A long history of innovation

Dr. Klaus von Rottkay, CEO of NFON, talks to Comms Business about his initial impressions of the pan-European cloud PBX provider and his future plans.

Having worked on the software side of unified communications in his previous role at Microsoft Germany, Dr. Klaus von Rottkay has been familiarising himself with the nuances of the telephony portion of the solution.

“I’ve been in this space for a long time. [My background was] more on the software side, rather than the telephony side, but nowadays both sides are not 100 per cent separable,” said von Rottkay, who was appointed NFON’s new CEO in December last year following the departure of Hans Szymanski in August 2020.

He joined the company after being approached by NFON’s advisory board. At that time, the company was not on his radar, but his friends and colleagues had good things to say about the company. “I started doing some research and talking to people [about the company], and it was pretty cool to learn about this fast-growing, cloud-focused company with this vision of freeing business communications.”

With a PhD in physics, von Rottkay is not your typical business leader. Despite his love of science, a natural curiosity in marketing triggered an interest in business, and he joined McKinsey to learn more. He explained, “Already back then high-tech was very interesting to me. That’s why I joined Microsoft [after McKinsey]. I stayed there for about 11 years in different positions; the last six years part of my tenure with Microsoft, I was part of the country leadership team. For two years I was the COO of Denmark, Iceland, and Greenland. Then, in the same position, I went back to Germany, where I was the COO for Microsoft Germany for about four years.”

Von Rottkay explained that he pursued a role in the Nordics as he wanted to experience a market that is fast in adopting technology. After Microsoft, he became the CEO of a private equity-led company in the real-estate and fintech space, where the company mission was to “digitise the company and the company’s processes with partners and customers”.

Taking the time to listen

After those experiences, von Rottkay is excited to come back to the high-tech industry, but he is “still in listening mode”. He added, “I have met many employees, partners and customers but I’ve still not met enough as I’ve mainly been meeting people virtually. When you have scheduled meetings, you do get to know each other, but there’s less unstructured interactions than what I’m used to. When you go and see a customer and spend a day with them on their premises, you learn more than you can on a half an hour video conference.

“I had to realise that the telephony side is richer than I had anticipated, coming from the software side. There’s a long history of innovation and customers are at different stages of adoption. There’s a pretty heterogenous landscape out there. The direction is similar for most companies, but some are taking the time they need. Large organisations have often put in a lot of investment into their set up, so for some it’s not easy to move fast.”

The journey ahead

Like every business, NFON has seen the pandemic change things. Von Rottkay explained, “With the pandemic there is now no need to convince people that digitisation will accelerate. This is universally accepted. Many customers, especially conservative customers, have realised they need to move. Many organisations had to deal with employees working remotely and that exposed some gaps in their unified communications set up or made the need for unified communications clear.”

NFON’s philosophy is distinct from others in the market in that it wants to “make sure nobody is getting left behind”. Helping businesses move to cloud communications is not always a simple process. Von Rottkay added, “We can deal with the complexity, whether that’s needing phones on desks or going fully down the softphone route. This is a complexity that many of the big software vendors are choosing to ignore, just because it’s hard and tedious, but it’s our mission to address these customers as well and help them find a way into the modern era.”

Von Rottkay will solidify his plans as he settles into his role, but there is one aspect of the company culture he is keen to preserve. “We have maintained a start up flair in terms of doing things pragmatically and fast, instead of spending lots of time on planning and aligning. That doesn’t mean we don’t have clear processes or structures, but I’m very willing to [bypass something] so we can deliver value to our customers sooner rather than later.”

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Charlotte Hathway

Charlotte is the editor of Comms Business and writes about the latest technology innovations and business developments across the Channel. Got a story? Get in touch – charlotte.hathway@markallengroup.com.

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