Durst and their high-end digital future. A discussion with Christoph Gamper, CEO


Durst is a name that has become synonymous with digital printing excellence and successful evolution. Ahead of Durst’s participation in Pure Digital 2018, we talked to Christoph Gamper, CEO of the company. We discussed innovation, leadership, and evolution. I have noticed a change in the company from afar, so it was interesting to get the inside track on how things have changed under his leadership and how this has translated into performance.

Christoph, I recall us meeting around 8 years ago when I was about to leave FESPA. A lot has changed for both of us since then, now you are running Durst as CEO, how have you changed things within the company?

Durst has been in business for 80 years and has evolved and changed. We began in high-end imaging reproduction, basically a technology company for professional photography. Then around 20 years ago we went digital with the Lambda and then 15 years ago we went into inkjet.

When I entered the company we were producing large format machines and the company had an absolute focus on image reproduction. Personally, whilst image reproduction, of course, is important, I didn’t think we were focused enough on the processes. Of course, technology is important but as a company, and to an extent an industry we always talk technology – with business coming in second. My mission is to change this and to bring a renewed business focus into Durst.

So how have things gone since the start? Changing a culture is a challenging thing to do, what results have you achieved?

We are not a public company, we are still a family company and therefore we don’t report about results at every given opportunity. This may mean that from the outside we may seem a little bit of a closed company. However, our focus is to work very closely with our customers. We spend a long time with our customers and talk business with them and that is what we are trying to do to help them to develop their business. This is our style.

So we don’t tend to broadcast results because we don’t need to. But we do love profit, and we have double-digit growth which is profitable growth, not just revenue. The essence of Durst is not what we are shouting out to the press, it is about doing a great job for our customers.

And I am pleased to say that we have done very well over the past few years. We have doubled the size of the company and added 8 subsidiaries, developed a lot of new technology and a breadth of new talent has joined us. There are more things to come and more things to test which we will communicate in the future, but we are in a great position to grow again.

How have you achieved this growth?

Positive change comes with committed leadership I believe. And when you have such capability available within an organisation, in the right place with the right focus you can achieve a tremendous amount. We now have a culture where we always ask ourselves, what can we do differently and what can we do better? This growing culture is producing some great results.

What do you think Durst people would say about your leadership?

All of them would say I come with a different approach of course! I have challenged the way that Durst has done things in the past. As a result, we have changed the company and we now constantly want to challenge what we do every day. So far we have doubled our size which is great, but we still have a lot to do, and a lot to achieve.

Recently, I noticed that the launch of the P5 – this approach seemed different for how Durst launches products into the market?

The launch of the P5 is a good recent example of how we now develop our products. But please remember that I am not playing alone. All my best people were involved in this launch. My communication director whom I worked with in the past for 15 years has joined Durst for this launch. And the development and launch of the P5 is the first time we approach our development in a new way. This time we don’t just focus on the technology. We started first with the customers, moved onto the software, then onto the printer last. We challenged our innovation process and didn’t start with the machine first, we started with the customer first, and as a result the response from our customers has been phenomenal.

This sounds very collaborative, please explain more about this approach

What we are trying to achieve is to clearly see what the customer needs first. We spend time getting together and discussing the need and problems with the customer. And we discovered that clearly, image quality is not the only thing. We asked ourselves questions of priority, such as do we really need to improve quality by a tiny percentage? By asking this question we found new problems that we have solved with this machine.

For example, can we differentiate a large format printing machine? The graphics market is a competitive and now mature market for digital printing. We were able to spend time in finding where our critical mass is and with this, we present a different platform. P5 is an example of how we want to go beyond just the print and the printer onto new technologies and ideas that enhance existing methods and enable new possibilities using clever technology that creates new potential.

Durst is participating in Pure Digital, instead of FESPA, what is the thinking behind this decision?

We know our customer community within the large format graphics market very well. At any major graphics show we mainly (90%) see people we already know. I am a believer that we need to meet people outside of our immediate customer base to understand what our ‘customers-customers’ want. The creative people are now the people we need to know and understand. We need to see the pain at the top to understand what kind of pain we can remove to add more value and improve our products. Once you can see the pain in the process – once you see the pain the designer is in – then you can think you can design processes that will streamline and improve their production. You can’t start at the end of the process and hope your technology will work – this way is like working blind. We still will be at major tradeshows as well – but more and more we tend to speak to our customers directly – on our own turf.

A couple of famous ‘corporate print brands’ also liked the vision for Pure Digital – but when it came to making a decision they were risk averse and decided not to participate. This wasn’t the case for you, why?

To be honest, I make decisions from my gut. I want to see it. I want to see how people react – I know we do a lot of really interesting and innovative stuff so I am confident about trying new things. If we get one great new idea or one great new contact, for me it will give me something new that I just don’t get from always going to the same old shows, by doing the same old things.

I believe in trying new things. If you do the same old things then nothing changes and you stop growing.

So you mention creative professionals being important to Durst, please give me an example.

For example, we are building a new HQ, and we have really good architects. But even they don’t know the possibilities that digital print can give them on different surfaces. We have shown them what is possible and it is nice to see the reaction from them. But these people just don’t go too technical shows where machinery is on display. Why would they? If we showcase this at Drupa, a designer will not attend as it is not for them. Drupa is a show for printers, not designers.

Of course, up to a couple of years ago, Durst was only about output and this is still an important thing. However, in the future input is also very interesting and in order for us to define the space, I need to connect with the creative side which is why Pure Digital is of interest to us.

From an industrial perspective Durst has inkjet-based technology in industrial markets – does this remain a key part of the business?

Of course yes. One of our big industrial markets is ceramics and we consider this a very important market for us. We have 22 operations globally and will be bringing out a new technology at the Tecnargilla trade-fair in Rimini. This new technology offers high-end ceramic production.

The new system gives you a 3D structure on top of the tile – this is an area where we really love and enables amazing creative possibilities and quality finishes.

Also, at the last Drupa, we launched our single pass corrugated machine and this is proving very popular and it is fully industrial and making great progress. We also have our label machines which are now number 1 and 2 in the industry so we are happy with that.

What about textiles, this seems a very sought after and hyped market, what is your view of how inkjet is working in this sector?

We have products in the textile market, and we lead the high-end soft signage market with our Rhotex printing systems – and we are successful with the Alpha product line – but I have to say that in my opinion digital inkjet for “real” textile e.g. apparel is overhyped by the expectation of some investors and consultants. A lot of mills and printers are using digital as they have used analogue since years and years – it`s all about price, but not really about the possibilities the technology could offer. Sure, there are exceptions – as in all industries, but I think a lot of people are dreaming up and industry that doesn`t take on the value of a digital production.

We see a big future for digital for interior décor, do you see an opportunity for this sector that is not textile?

Yes, we do see a great opportunity for interior décor but not so much apparel and clothing. We see opportunities in flooring, with high-end laminate, LVT and interior décor. Why? Well, for example, 15 years ago, every McDonald’s menu was printed with a lambda and now this is digital signage and the rest of the store is made with inkjet print including the walls and the surfaces. The world is going this way in retail, hospitality and leisure. So I think digital print has a growing role to play here.

So you will be developing more imaging technology for this kind of market?

We are a solutions provider for imaging. Not just an imaging print technology business. Yes, it does include inkjet around digitalisation for industrial and high end, but now and in the future, this could be input or output. Durst does not need or want 90% of the mainstream market. We want the best and the top of the top. So our focus is here, our competence is here and we think that is a good place to be.

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