Business Year 2017
For the Helbling Group 2017 marked the most successful year in the company’s history. With revenues of CHF 121.1 million we surpassed even the previous year’s excellent results by a further 6.5%. In line with this growth, we were able to increase the number of professionals we employ by 7% to a total of 540. Roughly 20% of these work in the Group’s international locations.
We achieved our goals for 2017 and in some cases even exceeded them. The positive performance of the global economy and the systematic upswing in business activity, especially in Helbling’s most important markets Switzerland, Europe and the USA, helped us here. At the same time developments demonstrated once again how important innovations are for achieving sustained competitive advantage. This applies to new products, just as much as to new kinds of business models and production processes – all the more given the wave of digitalization that is sweeping from one industry to another and affecting all companies without exception.
We also benefitted in 2017 from our investments in the enhancement of our services and the ongoing modernization of our technical infrastructure. We were thus optimally positioned to make the most of the many and diverse opportunities that the good economic climate generated. We registered particularly pleasing progress in the Engineering und Product Innovation areas, with the development of miniaturized measuring systems or a camera that can transform any pair of spectacles into smart glasses. Also projects such as the financing of a production facility or the design of a completely new factory demonstrate the broad spectrum of areas in which our business divisions are active.
The number of clients who entrusted us with the execution of sophisticated projects rose to over 400 last year. Many of these companies have a worldwide presence and we maintain longstanding partnerships with the vast majority of them. Since our inception 55 years ago Helbling has developed from a local engineering office to an internationally active corporate group: in the past business year we earned 37% of our revenues outside Switzerland.
Prerequisites for Innovation
The international character and diversity of our clients and their projects are an important stimulus for our innovative drive. It is a known fact that real innovations only happen when several factors come together. These include knowledge and creativity, realism and passion, systematism and agility, but also tenacity and tolerance. The ideal dosage and combination of these ingredients is in many cases a delicate matter and can vary according to the task in hand. Equally decisive for the outcome is the specific composition of the teams. Given the undisputed fact that heterogeneous teams are known to be more creative: innovations emerge at the interfaces between disciplines.
Employees Make the Difference
With their specialist expertise and their readiness to perform, our employees form the basis both for the success of our clients’ projects and for the long-term profitable growth of the Helbling Group. Attracting highly-qualified professionals is therefore one of our strategic core objectives. No less important to us are investments in further education and the personal development of our staff. These investments are probably one of the reasons for our low staff turnover rate of under 10%, which for a service company is rather a positive exception.
In one area, however, we have not yet attained our goal: the percentage of female specialist staff and managers in the Helbling Group is still not as high as we would like. Partially this is due to the fact that women are still underrepresented in certain technical professions, but we are not satisfied with this as the sole explanation for the discrepancy at Helbling. We will therefore be making a continued and even more intensive effort to engage the interest of female scientists, engineers, architects and consultants in working for Helbling.
Healthy Finances and a Stable Shareholder Structure
Operating cash flow of the Helbling Group rose in 2017 from CHF 12.8 million to CHF 13.8 million. As a result we were once again able to finance the investments needed for the development of our business from our own funds. These investments were directed at the further development of our services, the ongoing education of our staff and the expansion of our infrastructure, including technical laboratories among other things. The earnings power of the Helbling Group is moreover reflected in the top rating we are given by the banks for services companies of our size.
Thanks to the independence of the Helbling Group – given that our long-term financing comes solely from our equity capital – our attention can remain focused on our customers. Our stability rests on the fact that we are not exposed to pressure from any single influential shareholder, nor are we controlled by a large corporation: The Helbling Group is currently owned by 30 executive partners and by some 240 employees who hold shares in our company via participation certificates. It is this tried and tested ownership model that enables Helbling to ensure an ongoing succession process. In 2017 three employees were welcomed as new partners in the firm, while two longstanding partners left the company.
Much Achieved and More Envisaged
We have made a good start to the current year and can view the future with confidence in view of the positive outlook for the economy. This confidence stems from the numerous investments we plan to make in this year as well. At the beginning of the year we initiated the expansion and enlargement of our locations in Bern and Boston. We now have a new presence, too, with our own location in California’s San Diego. This enables us to provide our clients on the west coast of America with the same level of intense and close coverage that we deliver in all our markets.
Valuable through Innovation