Peter Haberl
Photo | Haberl
11 min.

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Sabine Walter in conversation with ...

Peter Haberl, Managing Director of SSE Software GmbH 

Mr Haberl, what do you love about your job?

The design. I am a bad administrator. When everything becomes routine, I get bored. I'm not one to optimise down to the last screw. I am someone who sets the course, who makes the changes that get a company moving. There are people who shy away from change or transformation. For me, change is the only driving force. Changing something, shaping it, generating new ideas and implementing them, that's where the fun begins for me.

For me, crises are opportunities. That's why I often came to companies as a firefighter. This role is perfect for me because then I am in my element and I also see results of my actions very quickly.

S.W.: When did you realise that you enjoy this designing and leading of transformation processes?

I am a computer scientist and started as a programmer. My first company as an employee developed software for intelligence services and agencies combatting organised crime and sold it all over Europe. There, within four years, I took over the management of the development department. Me, the youngest, with the least work experience and the least seniority, I became the boss. That was a surprise for me. And it surprised me even more that I was accepted as the boss. Leading has been easy for me. And seeing that I can inspire people to shape things together with me has motivated me to continue on this chosen path.

On the other hand, I still sit at the computer and programme in my free time. Together with my children, I have set up a bird house in the garden and installed a camera there. I have programmed it so that we can watch the birds and when we are not there, everything that happens in and around the bird house is recorded. So technology continues to hold a fascination for me, even though my professional focus has been on leadership for years.

SW: When did you realise that your heart beats for IT??

I got my first computer at the age of twelve. Since I wasn't interested in the software that was on the computer, I started developing in assembler myself. My sister worked at the Society for Radiation Research at that time. And there was an Apple computer into which a lot of data had to be entered manually. My goal was to simplify this, and so I programmed an interface as part of a holiday job. I was 14 at the time, as you can see, I used to be a real nerd. With a school friend, we even hacked the EU at that time and looked around on their mainframes. That was a cool time.

What parallels are there to what we do, personality and organisational development?

There are many parallels, as the current situation also shows. I recently took over the management of SSE Software GmbH in Augsburg, a company whose software saves lives because it is used in control centres. The goal is to develop this company further. This is not possible without change: new structures have to be created, processes and procedures will change, new colleagues have to be integrated into the team. All this offers many parallels to what you do.

S.W.: The success of change processes depends largely on the extent to which managers and staff support these changes. How do you manage to attract people to it?

I think two main factors contribute to this for me: Trust and enthusiasm.

Whether employees trust you depends largely on how reliable you are. You have to realise: "If we agree on something, he sticks to it. If I entrust him with something, it stays exclusively with him." I have only been in SSE for a few months and I am earning this trust from day one.

The other success factor is the enthusiasm I have within me. When I am enthusiastic about something, this enthusiasm is obvious. It is so obvious that it radiates to others. Of course, there were always people in my environment whom I could never get excited about something. I have learned to accept that.

But the majority of people want to have fun at work and be successful. This is a good intersection with my goals and thus a solid basis for jointly shaping the work environment in such a way that fun and success return.

S.W.: You have already managed several companies and have now taken over the management of SSE a few months ago. How does a Peter Haberl arrive at a company?

I'm not someone who comes into a company with a big bang and knocks down everything I find there. I appreciate what is there. I am a very good observer and a good listener. These are two skills that I use intensively. I want to understand what makes this company tick. I want to understand who the colleagues are. What drives them? Where do they stand? In the first weeks I almost only have conversations, observe, ask questions and listen. Of course, I already have ideas, but that is not the focus of this time.

And then it's about forming a team that pulls together. A team that has the same understanding of the central things, trusts each other and can pass the balls well. Leadership has so much to do with genuine appreciation. And even if it is my job to realign or turn around a company, there are things that have worked so far. It's never all bad. There is a reason why things are the way they are. And I want to understand that reason before I act.

I believe that this attitude of mine also contributes significantly to why I succeed in winning people over for change.

When do you get the best ideas?

In professional conversations. When I talk to others, the ideas come and then a "ping-pong game" develops. I have an idea, the other person expands on it or brings in a new one and then something starts to grow.

When I am in a private environment, I am really at home. I manage to switch off very well.

What will your profession look like in 2050?

If I relate this question to what I do, Leadership, I think will change significantly. I very much hope that we do not slip into an age of "click workers" who only execute rather than create. Rather, I hope that working will become more democratic and that we will operate more on an equal footing in companies. In my view, leadership will become more fact-based. The quality of decision-making will increase. In an increasingly complex world, algorithms and AI will enable us to make decisions based on concrete data in the future.

As far as the software industry is concerned, I think it will still be around in 30 years. There will still be people programming software, although perhaps with different questions than today. But the activity will still exist.

S.W.: You mention democratic leadership, what does this mean for leaders from your point of view?

I think that companies, and thus also managers, will be asked to convince much more. Loyalty will decrease, free, temporary cooperation will increase. People will try out more professionally and thus enter into looser ties that enable them to switch more quickly between jobs and clients or even places of living and lifestyles.

Teams will be temporary, structures will become more flexible. As I am not convinced that these teams or the necessary structures will find themselves, it will be up to entrepreneurs and leaders to create these structures and bring people together to form teams.

That will only succeed, if we manage to build trusting relationships faster than before and communicate visions that have appeal. What is to be achieved? Why this in particular? What is the social benefit? In future, we will have to answer these questions much more convincingly and frequently than before.

Furthermore, I believe that the concept of entrepreneurship will change. Entrepreneurship will no longer mean: "One person has the capital and the power and the others work. In the future, entrepreneurship will mean: "One or more people have an idea and the means and the network to realise this idea.

S.W.: From my point of view, these loose cooperations that you mention also require that the people who enter into these cooperations must be courageous and open to always getting involved in something new, to always trust anew. How can we make our society more courageous and allow trust to prevail??

I don't have a patent remedy for this either. But I realise that we will not have to master this challenge in thirty years' time. If we are honest, we are already facing it today. Because even today we are already confronted with a cultural balancing act in the companies. Even today, loyalty to the employer has already decreased. It is no longer a declared goal for the young generation to stay with one and the same employer for 30 years. Medium-sized companies in particular, which cannot pay corporate salaries, are challenged to change in such a way that they become attractive as employers for young professionals and managers, but at the same time maintain their attractiveness for the professionals and managers who have been with the company for decades and have valuable experience, who know "their shop" inside out, so to speak.

I think that this cultural change, this drastic transformation, will only succeed if leaders and entrepreneurs are not "afraid of the dent". What do I mean by that? It is an illusion to believe that you can manage big changes without pain. When you cut back a tree, it is bare at that point before something new grows again. Change will hurt and sometimes you will lose people, valuable people who do not see the sense of change and therefore do not follow the path. This is something that has to be accepted, even if it initially sets a company back and perhaps even results in a loss of productivity. But I am convinced that without a dent and without pain, no real change is possible. 

If the fear of negative consequences is too great, it will always stand in the way of change, especially drastic change. By the way, this is also something I make transparent when I realign companies. Because if I were to hide it, trust would be damaged and with it the basis I need to lead changes to success.

S.W.: If you could go back to the beginning of your professional life, what path would you take with today's experience?

Many things in my life's journey just happened. I did have a plan for my career, and I did achieve the goals defined in it, but there were so many coincidences or lucky circumstances along the way, not all of which I could have planned or foreseen.

I am content with the way things are. All the decisions I have made in my life have made me the person I am today and led me to where I am today. I wouldn't do anything differently.

In my view, the most important task in life is to develop confidence in one's own path. And that's the kind of confidence I try to instil in my children. Try things out. If you fall down, get up again. Change something if you have to, and move on. Strengthening self-confidence and trust in one's own possibilities is the most valuable thing we can pass on to our children and sometimes also to our employees. Life brings the rest.

Peter Haberl has been working for software manufacturers and IT service and consulting companies for 30 years. In February 2021, he took over the management of SSE Software GmbH in Augsburg, a company that develops and operates software for emergency control centres for police forces, fire brigades, rescue services and ambulance services.

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