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Passing Knowledge

September 11, 2012 – At the last MDC in Vienna Dr. Mtotywa gave a presentation on the mints’ human capital. He stressed the fact that the staff of the mints he considered is ageing, especially as senior executives are concerned. 42 % of mints’ staff belongs to the group over 55. 25 % are between 45 and 55. This means that in the near future a lot of members of the world of mints will retire. In this way a lot of knowledge is at risk of being lost. Therefore passing knowledge from one executive generation to the other assumes a truly existential significance. We asked new and old senior executives about how they ensured that the necessary knowledge transfer took place.

Our Interview-Partners were Marius Haldimann (Swissmint), Franz Herres (EZB), Ross MacDiarmid (Royal Australian Mint), Kurt Rohrer (Swissmint).

Since July 2012 Marius Haldiman is head of Swissmint. He has followed Kurt Rohrer who has worked in this position for nearly 15 years. We asked them about their experience of passing special knowledge.

Kurt Rohrer (CEO of the Swissmint until July 2012)

Mr Rohrer, after 15 years you have passed your position as CEO of the Swissmint to Mr Haldimann. When did you start planning the transfer?

Planning started spring this year. Aiming at approaching the order of succession early it happened because my retirement was coming closer. The vacancy was advertised publicly. My former representative, Marius Haldimann, prevailed over 70 competitors and was selected. The succession could happen quickly, as there were no periods of notice to be observed.

When your successor was chosen, which skills and experiences were emphasized most?

Mr Haldimann brings nearly 10 years of experience with him, which gave him a tremendous advantage over his competitors.

The change within the management was accomplished on July 1, 2012. You will give support to Mr Haldimann as project manager. What will such a cooperation be like in practice?

In a small mint like the Swissmint the CEO often does not have the possibility to delegate certain demanding tasks. With the current arrangement there is the possibility that I process appropriate projects during that transitional period. Furthermore I will maintain external relations and have a focus on commemorative coins and their marketing.

How will you communicate all the personal contacts, which are so important for an optimized course of business, to Mr Haldimann?

Mr Haldimann is an insider already. He disposes of a corresponding network with the result that there is not much to do in this respect.

Which other fields do you think to be especially important concerning the transfer of expert and detailed knowledge?

I have to mention the financial sector, of which basically I myself was in charge of.

How do you make sure that Mr Haldimann gets this information?

A close cooperation and an open communication are very important.

How do you rate the importance of continuity and innovations? Do you think it is more important for a mint to shape a policy of continuity? Or maybe a change of management opens a chance for new ideas and innovations?

I think a good mixture of both is fine. We are not in a situation that requires urgent changes. Nevertheless it is fine, too, when new ideas find their opportunity and can be realized.

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Mr Marius Haldimann (New CEO of the Swissmint since July 2012)

Mr Haldimann, since July 1, 2012 you have been the new CEO of the Swissmint. But Mr Rohrer will still be there as contact person in the Swissmint. When it comes to a decision, many long-term business partners may still approach him first out of habit. Will this facilitate your job or will this be a burden?

It is comprehensible that enquiries are coming through old channels after a 15-year period of office. This is no problem for me. It is just like in every other business situation: It’s a matter of agreements and communication and this seems to work here well enough in my opinion.

What will this cooperation be like in practice?

It the same as any number of other working conditions: Tasks will be discussed and allocated. Both sides will report.

You were selected during a neutral procedure among a major number of competitors. Of which importance was the fact that you have been working at the Swissmint for nearly 10 years and that you are knowing the enterprise in detail?

Certainly, the diversity of subjects (marketing / sale / technics) is the interesting part of being the CEO of the Swissmint. I assume that above all the “total package” has tipped the scales. Certainly, my experiences in the mint and the inclusion within major projects has affected the decision positively.

Within the last 10 years you have acquired a huge mass of detailed knowledge. How long, do you think, would somebody coming from outside need to acquire this knowledge?

It depends on the “backpack” somebody is bringing along. In order to fill this job completely it takes at the minimum 2 years of a training period and the ability to network. Contact to the colleagues and their acceptance is also an important element to reach quickly the aim.

In which fields do you rely on the expertise of Mr Rohrer?

Certainly concerning the tasks, which have been accomplished by Mr Rohrer alone. Apart from the fact that as his representative I had the chance to look at many sectors and so I was able to acquire the necessary knowledge.

What do you think, how long will it take to internalize all the additional information?

Please ask me once again within one year. Right now I am quite confident that I will be able to internalize the “new” based on learning by doing.

Coming into this office, how do you rate the importance of new ideas?

Certainly new ideas are a positive driving factor. Nevertheless you have to spread them and to enthuse the colleagues with them. Advancing step by step is the tried and tested method to arrive at an aim.

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When Ross MacDiarmid became CEO of the Royal Australian Mint on June 7, 2010, his predecessor Janine Murphy had passed away after suffering from a long illness about one year ago. Therefore Mr MacDiarmid was not able to make recourse to a benevolent experienced and retired colleague, who could help him finding out the details of daily routine decisions. Ross MacDiarmid will give answers about his start at the Royal Australian Mint.

Ross MacDiarmid (CEO of the Royal Australian Mint)

Mr MacDiarmid, when you took over the responsibility for the Royal Australian Mint, there was no predecessor, who could introduce you to the responsibilities of a mint master. You had worked with the Mint Advisory Board for five years, but the daily routine of a mint was new for you. How did you learn about all the little details of your position?

Interestingly as an advisor on the Mint Advisory Board I didn’t have or take the opportunity to get to really understand the business processes, culture and basis on which previous decision had been made or historical context that created the organisation which I am now responsible for.
Having a predominantly private sector based manufacturing background and an understanding about managing medium sized complex organisations I found the learning process quiet straightforward. What I found more difficult to learn was the product knowledge and how the market behaved, a process that after two years I continue to learn about. Part of the process of learning the detail involves spending time in the processes with the people who are engaged in undertaking them.

Which part did your colleagues play at the beginning?

Some of my colleagues were very helpful and continue to be so. We agreed on a direction, what culture we wanted to create and how we were going to lead the business. We have made some significant progress on our journey with still much more to do.

Was it an authority problem to rely on their special knowledge when issues had to be decided and you had not yet acquired the special knowledge to arrive at a fact-based decision?

My approach has always been to set the direction, create the expectations and then enable the team to deliver on its commitments. I relied on the team to make the earlier on decisions and as my knowledge grew I became more actively involved without taking away from the senior management team the autonomy and the associated accountability to make them.

The minting community is a very special circle. How did you manage to become acquainted with all important market players?

I was very fortunate that the Mint hosted MDC 2010 just after I started which gave me the opportunity to meet many of the industry players and given my inherited responsibility as the Chair of the MDC for the next eighteen months an immediate access to many of the world’s Mint Directors.

Do you think it would have helped if a predecessor had shared the first months of your activities in the mint?

There was an acting CEO when I first started who had been in the role for nearly 12 months so it wasn’t as though I walked into an unmanaged organisation. However, it has always been my approach that I determine myself what is actually going on by talking to as many people in the business as quickly as possible.

Thinking of a successor, which arrangements would you take to facilitate his work during the initial phase?

It would depend on their experience and knowledge and whether they were an internal appointment or external. If it was internal I would have mentored and educated that person. If external I would hope they would bring their own ideas but not necessarily to change the direction and culture unless it was ‘broken’.

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A lot of enterprises make use of the retirement in another way: They do not replace the specialist, but distribute his tasks among other colleagues. Franz Herres, Cash Production Expert of the European Central Bank, will have no successor. He tells us about the solution of the ECB.

Franz Herres (ECB)

Mr Herres, you retired this year from your task at the European Central Bank. When did the ECB begin to think about the time after your retirement?

The ECB started to consider my retirement some years ago, At the ECB, retirement can start with 60 if you are ready to accept a low pension. The planning of the ECB for the time without me is quite mature.

Did they look for a successor?

It was the plan, not to look for a successor but to re-allocate some of the work I did to different other colleagues and to reduce some activities. The colleagues that took over part of my former activity are well established quality experts that also care for the quality of the banknotes.
For the ECB, coins are not a core task, because Euro coin responsibility is with the individual member states and the coordination function is with the European Commission.
With my retirement, the ECB has no more coin expert but the Euro coin quality assessment is still done by some ECB colleagues.

How did you try to impart all the little details of knowledge to your successors?

I worked with these colleagues for years and the knowledge they need to assess the coin quality was done on the job when they joint me in my activities.

What do you think the numismatic community should know about this change?

Maybe it is helpful for the numismatic community to know, that:
a) the responsibilities for the Euro coins are with the EU member states and with the European Commission but not with the ECB,
b) that they cannot expect coin expertise from the ECB.

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