Willi Bruckbauer, the founder and CEO of Bora, is the visionary who revolutionised the extractor hood market by introducing cooktop extraction.
The company was built on the foundations of having the courage to do things differently, so what does it take to lead with such a bold ethos?
“To be progressive, you must be open-minded, inquisitive and question the norm”, so read the words of founder and CEO, Willi Bruckbauer, on the Bora website. This questioning of the status quo is the thread that runs through the specialist extraction brand, and that thread begins with Bruckbauer and his unique approach to business.
In a short space of time, he went from being a man with an idea to the founder and CEO of an international company with hundreds of employees and award-winning products. With the UK being a rapidly growing market for the manufacturer and a new venture into the world of appliances on the horizon, now is a good time to peek behind the curtain at Bora and get to know the man behind it all…
Q: How’s business at Bora?
A: The sun is shining, the company is growing, and things are good. We have happy customers and we have very good dealers in Europe. So, from my point of view I’m happy with the business.
Q: What was it about the existing options that made you want to revolutionise the extraction market?
A: I don’t like doing the same things over and over. I always like to do things better or ‘other’, if that makes sense? Many years ago, I designed and sold kitchens and I liked to create designs. And if you like to create a beautiful kitchen, you can’t have any foreign body like a cooker hood, so we wanted to eliminate this.
Q: Tell us how Bora extraction systems affect kitchen design…
A: Imagine having a conversation with your friends or your kids while cooking. Normally if you have a cooker hood, the conversation looks like this [pretends to be peering under a cooker hood] but if we eliminate the cooker hood, we can talk to each other freely, which has so many advantages. That gives designers the possibility to create beautiful kitchens. If I don’t have to plan a kitchen with a cooker hood, I can install the cooktops anywhere – in front of a window or on an island. And so, it makes many things possible.
Q: Bora is launching its first oven next year. What was the reasoning behind that? And why now?
A: There are three reasons why we’re launching the Bora X Bo oven next year. We have listened to the end customers. They like the brand and always ask us what’s next? They often suggest we should do dishwashers or fridge-freezers, but in our minds, the next step was an oven.
The second reason is us listening to our dealers. They said if they design smaller kitchens, they would like to be able to create the space using Bora product, not just the cooktop extraction.
The third reason is our research and development team. We’ve recently doubled the size of the team over the course of a year, so we now have about 100 development engineers and we’re looking for even more. The research and development team are the heart of Bora. We’re an ever-growing company and we always look for new markets and new products. An oven is the next logical step.
Willi Bruckbauer on what makes the the Bora X Bo oven so ‘different’... Bora never does a ‘me too’ product. It’s not our strategy. We asked ourselves what makes a Bora oven different? What are the possible advantages? What do we need to do to create the best oven on the market? But I don’t think it’s enough to create the best oven. We must look at the usability of home appliances. Appliances can be complicated and not very sexy. When researching and developing the Bora X Bo oven, we found a need for four appliances in one: a normal or bake oven, a steamer, cooktop extraction, and a cleaning function that works like a dishwasher. Cooktop extraction is there for clean air. If you’re preparing food like fish or something with cheese, you can smell it everywhere in the house. But if you have the Bora extraction system, you smell nothing. We also need fast heating in the oven, too. A regular oven can take up to ten minutes to reach 200°C but the Bora X Bo takes just three minutes. With manual or steam cleaning, it’s difficult to get the oven really clean. Even if you use a pyrolytic cleaning function, it’s not very sexy. The best way to clean an oven is like a professional; like a dishwasher. And those were the four goals for the Bora X Bo.
Generally, though, we have three development goals for any Bora product. The first is a unique and simple experience for the user. It must be fun. For example, I like to use my smartphone and I don’t need an instruction manual, so everything is easy.
The second goal is design. We’re looking for brave and spectacular design. And the third one is performance. Bora products offer top performance in every part of the product. Just like our extraction system, which must be very quiet and powerful.
Q: How do your interests influence you both personally and professionally?
A: I’m interested in many things. For example, I like to study nutrition and how it combines with the body. I’ve done that for the last 35 years as it was part of my sports career when I almost became a professional cyclist. I always like to learn more, but I never studied past secondary school. I finished school then went looking for new creative things to do.
My talents lie in creating organisations because most of the employees in my company are better than me. I really think that’s true! My job is to understand them and to create a team that is powerful and can get results. As a leader, I’m necessary for the team and the team is necessary for me. It’s not obligatory that they always contact me and involve me each step of the way. When there are mistakes, it doesn’t matter, we move on. When I meet with employees, I ask how I can do better. I like to get feedback but not just sweet smelling flowers, I like critique, too. It’s better for me and it creates a good spirit in our company.
Q: You’ve been a kitchen retailer yourself, so what advice do you have for today’s retailers?
A: That’s quite a hard question for me to answer because every kitchen business is different. One might be more mainstream, one might offer the best price, and another business might offer the best design.
I like quoting cycling legend, Peter Sagan’s words: “Why so serious?” I think you should be brave, courageous, unique, and the ‘other’. Whether it’s the combination of different materials or different design styles, being different is attached to success.
Q: Bora sponsors a professional cycling team. What has sport taught you about business?
A: If you come from the world of sport, like in my case, you understand that you must be focused if you want to win anything. It’s the same if you want to be successful in business. As a retailer you may have four or five competitors, but let’s say you want to win a cycling race. You can have 200 competitors and only one can win, it’s so difficult. You have good and bad days. You must have strategy and tactics, and you must learn, learn, learn! If you’re strong enough, but you are not clever enough, you will never win. So, you need to focus, focus, focus. I always say you must learn from your losses and it’s just like that in business.
By sponsoring a cycling team, we can invite guests to races and offer amazing hospitality. Hospitality such as the last day of the Tour de France, close to the Eiffel Tower in Paris. We run a cooking event the day before and show the dealers our products. The next day we all welcome our cycling team home when they finish after three hard weeks, and then we all cook together. Of course, there’s also the link to healthy living when sponsoring a cycling team.
In the UK, our brand awareness is on the rise and when we ask people where they’ve heard about Bora, they often say from cycling.
Q: What’s your overall impression of kitchen design? Have we reached the peak of creativity or are we just getting started?
A: The kitchen has seen change but a very long time ago. We must ask ourselves now: will we need a kitchen in the future? Or maybe an easier question to answer is: where is the kitchen?
Maybe we will create kitchens that can’t always be seen and are part of the living room. Let’s say the heating and water parts are just holes in the wall, so it looks like a beautiful living room. Maybe the future of the kitchen island is being both a cooking and dining area, with two different levels. During the day you can work at the island with a laptop, and then in the evening, use a motor or something to change the space so it becomes a cooking area. So, where is the kitchen? For me, it would be a great result if we could eliminate the permanent kitchen from our homes. Maybe not from houses but certainly from flats and apartments where space is limited.
We must also consider other worlds. Look at Tesla. It’s a mix between a car and a computer. Is it more of a computer or a car? I don’t know but the point is it brings together different worlds. And when you combine the best of different worlds, you get the best product.
It’s not always about the best price or whether it’s scalable or not. It’s what’s best for the end customer. That’s the Bora way. We’re not results driven, we’re quality driven, so our goal is to always tocreate the perfect product for the customer.
Q: How does Bora support its retailers in the UK?
A: The Bora philosophy over the last 14 years has been to not raise our prices unless we really need to. And over that period, we’ve only increased our prices twice. Remember that maximising profits is not our main goal. Of course, we want to make money but we’re very happy to continue to grow with our partners. We like to help our retailers with marketing such as advertising and sales lead generation. In London we have the Bora Lab where we train our UK retailers on products and how to sell them in their own showrooms. It’s an opportunity for us to also demonstrate how Bora thinks, how we operate, and how we like to think that little bit differently.
Q: What’s next for Bora and what’s exciting you about the next 12 months?
A: We must take care of our end customers and make sure they’re happy with our new ideas and products. We want to continue to grow and create an ecosystem of Bora product, not just because we can, but because of the advantages if offers the customer. If we can’t find advantages in a product, we won’t launch it. We have a good team in the UK, as well as strong dealers. It’s a focus market for us that’s growing.