Are you fluent in quality?
Ákos Takács is passionate about working in quality. Together with his global team, he fosters a culture that revolves around quality at Balluff.
What does quality have to do with languages? A lot, according to Ákos Takács. He is the Head of Global Technology and Supply Chain Quality and lives in Veszprém, Hungary with his family, where Balluff operates a location. He communicates with his colleagues not only in his native language Hungarian, but also speaks fluent German and English. And he speaks the languages of development, purchasing, production, and logistics. All these departments speak their own language, and the 40-year-old has to understand them all. After all, his job is to live up to the company-wide quality standards.
After obtaining a degree in industrial engineering from the university in Veszprém, Takács started to work at the Veszprém location of French automobile supplier Valeo. Of the total of twelve years that he worked there, he spent ten in quality management, first as an engineer, then as a coordinator and finally as the plant quality manager. "After twelve years with my previous employer, I figured it was time for something new," Takács says. "I didn't know at the time where this new challenge would take me."
The “magic” place
Ákos Takács joined Balluff in 2017. A lucky coincidence—it was a rare opportunity to get a job at Balluff‘s Hungarian location that exactly matched his qualifications. “For us in Veszprém, Balluff has always been this ‘magic’ place—a family-run business from Germany, and in a very future-oriented sector, no less. It wasn’t easy to get in. Everyone wanted to work there. So I was very happy to be able to join Balluff Elektronika Kft. as the quality plant manager”. There, Takács led a team of around 30 colleagues who were all dedicated to the quality of the Balluff products: From obtaining customer approvals, processing complaints or defects at the supplier level to conducting external and internal quality audits or product tests in the test lab—it’s a broad scope of work.
A holistic approach to quality
In project management and production, the model of the “magic triangle” that consists of the three dimensions of time, cost, and quality is well known. But not every customer considers these aspects equally important. "That's why it's so crucial to take a holistic approach to managing quality," Takács is certain. As Head of Quality Management, he was responsible for product quality, but not quality assurance in the production plants. This task was assigned to the Supply Chain department. “So there were colleagues responsible for the quality of the products, and others who kept an eye on the quality of the processes,” Takács summarizes the organizational division of responsibility. “I came from a completely different background, and was convinced that in the real world, this division does not exist. You have to look at the whole picture.”
For Takács, the biggest motivation is to continuously improve, both professionally and personally. It becomes clear that the industrial engineer is very disciplined when he speaks about his hobby. He grew up near Lake Balaton. The popular tourist destination south of Veszprém and the scenic region form the backdrop and basis for his sporting passion: triathlon. One day, he accompanied a friend to a triathlon. "Once you've been to an event like that, you're captivated," Takács enthuses. "The competition went all day, but I can't tell you how many times I had goosebump moments. So many athletes, all giving it their all. Family members, friends and supporters cheering them on." This experience turned into a passion: Takács is an active triathlete with a passion for competition.
He draws a lot of strength from his training. He sets a goal and exercises every day. As a family man, he uses the time when his family is sleeping—early in the morning or while the children are napping. Every day he gets a little bit better and then reaches his long-term goals like a certain distance or time. In the meantime, he has already taken part in more than ten competitions. His last one was the Ironman European Championship in Hamburg which he finished in 11.5 hours.
The enthusiastic triathlete has competed in more than 10 events such as the Ironman European Championship in Hamburg.
Continuous improvement is a motivation for Takács. He draws a lot of strength from his training. Every day he gets a little bit better and then reaches his long-term goal like a certain distance or time. His time at the Ironman in Hamburg was 11:33:59.
Takács still works at the Veszprém location today—or rather, he works there again, but in a completely new role: as quality manager, he is now responsible for quality on a global scale. His international team takes care not only of product quality, but also of the quality of the production processes, management systems, product testing and supplier quality. "As a result, we cover the entire spectrum and take a holistic view of quality," explains the 40-year-old. "It's very important to me that we don't compartmentalize but work in an integrated way." With the restructuring of quality management, a new type of management style also emerged—not from Neuhausen, but with a global mindset.
An important opportunity
In late 2017, the Balluff management board approached Takács and offered him a new position with global responsibilities—at the headquarters in Neuhausen, however. For the father of two, the position offered both technical and professional opportunities. For the family, though, the move would have meant major changes. Back then, his daughter was two years old and his son five. At the time, Balluff was undergoing an organizational shift, with the Technology Division rethinking quality at Balluff. "My family and I took some time over Christmas to think about this opportunity. After careful consideration and with the help of my family, I decided to take the job," Takács says. "It was a huge opportunity also for our children to get to know a new culture and language. But of course, we were also worried. Far away from the rest of the family and a completely fresh start. We asked ourselves the question: how are we going to do this?"
The answer: with lots of support! The move went smoothly. "You could tell that Balluff is a real family business. My colleagues supported us in every way they could, with finding an apartment, moving, language courses and also being welcomed in Neuhausen. That was really very positive experience." In April of 2018, he moved to Germany first and was joined by his family during the summer break.
He looks back on that time with joy. In total, the family lived in Germany for two years and one month. The son started first grade there, learning everything in German: reading, writing, and math. The family quickly put down roots and made friends with whom they are still in touch today. Regularly, the whole family would pack into their car and after nine hours, they would arrive at Lake Balaton and spend time with friends and family.
Borders closed—Balluff open
The situation changed with the COVID-19 pandemic. Everywhere in Europe, the borders closed to slow down travel and thus the spread of the virus. The border with Hungary were also closed. "We got increasingly worried, because the grandparents and even great-grandparents still lived back in Hungary," Takács reports. "The risk was high and there was no way for us to be there in case of emergency." At the same time, as the pandemic progressed, it became clear that it was not absolutely necessary to be physically present at the headquarters in Neuhausen in order to manage a global team.
A new openness quickly took hold at Balluff. The company also saw an opportunity in the new way of working together. "Whether in Germany or in my office in Hungary, I can now work with my colleagues from anywhere in the world. The concern for my family and the new possibilities of virtual collaboration were the two decisive factors that led to the decision to move back to Hungary. I also had the full support of my superiors.” This resulted in one of the first global management positions at Balluff not based at the headquarters in Germany.
The father of two lived in Germany for two years. In 2020, he returned to Hungary with his family during the Corona crisis.
Quality is teamwork
Back in Veszprém, Takács was able to be close to his family and simultaneously shape the quality culture at Balluff with his team of about 100 colleagues. “As quality managers, our job is to motivate. We coordinate the different areas and get people talking to each other," says Takács, describing his view of the profession. "When we have a problem or an anomaly, quality management here usually can't take care of it by themselves: I need an industrial engineer, a developer, colleagues from production ... nothing works alone. This team concept is super fun for me."
Listening, understanding, and talking to each other are important skills for a real quality manager. The fact that Takács speaks many languages is an advantage, of course. "Hungarian is a language spoken by only a few. That's why it's always been fascinating for me to learn new languages." That started when he was still in elementary school. Fortunately, his German teacher was a native speaker. From the beginning, she didn't speak a single word in Hungarian with the children. "That was always so exciting for me as a child. The grammar, vocabulary and the many different dialects fascinate me."
From his motivation to keep learning new things and his openness to other cultures, Takács also draws a lot for his day-to-day work. In Hungary, there is a saying that clarifies his view of languages: "The more languages you speak, the more human you are." Applied to his job at Balluff, it should say: "The better you know what quality means for the individual divisions, the more a uniform quality culture can develop throughout the company." Indeed, Ákos Takács speaks the languages of quality.