductor activities. Here we have quickly and specifically familiarised ourselves with a segment and after a short time were able to provide the corresponding resources and processes that were necessary for a successful market entry.

Expanding with innovative products in our technical segment and establishing ourselves in the semiconductor sector is a must-win battle for us.

Michael Herkommer (MDS, Manager Business Line EP)

Umicore: With innovative products, you are in the process of expanding the technical segment and also establishing it in the semiconductor sector. Will you continue on this path?

Michael Herkommer: Absolutely, this is a must-win battle for us.

I also see it as a good opportunity to move even closer together within the MDS business unit and to mutually benefit from each other in terms of market access and competencies. Our target customers overlap to a large extent with those of the Thin Film Products (TFP) business line.

Umicore: What does the expansion of the product portfolio mean for the previously successful business segments (printed circuit boards, non-precious metal and decorative applications and electrocatalytic electrodes)?

Michael Herkommer: Of course, the precious metals business remains a central pillar for us and we will continue to work on innovative solutions in these fields. The distribution of trade partner products, such as those from Uyemura or San-Ei, will also continue unchanged as a sensible addition to our portfolio and will be expanded if necessary.

Of course, our commercial and technical service offer will also remain unchanged, or will be optimised or expanded. Service is and will remain an essential part of staying in dialogue with our customers.

In short, we will not reinvent the wheel with me and we will in no way give up our existing business core. Of course, we want to develop further every day for the benefit of our customers.

Umicore: What challenges will the Electroplating business line have to master in the coming years?

Michael Herkommer: Many challenges arise and often cannot be planned. For us, it is especially important to know the new requirements of our clients at an early stage. Even though we are well positioned in this respect due to the often partnership-based relationships with our customers - for me, this is one of the reasons why it is important to place our customer relationships in the highest structural position.

I see the expansion of our external perception as a controllable challenge. In particular, our reputation in niches in which we work successfully must be transferred to the new target markets.

Furthermore, I consider it important to further develop our quality and cost monitoring as well as to continuously review and optimise processes with regard to new circumstances. 

Umicore: Anyone who knows you better knows that standing still in your professional environment is a foreign word to you. What changes would you like to initiate in your first year as manager of the business line?

Michael Herkommer: In fact, I have several individual topics in mind: infrastructure and trading partners, our portfolio, training and tools for employees, increased digitalisation, ...

The head is full of ideas, but I want continuous change - not ad hoc. Customers, service providers and employees should have the opportunity to contribute. In such an evolutionary approach, I see the chance of a deeper anchoring inside and outside the company. 

Umicore: What has been your professional highlight in the past years, if we disregard the current appointment as manager of the business line.

Michael Herkommer: Clearly the identification and establishment of the cooperation with our partner Shinhao Materials LLC, with whom we want to further strengthen our presence in the semiconductor sector.

The timing was perfect, we were able to hold the kick-off meeting with the entire team in Suzhou/China just before the outbreak of the pandemic. Afterwards, we succeeded in acting in a straightforward manner and building up know-how and a portfolio in the field of advanced packaging, even without presence meetings.

Although there are still hurdles to overcome, we have managed to place products commercially in the market. This creates a sense of achievement for the team and also shows me that we have made a good decision for the company here.

Umicore: The new job demands additional attention, how do you reconcile this with your private life as a nature lover and family man?

Michael Herkommer: So far, I've managed quite well to reconcile both my professional and private life. I also need both. On the one hand, the challenges in the business - trying out new things and the joint success drive me.

On the other hand, I need the private balance. For example, I like gardening and working in nature. I notice how it makes me feel good to come together with my family, to create and, what's more, you usually see a positive result in a short time. Of course, the physical balance is also important to me and I literally stay grounded in nature and reminded of sustainability. 

About the person

Michael Herkommer, born in April 1968, graduated from Aalen University. After completing a Master's degree at the University of Manchester in England, he gained professional experience at various companies in Germany and abroad from 1994 onwards before joining the company as a sales engineer in January 2005.

In November 2006, he took over product responsibility for soldermask in the printed circuit board sector. From March 2010, Michael Herkommer reported directly to the Managing Director as Head of Strategic Business Development with the aim of sustainably developing the company's competitiveness. Since 2014, Michael Herkommer has been responsible for the area of "Technical Sales".

Since July 2022, Michael Herkommer has been in charge of the Electroplating (EP) business line within the Metal Deposition Solutions (MDS) business unit in the Umicore Group.

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