9th April 2024

Automation Solutions CEO of the Year 2024: Ralf Matthews

Elco Industrie Automation GmbH is one of Germany’s leading manufacturers and suppliers of systems components, operating across the automotive and mechanical engineering industries with a distinct prowess that has got it noticed on an international level.

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Automation Solutions CEO of the Year 2024: Ralf Matthews
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Elco Industrie Automation GmbH is one of Germany’s leading manufacturers and suppliers of systems components, operating across the automotive and mechanical engineering industries with a distinct prowess that has got it noticed on an international level. By producing a series of core components, inclusive of sensors, cables, connectors, and encoders that are all compatible with a variety of machines worldwide, the team are continually diversifying their hold on the market, something bolstered further by their unmatched expertise regarding automation technology, a knowledge that can be described as both broad and deep. At the helm is CEO and awardee Ralf Matthews, who tells us more about the company and his hands-on approach to leadership.

Much more than just an average supplier of automation and process technology, Elco Industrie Automation GmbH (Elco) has spent many years as a visionary leader in this space, pioneering expert solutions and combining these with a first-class commitment to service that measurably benefits those operating within the field of industrial automation. Boosted by customised and tailored solutions implemented by an expert team who are knowledgeable on all of the latest industry technologies, reliable support is offered to clients so as to ensure a smooth and reliable experience every time.

Situated in Oberstenfeld at the heart of Germany’s industrial scene, arguably one of the planet’s finest, Elco has been right at home thriving in this high-performing environment since it began operating in Europe more than ten years ago. Across this decade-long tenure, the uppermost emphasis has been placed on striving for nothing less than the best, with the team hoping to set the gold standard as opposed to just adhering to it. ISO certification underpins this commitment, and represents but a fraction of this sustained excellence, something that is further on display through the business’ products and services consistently exceeding expectations.

Elco believes that the calibre of its products speak for themselves, beginning with the sensors, which represent precise technology for precise measurements. Across these inductive, capacitive, and optoelectronic sensor offerings, all of the bases are covered, with sensors designed for use with metallic and non-metallic objects alike. In a similar vein, its encoder technology is grounded in years of research, and has yielded fantastic outputs that are suitable for use across almost all modern industrial appliances, while its connectors are of equal distinction, shining in both variety and precision, whether a customer chooses their standard solutions or one that has been created especially for them.  

More than just a name, Elco Industrie Automation GmbH stands as a promise, a promise that the untiring pursuit of perfection has been carried out so as to provide a customer with a quality and reliable solution. A proven track record across the European market and even further afield additionally distinguishes the company, and an inherent flexibility guarantees that similarly high standards will continue to be upheld for years still to come. Integral in securing the business’ success in the present and future is CEO and awardee Ralf Matthews, whose wealth of experience and impactful approach to leadership have won him this award.

Beginning his career as an industrial electrician for Murrelektronik GmbH, Ralf Matthews’ technical ability and drive to succeed were apparent from the outset, with his unwavering ambition soon leading him to further explore the array of functions and applications surrounding automation products, something he carried out at Erkert GmbH in Sulzbach/Murr. Throughout his time at this organisation, Ralf was afforded numerous opportunities to gain invaluable practical experience, working as a service technician on new engines and carrying out maintenance and repairs, something he would excel at for more than ten years.

During this tenure, Ralf tells us, “I became involved in products similar to those manufactured by Elco at an early stage. Through identifying and addressing issues, I helped improve existing products and develop new ideas.” Such experiences early on in his career demonstrably shaped Ralf professionally, and after having got everything out of the role that he could, he returned to Murrelektronik GmbH, and even after having been away for more than a decade, quickly ascended the ranks. Starting out in the field of technical sales and distribution, Ralf filled the project manager vacancy in the summer of 2012, a position he would hold until October 2013.

The desire for a change of pace saw Ralf undertake a quick detour on his route to becoming an CEO in the automation sector, with him taking on the role of COO at SME Schildknecht AG, an international sales and marketing agency. A few short years later, Ralf would return to his calling, becoming Elco Industrie Automation GmbH’s Deputy General Manager, and in doing so, took responsibility for all of the company’s European operations. Excelling in this role with the same distinction he has brought to each of the positions he has occupied, Elco’s shareholders soon began to take notice, and on 1st April 2021, Ralf ascended his rightful throne as CEO of Elco Industrie Automation GmbH, the culmination of his tireless efforts.

Leveraging his experiences for ultimate impact, Ralf Matthews has successfully spearheaded Elco throughout its expansions of the past few years, with the company today enjoying a strong presence in its home country and an ever-greater reputation for success. When it comes to the team acquiring new customers, they do so through a balance of trade fairs and cold calls, but once contact is established, lasting relationships are often formed, with this being true of suppliers and customers alike. Ralf shines further light on this, telling us, “our close collaboration with customers ensures that we understand their products from their perspective and develop them optimally with their interests in mind.”

Similar care is taken when it comes to new projects, which, as Ralf explains, are “always assign[ed] a project manager to oversee the project from start to finish, both nationally and internationally.” This serves as a key example of Ralf utilising his prior position as a project manager for success across his CEO duties, recognising the importance of having a person on hand to ensure that things run smoothly in the early days of a new project, enabling the business to continually fortify its position as a frontrunner in the sector. An approach such as this is integral in a business environment that is undergoing continuous shifts, with Ralf leading from the front as Elco effortlessly navigates such changes.

Ralf explains that managing such rapid changes are not just unique to his industry, and rather, is something shared by companies across the country. He tells us, “all sectors in Germany are currently facing pressure and undergoing major changes due to political and economic factors. Companies are being forced to adapt their processes and constantly re-evaluate themselves.” Optimism and drive are thus two necessary qualities in traversing this landscape, and Ralf is confident in the ability of his team to embody both, stating, “new problems also present new opportunities.”

New opportunities are available in abundance if a person knows where to look, and Ralf prides the ability of the team at Elco to be able to open up new markets, develop fresh products, and venture into unexplored territory. By viewing every new opportunity as a chance to grow, the future of the company looks incredibly bright, and a similar viewpoint can also be found regarding problems, with these simply being addressed as opportunities yet to be leveraged. Such positivity is innate within Elco Industrie Automation GmbH, with Ralf refusing to allow negative external factors to bring this collective spirit down and impact the stance taken by the company that it can achieve anything it puts its mind to.

As an example of Elco putting this ethos into action, it has begun to place a keen emphasis in recent years on international markets and global expansion, with new branches having already been opened in Mexico and India so far this year, and firm plans in place to begin operations in four other countries. The purpose of this mission is simple, with Ralf seeking to internationalise the brand and drive sales on a global level. Having already solidified its claim as a market leader in China, Ralf tells us more about the effectiveness of this strategy. “As with any other company, we utilise systems that facilitate rapid scaling and international growth. Regular meetings and reflections on our work [also] lead to consistent success.”

Not only are such meetings championed when it comes to international expansion, they also comprise a key element of Ralf’s day-to-day leadership routine and have proven vital in sustaining success. Located right at the centre of this approach is a drive to ensure that everybody operating under the company banner is working towards the same goals, and that these are clearly laid out for everyone to see, understand, and align with. By remaining united under one common vision, trust is fostered, and innovation encouraged.  

When it comes to the qualities that Ralf himself believes he should embody, these span prioritising always being authentic, honest, and approachable. He explains, “when employees are passionate about the company, its products, and its leadership, they tend to work more efficiently, consistently, and effectively.” As a leader, Ralf recognises that the responsibility for colleague well-being is on his shoulders, and thus, he strives to be available as far as possible as a point of contact, colleague, mentor, and friend.

Regarding the internal culture at Elco Industrie Automation GmbH, an environment of open communication is nurtured, with Ralf sound in the knowledge that, “employees who are not afraid to ask questions tend to perform better.” As a part of this open communication-centric atmosphere, Ralf is the first to admit it when he makes any mistakes, setting an example that he hopes everyone within his workforce will be quick to follow on the odd occasion where an issue may arise. Another notable element of a good leader is striking that balance between leading and allowing teams to work independently, as when it is achieved, this winning combination is instrumental in fostering continuous growth.

Promoting such successes remains key as Ralf looks forward in his own career, telling us, “my career is secondary to the company’s goals”, with this CEO remaining steadfast in his commitment to his company and its people. Although such dedication will prove equally beneficial for Ralf as it will paint him in a fantastic light, that is not why he strives for excellence, rather, he has always favoured the success of the collective over his own personal goals, confident in the belief that no one person can be bigger than a company. Ralf eloquently puts it like this, “the company is the goal, not the person.”

To aid him in explaining this philosophy, Ralf provides an extended metaphor, all based around the team effort involved in recognising the triumph of an individual. Ralf details a grand orchestra, explaining that people who complement each other feed into a wider collective that is ultimately bigger than themselves. Take a trombone, for example. On its own, a trombone sounds rather dull, but when it is combined with four others, it sounds much better and creates a melody. These trombones can thus be read as a team or department, and when the trombones are united with the rest of an orchestra, in this case the wider organisation, a symphony is heard, with the results being an overarching sense of enthusiasm.

It is the job of the conductor to bring all this together, and although he may stand at the front, he is nothing without the fantastic instruments that produce these wonderful sounds. Ralf states, “success is achieved through the interaction of everyone involved, [with this] resulting in a successful conductor.” Ralf’s acknowledgement of the importance of this united approach alone speaks volumes about how he views himself and his team as being on an even playing field and part of something bigger, and he is more than happy to play this role of conductor. Steve Jobs famously referred to himself as leading the orchestra, a favourable comparison that Elco Industrie Automation GmbH’s Ralf Williams is happy to entertain.

For business enquiries, contact Ralf Matthews from Elco Industrie Automation GmbH on their website –

Ralf Matthews

Categories: Articles, European Business News

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