How to walk the line between innovation and tradition
Interview with Johannes Kwizda, Member of the Management Team of Kwizda Group
European Business: Mr. Kwizda, Kwizda Holding represents more than 165 years of entrepreneurial spirit within a family business. What are the unique characteristics of this spirit in your opinion?
Johannes Kwizda: One of our core guidelines has always been to walk the path of innovation while remaining true to the tradition of inherited values. Kwizda feels a strong commitment to improving people’s health, but also the environment. These aspects should be part of all our work and the products we sell in our three different lines of business: Healthcare, plant protection, and construction materials (roofing and water-proofing materials).
European Business: The roots of Kwizda can be found in the pharma and healthcare industries though?
Johannes Kwizda: That’s right. The company was founded through the takeover in 1853 of a pharmacy in Korneuburg by one of my ancestors five generations ago. He was a pharmacist and became famous for a formula for a dietary supplement for cattle and other veterinary products. This business expanded constantly until the outbreak of the First World War, which brought the whole economy to a standstill.
European Business: Your grandfather Richard Kwizda was a central figure in the further development of the company. How did he influence its direction?
Johannes Kwizda: He launched Kwizda Agro in 1926. This division has a strong focus on plant protection and fertilizers. Though I have to mention that environmental responsibiliy is something that has been part of this division since its establishment. Pharmaceutical wholesale was another important milestone in 1934. Both aforementioned lines were established completely from scratch. In addition, Richard Kwizda completed another takeover with Büsscher & Hoffmann, a roofing and waterproofing company, in 1954. My grandfather invested in the company after the war and there was a lot of construction work to be done. So these are the three pillars which form the basis of Kwizda. And this triad is something we are really proud of.
European Business: How would you describe the role of the pharma line today?
Johannes Kwizda: We are producers on the one hand, distributors and wholesalers on the other. So we know both sides of the coin and that’s something that makes us stand out from our competitors. We also boast first-hand expertise resulting from our heritage as pharmacists. Even today, two members of the family – my sisters Kristina and Marie-Therese – continue to practice that profession.
European Business: Is there a product that you are especially proud of?
Johannes Kwizda: Our BronchoStop ® cough syrup is definitely noteworthy. It is made from 100% natural ingredients and is very effective. BronchoStop® plays a vital role in the pharma division’s strategy of foreign expansion and export market growth. Since last year, it has been available not only in many European countries, but in Australia as well.
European Business: You mentioned internationalization. Is that not especially challenging in the health sector due to so many different national restrictions?
Johannes Kwizda: Internationalization has always been a major topic within Kwizda. One has to acknowledge that Austria is a very interesting market, but it is also relatively small in comparison to other countries or even continents. The real beginning of our internationalization can be traced back to our grandfather Richard Kwizda. He set up a network in Germany and Switzerland, but even travelled as far as Japan and the USA. In the 1960s and 1970s this was a challenge and required a high level of endurance. Another opportunity arose with the fall of the Iron Curtain. Suddenly countries like the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania were within reach. We entered these new markets with Kwizda Agro and Büsscher & Hoffmann first. It was always our maxim to tackle the legal circumstances of each country with individual strategies. That includes cooperation with local partners willing to join us in pursuing our goals.
European Business: You mentioned Kwizda Agro. How important is this line of business to you?
Johannes Kwizda: It is very important. Parallel to our healthcare business, Kwizda Agro is engaged at different stages of the value chain. Being in product development, formulation, production and distribution, as well as logistics, enables us to consider all relevant factors of modern pest management. The scope of the whole company qualifies us to consider all relevant factors regarding modern pest management. Conventional pest management is still important to guarantee consistent harvests. Nevertheless we take biological alternatives into account whenever possible. A recent example is a biological fungicide which we successfully registered for the markets in Central and Eastern Europe.
European Business: Before we continue, let’s have a quick look at the vital statistics of the Kwizda Group.
Johannes Kwizda: Certainly. At the moment Kwizda Group consists of 29 sites in Europe with our headquarters in the Austrian capital Vienna. We employ more than 1,400 people and generate annual turnover of one billion EUR. The majority of our turnover is derived from our pharmaceutical pre-wholesale and wholesale business. The management includes four family members: Johann F. Kwizda, Richard P. Kwizda, Richard A. Kwizda and myself.
European Business: You mentioned 29 sites in Europe, do you intend to increase that number?
Johannes Kwizda: That solely depends on upcoming opportunities. The decisive question is, how do I act in important markets and what is the best way to offer my products and services? You don’t necessarily need a physical location of your own. In many cases you can make use of an already established network or partnership. So we are thinking about expansion, but it’s not a must!
European Business: What countries have caught your interest?
Johannes Kwizda: Again, we observe the global market. Australia is defintely of interest as we launched BronchoStop® last year. Kwizda Agro has gained a foothold in the USA again. Both markets are a nice example of our successful entry into foreign markets in recent years.
European Business: What developments do you expect in 2020?
Johannes Kwizda: That is an interesting question, but difficult to answer as there are so many different factors to be taken into consideration. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is impossible to give a valid prognosis. What we do know is that we are in relatively non-cyclical industries. We can also count on strong, skilled and passionate employees.
European Business: But there are things that will stay the same at the Kwizda Group?
Johannes Kwizda: We strive to develop products and services which serve our customers in healthcare, plant protection and waterproofing in the best possible way. We are led by our credo ‘Committed to health, devoted to nature’.
Interview: Manfred Brinkmann