Claus Grunow: Driving Innovation in Corporate Strategy and Digitalization in the Aviation Industry

Claus Grunow | VP of Corporate Strategy & Digitalization at Fraport AG
Claus Grunow | VP of Corporate Strategy & Digitalization at Fraport AG

Entering the field of innovation and transformation, Claus Grunow, VP of Corporate Strategy & Digitalization at Fraport AG, brings a wealth of experience carved from years of dynamic roles within the transportation industry. Commencing his journey at Deutsche Bahn AG in 2005, he quickly ascended through the ranks by spearheading pivotal projects in quality and innovation management.

By 2010, his strategic acumen led him to the helm of Deutsche Bahn’s global growth strategy heading major M&A endeavors and overseeing the realignment of substantial business units.

Transitioning to Deutsche Bahn Connect GmbH in 2014, Claus embarked on a transformative mission of revitalizing the new mobility sector with innovative strategies and initiatives. Under his leadership, the division reversed its financial trajectory and also birthed two successful spin-offs propelling the company into new realms of success and influence.

In 2019, Fraport welcomed Claus into its fold, entrusting him with the monumental task of fortifying the company’s digital maturity amidst the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. With firm determination, Claus and his team have fostered a robust ecosystem of over 800 partners, driving rapid innovation across all facets of Fraport’s global operations. Additionally, he has championed a cultural shift towards agile corporate management while nurturing talent within his team and paving the way for a future brimming with strategic foresight and innovation.

On a mission of strategic innovation and digital transformation, let’s dive into an exclusive interview with Claus uncovering the future of transportation and corporate strategy!

Tell us more about your company and its mission and vision. 

Fraport AG is a leading global airport operator and service company based in Germany. The company has a significant international presence with investments and operations in 30 airports around the world. Fraport AG also provides a range of airport-related services, including ground handling, retail and real estate management, along with security services. With Frankfurt Airport, Fraport operates one of the busiest and most important airports in Europe. Fraport is known for its focus on sustainable and environmentally friendly airport operations and is committed to delivering high-quality services to passengers and airlines. Only recently, we introduced our new corporate strategy named ‘Fraport.2030.’

The realignment of our group strategy includes the introduction of a new corporate slogan—Connecting the world with tomorrow. It reflects the shift in our group strategy and provides a new emotional umbrella for the same. Serving as a mission statement, the slogan constitutes a pledge that clearly and memorably reflects our commitment. Its language, message and visual design highlight the Fraport Group’s values and international identity.

In response to political, economic, and societal trends, the aviation industry is evolving more than ever before. Customers now expect airport operators to maintain outstanding infrastructure with exacting standards of security, efficient and digitalized processes, along with convincing products and services. Society, investors and policymakers are also stepping up their demands for our industry to make tangible contributions to protecting the climate and environment.

Last but not least, there is a shortage of workers across all roles and qualifications, particularly—airport operators are impacted by this. The resulting strategic challenges make it necessary to update the group’s strategy. With Fraport.2030, we are therefore laying the groundwork for addressing future strategic challenges, seizing opportunities and ensuring our enterprise’s future viability.

What methodologies do you implement that contribute to new growth opportunities?

Our corporate group’s Fraport.2030 strategy contains fundamental decisions on the direction in which we want to head. It is aimed at sustainably safeguarding the future and profitably growing our business. In addition to pointing the way for the long-term development of our business, the new Fraport.2030 group strategy also addresses the changed expectations that customers have regarding the products and services of a globally leading airport operator. We therefore regard it as a shared and overarching task to ensure a pleasant passenger journey for our customers.

This goal is reflected in our three main strategic priorities—growth and sustainability, innovation and efficiency, and being an employer of choice. Our group’s further cultural evolution will also play an important role in attaining our strategic aims while emphasizing the strategic dimension of working together within our mission. By defining these focuses for our long-term corporate development, we are making it clear that we don’t regard growth and sustainability as contradictory aims but rather as inseparable prerequisites for our future success.

To further contribute to the group’s growth, Fraport is also sticking with proven methodologies like our Open Pitch Day which serves as a public application and pitching project to give various providers the opportunity to present their ideas and use cases for our Fraport airports. The format was developed to drive forward future innovations in all areas of the company and thus improve our competitive position.

The winning technologies from the Open Pitch Day will begin a project with Fraport AG’s Digital Factory. The Digital Factory is a virtual organizational unit comprised of digitalization and technical experts. It works to further develop digitalization at Fraport and to promote digital transformation throughout all of our customer processes. Using our knowledge in combination with new solutions and opportunities to create the future of aviation, we hope to successfully contribute to new growth opportunities.

What strategies do you implement to promote gender diversity for various leadership positions at your company? 

Numerous studies have shown that mixed male and female management teams benefit businesses, Fraport therefore aims to appoint more women to executive roles. The goal is to appoint a minimum proportion of 30 percent of women to senior management roles. The current figures show that we ended the 2021 fiscal year with 27.1% of women at the first and second reporting levels of the Group (at Frankfurt Airport), meaning that we have not yet achieved our target.

To promote gender diversity, an extended package of measures and the new Group-wide program ‘Empowering Leaders’ are shining a light on female employees in particular, to encourage them to apply for executive roles. Male employees and fathers in management are also being supported—for instance, if they want to take on more family responsibility. These initiatives promote and strengthen not just diversity at Fraport AG, but our entire corporate culture.

Within the Corporate Strategy team, we are committed to diversity and have a female quota of 50%. I am also personally involved as a mentor in various programs that serve to promote young female employees.

What values do you incorporate to enhance the work culture of your company?

For us, it is all about our values—Competence and reliability, in combination with commitment, openness, courage, and trust mark the heart of our work and success. Strong cooperation is the most important lever. The successful implementation of the new Group strategy Fraport.2030 also requires further development of our working methods as part of our corporate culture.

In the future, we will see ourselves even more strongly as a large community that is united by a common understanding—At Fraport, we stick together across all divisions and Group companies and support each other. Only by working together, we can achieve our aspirations and goals!

What, according to you, could be the next significant change in your sector? How are you preparing for the change? 

The most important strategic challenges in the aviation industry are growing customer expectations​, increased relevance of sustainability​ and a tense labor market situation​. Fraport will embrace these challenges and promote commitment to change, especially demographic change​ can be a catalyst for innovation​.

From a customer perspective, the use of Artificial Intelligence is likely to significantly change the travel experience at the airport. It is quite conceivable that a completely contactless and touchless travel process will be possible in the future. Biometric baggage drop-off and biometric passage through certain checkpoints are already possible today. Further, technical innovations will help to initially reduce waiting times and eventually eliminate waiting times altogether. The customer experience can thus be individualized and raised to a new level.

With this course of action, we are making Fraport​ ready for a successful future!​

Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run and what are your future goals for your company?

In 2030, we will impress our customers across all categories with our products, services and effective innovations while ensuring that passengers at all of our airports are delighted with our excellent service and quality. Our operations will be characterized by smooth, frictionless processes allowing us to work much more efficiently.

Additionally, we will have evolved into a truly international group with a culture, mindset and knowledge-sharing that reflect our global reach. In the future, we will also be recognized as one of the most attractive employers in the aviation industry fostering a management culture based on mutual trust, curiosity and performance recognition.

Furthermore, we will be the company with the world’s best know-how for operating climate-friendly airports achieving financial success, robustness and stability while growing profitably. We will have successfully expanded our international business, acting sustainably and considering ourselves as part of each region in which we operate.