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Helge Sachs: "We always bring the cake ourselves!"

Not only an aviation pro: Helge Sachs is also a renowned jazz musician (Photo: S. Brüggemann)


Hamburg Aviation Series "Hamburg's Pilots" - Episode 3: Dr. Helge Sachs, Head of Corporate Innovation Management and Product Development, Lufthansa Technik AG

It's time for the interview with Helge Sachs, and a strong wind is blowing across the Lufthansa Technik base at Hamburg Airport. Somehow, that is fitting. Sachs, Head of Corporate Innovation Management and Product Development at the MRO (Maintenance, Repair & Overhaul) corporation since the start of 2014, has brought a lot of fresh wind and a lot of change in his new position.

His task is to gather all substantial idea-generation and innovation processes at Lufthansa Technik together within the newly created Innovation Management and Product Development Division. This is more than just a restructuring, as the figures prove, with the LHT Group investing an impressive 200 million euros in its newly created innovation divisions between now and 2018. Beyond this, the company wants to participate even more intensely in the federal government's Aviation Research Programme than it has done in the past. Here, too, funding of 300 million euros between now and 2019 is on the agenda. "Our approach is: Whatever you turn your hand to, it has to succeed!", says Sachs with emphasis.

"Whatever you turn your hand to, it has to succeed!"

So far, the approach has served him well personally. Born in Essen, he studied Aeronautical Engineering at RWTH University in Aachen, completing his degree with a thesis written as part of an industrial placement at Airbus in Toulouse. From 2004 to 2009, he was a research assistant in Aircraft Systems Engineering at the Hamburg University of Technology, where he completed his doctoral studies. Since then, he has been employed by Lufthansa Technik, and has been involved in the establishment and development of the Innovation Management Division from the very beginning. Initially, he worked together with Franz Josef Kirschfink on this project, before the latter because Managing Director of Hamburg Aviation at the end of 2013 and passed the baton to 37-year-old Sachs.

One project of the new innovation department: the fuselage robot

And Helge Sachs has made a name from himself outside of the Lufthansa base, too. He is a passionate jazz saxophonist and plays in two different bands. He started the "Bourbon Street Stompers" back in his school days at the age of 15, and then in 2008, in Hamburg, "Shreveport Rhythm". He has already played with his bands on the international scene with gigs in New York, New Orleans, and most recently at the Megève Jazz Contest in France, where they won the audience award for the most popular combo three times in succession. Taken together, the two bands have more than 50 gigs a year! "But my new job meant I had to make some sacrifices," he says with a laugh. "I used to play in four bands!"

Centralised department for Innovation Management

There was some arranging to do in career terms, too, at first: "Innovation Management was completely decentralised at Lufthansa Technik, making it very difficult to get a complete overview. But the challenge was not only one of organisation. First, we had to achieve a mindset where our colleagues were convinced of the benefits of centralisation." Ultimately,  Hamburg Aviation's Leading Edge Cluster projects were a substantial factor in their success, according to Sachs, because the payback from central bundling was clearly visible. Lufthansa Technik has implemented 40 R&D projects in the last five years, with an investment volume of 50 million euros. The central team, which evaluated a total of more than 1000 pages of concepts submitted by 150 employees, consisted at its core of Sachs and Franz Josef Kirschfink.

This, too, has now changed on a massive scale, and there are now 20 employees in the centralised department. Including the decentralised teams, more than 150 people are focussed on innovation at Lufthansa Technik, says Sachs, and most of them have a background in engineering or business administration. Throughout the group, they are the first point of contact for new product and service ideas, so that they can be guided along the best paths from the very beginning. The declared goal is straightforward enough: "We want to develop every promising idea to the point that the employee can persuade the board within 120 seconds."

200 million Euros are being invested into the innovation field within 4 years

At present, more than 90 percent of the group's revenue comes from classic engineering services for airlines. The global market is growing strongly, and Lufthansa Technik aims to secure a long-term market share of at least 10 percent. Helge Sachst is convinced that just expanding and restructuring the sales & marketing is not enough to achieve that. That is mandatory, the basic product, but a full package of options is needed too. Alongside moving into the latest generation of aircraft, he sees the key to success as consisting of innovation and new products. New aircraft designs made of carbon fibre composites, such as the Boeing 787 and the A350, will already necessitate new processes for maintenance and repair.

Improving efficiency throughout the entire life cycle

But Sachs perceives a further fundamental issue, too. "An aircraft's life cycle extends over several decades. When an aircraft leave's the factory, the lucrative market for innovations has only just begun!" He explains, "As an airline, I have operating costs for my aircraft throughout its entire life cycle: maintenance, personnel, fees and charges, depreciation, and especially fuel. If innovations in maintenance, fuel-saving technologies and commercially optimised fleet management can continually improve efficiency, I am saving money throughout the entire life cycle, with every single flight!"

And, at the end of the day, who understands an aircraft better than a company that is both an airline and a maintenance provider at the same time? As he poses this rhetorical question, Helge Sachs, glances at his watch. He has to prepare for a meeting with a major airline. But he won't tell us which one. "We invited ourselves to coffee and some cake at the airline's offices - but we always bring the cake ourselves," he says with a wink. "Our innovative ideas are the cake!"

And Sachs has no doubt that the cake will turn out well and taste good. After all, it is his own personal motto, too: "Whatever you turn your hand to, it has to succeed!"

Editor: Lukas Kirchner

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