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Fireside Chat with Jon Konz
My name is Jon Konz and I’m the President of Euralarm as well as heading the Industry Affairs team for Siemens Smart Infrastructure. I’m married, I have two grown-up boys and I live in Switzerland near Zurich.
My father was a diplomat, so I was brought up in Washington DC, Vienna, Paris and New York and after my studies, I moved to Switzerland where I worked for some years as an architect, but I realised that architecture was too much of a local business for me. In 1990 I took a job in marketing for a company called Landis & Gyr . I went to work on a variety of global restructuring projects. In 1998 Siemens bought this company, I went on to run the European sales for that division while studying in parallel business administration. When I finished, in 2003, I was asked if I would be interested to work in the start-up division in the field of security. For those of you that knew Cerberus, this was a carve-out of their security business.
What I liked about being in the start-up was the variety in the work. I went from running process improvement program and quality to running our North American sales and then running a global service business unit. When Siemens decided to group the security, fire and building automation businesses together I took over a service unit for global accounts. As I was running a service business unit I was asked if I would represent Siemens in Euralarm services section, which I did in 2015. In 2018 I was elected to chair that section. Some of us in the section worked in JTC4 working group 1, to write a new remote services norm for fire and security. I did that because I didn’t really have any background in either norm or regulation work and I wanted to understand how the writing of a norm works and how to get it approved across different countries. The norm was successfully ratified last year and is currently going into implementation.
At the end of last year, I was elected as Euralarm’s President taking over from Martin Harvey which some of you may know.
How have you been affected by Covid-19?
I caught covid in the first wave but luckily my symptoms were pretty mild.
When it comes to remote work, I’ve run distributed teams over the last years, so telephone conferences were not strange or new to me. I found that working from home was quite pleasant, my children are grown-up and I have a comfortable work environment. The thing that changed the most for me was that I completely stopped travelling for the last two years and I certainly miss face-to-face contact, having said that, next week will be my first plane travel in over two years. I’m going to Portugal to speak at a fire and security conference, so I’m not going there for the sun.
Do you have any pets?
Not now, I did as a child, I had a cocker spaniel when we lived in Paris and then in the US we had cats. When we had our children, I wanted to have a dog, but my wife said that with all my travelling, she’d be the one taking care of the dog and she didn’t want to do that. It also turned out that my oldest son had allergies and the doctors recommended to us that we shouldn’t have any pets at home. So, no animals. My answer is usually that I have two kids.
What’s your favourite movie of all time?
Schindler’s List. I love history in either movies or books and what I liked about Schindler’s List is that Schindler was a normal guy with imperfections, but he had guts in a situation that needed it.
Describe yourself as a teenager in 3 words?
Adventurous, independent and measured. The last one is probably the one that’s overstated. I was willing to try anything, so I tried climbing, biking, swimming, water skiing, sailing, I even tried rodeo and hand gliding. If you moved around as much as I did, you learn to be independent quickly, I didn’t really have a choice. The measured word that I stated, I did a lot of crazy things but most of the time I remained calm.
What is your biggest pet peeve/hate?
I hate people without an opinion. I truly don’t understand them and I prefer someone that has an opinion, even if I don’t share it, but the fact they have an opinion it’s clear, at least we can have a discussion.
If you could be from any other decade (or era), which would it be and why?
I wouldn’t change the era and the countries that I’ve lived in for another time or place. I grew up in very liberal thinking times in the 60s and 70s when there were a lot of idealists challenging the establishment and values and fighting for changes. The 80s and 90s were thriving with the cold war ending, their idealism was exchanged for riches. In the 21st century world poverty reduced dramatically but things have become more convoluted. The world has become more conservative, and nationalism has been growing, and now the Ukraine conflict. In this folly, what I like is that we are seeing an increasing level of generosity, which I find very pleasant to see, and for me I look forward to a renewed era of free thinking.
What is your favourite quote and why?
“Monkeys are superior to men in this, when a monkey looks in a mirror, he sees a monkey”. I love this quote, firstly because I think it’s true, people may make up things that may not fit reality, but also, its humour reminds me to remain humble.
If you weren’t in the fire industry – what would you be doing and why?
I think you might have seen from my background and what I’ve done, I really like a lot of different subjects and I would have difficulty picking just one. That said, I think the fire industry right now is quite interesting because I think changes are coming to the market. Digitalising and the need to integrate into management systems are needed and so, therefore, I like anything that deals with change.
What’s on your Spotify or iTunes?
I really like Spotify, but if you’re asking about a list, then the answer is nothing. I like Spotify because I can find anything in music that I’m looking for in any given situation. The only type of music that I don’t like is Tibetan priest music because it sounds like a bunch of people that can’t sing using a set of pans to make noise. I think anything else is alright, I really love music so for me, there are no special bands, I go from hard rock to classical to opera.
If you could have any three people (dead or alive) over for dinner – who would they be?
Martin Luther King. A philosophical view that I truly appreciate for bringing non-violent change and someone who is willing to pay the price for his idea.
Helen Keller because she had everything going against her, yet she fought to be able to communicate to the rest of the world and brought her world much further than it had ever been before.
Stephen Hawking just because I find his capability of expressing the subjects that are highly complex in a wonderful way, which is understandable and I think that’s terrific.
What two things would you take to a Desert Island?
My wife and a good Swiss army knife.
Name a book, movie or tv show that has positively shaped you and why?
I love reading and I read a lot and I’d say the Bible would be the one because it goes into pushing you to see that knowing isn’t enough and that we have to do something with what we have. I think that it’s a great way to look at life.
If you were animal, what animal would you be and why?
I would be a monkey because monkeys are intelligent and great problem solvers, but they also work in teams and they’re innovative.
What is the best gift you’ve ever received?
The ability to be able to read because I love reading and I love learning.
What's your favourite thing in your closet right now?
My jeans, they’re comfortable and versatile.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
To give more.
Where’s the most interesting place that you have ever been with the Fire Industry?
It was in a group talking about the future of the industry. Every place that I’ve travelled to within the industry has a very different feel to it and therefore I’ve appreciated all of them. I like seeing different places, I like to see different cultures, I like different sounds and different types of nature and on the other hand, I’m still quite happy living where I live.
What's the best piece of advice you've received?
One thing that I studied that I didn’t mention was theology, at one time I was working and somebody said something to me that has never gone away and that was “Expect to be right, you’ll know when you’re not”. It proved to be great advice; it gave me the guts to be able to do much more than maybe I would know how to do.
What time did you get to work this morning?
7 am. I’m a morning guy. At first, I try to ignore my emails then afterwards it gives me enough time to go through most of my meetings.
What does your usual day look like?
Right now, it looks fairly crazy. I’m dealing with a lot of subjects, most of them don’t resemble each other so it needs concentration and speed and sometimes I wish my brain was capable of being better at both of those. However, I need the variety and a bit of a slowdown in volume would be ok with me.
How does your work and family life come together?
During the week I concentrate on my work, during the weekends I concentrate on my family. However, they always knew that whenever they needed me, they could call me and I would do my best to be there for them. During the weekend, if work needs me then they can call me and I’ll do my best to be there for them aswell. As long as it doesn’t become a rule.
What makes you excited about the future of this industry?
I like change and I think we’re in a period where change is needed and I find that truly exciting.
What does the fire industry need?
The industry needs to believe in the opportunity that exists in going forward and to stop being protective. My experience shows that protectionism obstructs creativity.
What do you like about the fire industry?
As a whole and what I’ve had to do with it, most of it is the people. In many ways, dealing with people and finding people that love the industry and are willing to drive it forward and not just be traditional. I like the challenges that are coming to the industry and I like to work with people to find new ways to look at the industry, rather than ways to protect it.
What matters most to you?
Family, work and being able to do things for and with people. Relating to work, getting something accomplished. I work for a very large company and it’s easy to fill time. It’s a little harder to make sure that you get something accomplished that you believe is intelligent for yourself and for the company and that you have to fight for.
What would you tell yourself at the age of 21?
I told myself to go for it.
What motivates you?
People motivate me. Working with people and working with them to get things done and also accomplishing things that I set out to do. What I find sensational about that is quite often you may achieve something totally different than what you set out to do, but it’s something that is equally valuable. So, that goes with what I told myself when I was 21 to just go for it, jump into the water rather than test if it’s cold or warm.
Where do you want to be in 5 years?
I’ll probably be retired by then, but I’ll be enjoying my grandchildren aswell as coaching start-ups.
Why is the FIA important to you and the industry?
In Euroalarm I worked with a lot of industries, I worked with a lot of companies and for me, I’ve been impressed by the FIA’s commitment to the industry. I say that because with Brexit and all you that you could think that it would be less exciting to be working in European association, but the FIA has invested not only in participation but in active work with Euroalarm to drive changes in the industry. They’re involved in the fire section, extinguishing section and the services section and I think that’s terrific.
Rob Thilthorpe took over the services section which I was running and he has impressed me through the years in the sense that he comes with a great deal of knowledge and a lot of energy to get things implemented. I really don’t take it for granted that an organisation invests this much in being active. So, for me, the FIA is an excellent organisation to work with and probably the one that’s invested the most, in what I’ve seen so far.
What do you want to say to the readers?
Get involved with driving these changes, we need your active involvement more than your support.
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