Career Snapshot: Herbert Merz, CEO of RFS
VanillaPlus: What was your first job?
Herbert Merz: As part of my studies at the Technical University of Munich, I wrote a thesis on gas analytics which included creating pattern recognition software for a sensor array. It was a very innovative concept and led to an offer to join a start-up to bring it to market. That’s where I began my career, responsible for software and sales. It gave me an excellent learning opportunity as the start-up began with just three people and everyone was doing everything.
VanillaPlus: What led you into a career in telecoms?
Herbert Merz: After the start-up, I spent almost a decade in various consulting roles and wanted to change to an operational function. Through my work as a consultant I saw various industries including automation, automotive, healthcare, and energy transmission and distribution, but decided telecoms was the industry I wanted to focus on. I love the quicker product life cycle and speed of change. When I was offered the position as CFO of Mobile Radio in Networks at Siemens, on the verge of the move from GSM to 3G, I was happy to take the challenge.
VanillaPlus: Without naming and shaming, tell us about your worst ever boss.
Herbert Merz: I’ve always looked for bosses who would challenge me, so I’ve never had a “worst boss.” However, there are experiences of people who don’t understand the industry too well but don’t listen to and don’t trust management recommendations. One of my earliest bosses told me to “love it, change it, or leave it.” If you can’t make a situation work for you, work to change it.
VanillaPlus: What has been your most memorable business travel experience?
Herbert Merz: My most memorable experience is a story about how close business and leisure travel can be. I like to go trekking in the Himalayas in my time away from work, often visiting Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan. I’ve been going there for several years and have some good friends there. During the evening at a remote trekking site we were talking about telecoms infrastructure in Bhutan. It turned out that one of my friends knew the GM of Bhutan Telekom. A dinner meeting was set up and we won business from them soon after.
VanillaPlus: What has been the proudest moment in your career so far?
Herbert Merz: I once had the opportunity to create a new company from scratch. Not a start-up, but a sizeable business with several thousand employees as a result of an asset sell-off. I was appointed CEO and had to build all the major business processes and functions, including sales, service and marketing, HR, and IT from the ground up. We then had to quickly rebrand the new company and position it in the market. It was a unique experience, and to do so without losing any customers in the transition while seeing immediate profitable growth was a great moment in my career. However, becoming CEO at RFS, a company with a 100-year heritage in the sector I love, beats it to the top spot.
VanillaPlus: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Herbert Merz: RFS still has great untapped growth potential, particularly as the telecom market changes again with the introduction of 5G. RFS is a frontrunner in this technology and so the next several years will give me lots of opportunities to grow professionally and personally. Once RFS is an established player in 5G I could imagine myself shifting gears. I already do charity work in my free time, but I’ve always wanted to do more.