What are they
Managing director for broadband telecommunications, CHECK24
Erwin Biebrich Saves Shoppers Time and Money
The managing director for broadband telecommunications at CHECK24, a German price comparison website, explains the value of efficiency and relationships in business.
by Jen Swetzoff
When Erwin Biebrich was finishing high school in a small town close to Stuttgart, Germany, his results on an aptitude test recommended that he pursue a career in landscape architecture. The idea made sense to him: He had always loved being outdoors. But his pragmatic father, an engineer, suggested that he consider a more financially rewarding path. Following that advice, Biebrich enrolled in a prestigious dual-degree program for international business in which students take classes at Dublin City University (DCU) in Ireland and the state-funded European School of Business (ESB) in Germany.
“The program is highly respected because of its integrated program, combining theory, academics, and practical experience through internships,” Biebrich said.
Early on in his university years, Biebrich was hired as an intern with Daimler Chrysler, based in Stuttgart. After he had worked with the executive management development planning department, his supervisors connected him with another internship in operations at one of Daimler’s U.S. suppliers. There, he was asked to improve the production system.
“Because of my affiliation with management,” he said, “I wasn’t perceived very well by the production people at first. But I started working closely with them, asking to operate the machines myself and trying to learn from them. I told them I wanted to see how they did things. By building trust and showing interest, I got them to start telling me their ideas, which I then helped to implement.”
In less than four months, Biebrich and his team had reduced scrap by 20 percent. “I think they were surprised that I, particularly as an intern, was able to actually get things done and have such an impact,” he said.
After graduating with two degrees in international business, Biebrich joined Booz Allen Hamilton, which had recruited him during on-campus interviews at the ESB in Reutlingen. He began working as an associate on a variety of sectors before deciding to focus on telecommunications.
Today, he lives and works in Munich, where he leads the broadband telecommunications team at CHECK24, a price comparison website created to enable greater transparency for consumers in the German market. During a recent conversation with Strategy&, Biebrich discussed the importance of nurturing professional relationships, getting things done, and taking time to recharge outside work.
What did you learn as a consultant that still applies to your work now?
I learned how to use an analytical toolbox — analysis, research, and project management skills — which is something I still rely on today. But the importance of understanding people is what remains most relevant. What kind of roles do you have in the organization? Who is the decision maker? What is the client’s hidden agenda? How do you engage with people? How can you make an impact in the organization? Asking questions like that to understand people’s relationships and motivations, interacting with a variety of people, and convincing someone that your approach is the right approach… those elements were always the most fun for me at Booz & Company, and where I saw the greatest impact as I became more senior. I believe that relationships are critical in business.
Why did you decide to move on?
I learned a lot in consulting, but ultimately, I wanted to have a greater responsibility leading people and implementing things based on my strategic perspective. I was fortunate to find the right opportunity to do that at CHECK24 in 2013. The role I have now is exactly what I was looking for, and I’m super happy to have it. I am continuously improving our service and I am able to see the fruits of my labor.
Tell me a bit more about CHECK24.
CHECK24 was founded in Germany in 1999, to offer price comparisons for car insurance. Since then, the company has expanded to include price comparisons for other areas, including health insurance, financial services, energy, telecommunications, and travel. I lead the telecom area, managing about 80 other people.
When a customer is looking into switching their DSL or their Internet provider, they can check on our site what providers are available. When they punch in their home address, they get a list of results with the specific carriers that are applicable for them. Then the customer can choose what kind of speed they want, what kind of carriers they want to have a contract with — being locked in for 24 months or a flexible contract with month-to-month options, and what kind of other options they want to have within their contract. For example, do they want to have a flat rate to call abroad within Europe or an international flat rate?
When they get a perfect match, they can go through our order dialogue to provide their personal details. We will check the contract for them and consult the customer if there are outstanding questions. Finally we hand over that contract to the selected provider, and then get a commission from the provider for our sale. For the customer, it’s completely free. The consumer saves substantial cost and time by using our website, because it’s cumbersome going on so many provider websites and checking all the prices, especially since the providers are putting all the details into the footnotes. We simplify the research and make decision making much easier for the customers.
What’s the most fulfilling part of your job now?
What I like the most is to see people on my team grow and develop — through coaching and trainings, or by giving them new tasks and responsibilities. It’s fascinating and rewarding to see how much people will evolve over the long term and what impact you can have on improving the product.
What are some of the challenges?
The challenge is to find the right people for the team. It can be difficult sometimes to find people who are strong in analytics, but also detail-oriented and self-motivated. I like to have people on my team who can get things done, who can really make an impact, and who can help the team make our price-comparison product better.
Who or what do you admire?
I really admire efficiency — the ability to overcome obstacles and get things done. I admire people who have a big idea and push it through.
How would people closest to you describe you?
One of my clients once said to me, “You’re like a small terrier biting on one leg and never letting go. But you somehow manage to do that in a very nice way so that you’re getting what you want without hurting the relationship.” I laughed, even though I wasn’t entirely sure if that was a compliment. But I do think it’s true that I get things done without bulldozing relationships.
How would you describe yourself?
I’m goal-oriented. I hate inefficiencies, and I believe that you have to have the goal in mind to provide a better product for the customer and do it every day — that continuous improvement aspect of the total production system. I’m always focused on trying to give our customers a better user experience by shortcutting one of the processes on the provider websites, for example. I’m also really interested in personal development for myself and my team.
When and where do you find yourself happiest?
When I’m in the Alps hiking or snowboarding, or when I’m on the water kite surfing. I really value my vacation time and my personal time on the weekends. It’s important to get into the flow outside of work and experience your surroundings. That’s where I recharge and get my energy.
What’s next for you?
I plan to stay here in Munich, professionally growing at CHECK24 and personally forming a family. On my bucket list, there are still so many travel destinations. I love exploring new places.
How is the Strategy& alumni network important for you?
All the time, whether I’m reaching out to providers for CHECK24 or in other business relationships, I check the Booz & Company network to see where I have contacts. And I go to as many alumni events as possible to catch up with former colleagues. It’s a great opportunity to exchange ideas and stay connected.
What career advice can you offer others?
It’s important to try things out. At the beginning of my own career, I didn’t think I wanted to go into consulting. Later, I didn’t think I wanted to do telecommunications. But when I gave both things a chance, I discovered I really liked them and excelled at them. If you do what you love, and don’t worry too much about what’s waiting for you at the end of the tunnel, I think you’ll surprise yourself with what you can accomplish.
Jen Swetzoff is a freelance writer and editor. Previously, she worked with Strategy& as the deputy managing editor at strategy+business magazine.