Daniel Borel is Chairman Emeritus of Logitech’s board of directors. He co-founded the three companies of the group starting in 1981, consolidated them under the Swiss Holding Logitech International that he took Public (Swiss IPO) as Chairman in 1988. After the personal computer industry crisis in 1992, he became Chairman & Chief Executive Officer for the Logitech Group from 1992 to 1998. In 1997 he took Logitech International public on Nasdaq. In 2001 he founded with his wife the Defitech foundation for handicapped people. Among others he was Board member of Nestlé from 2004 till 2016. Daniel Borel has won many awards throughout his career, including the recent EY Master Entrepreneur Of The Year 2020 Switzerland. He holds a physics degree from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), and a master’s degree in computer science from Stanford University in California.
As we emerge from the acute phase of the COVID-19 crisis, our journey towards a new normal begins. EY asked various thought leaders and decision makers to take stock and share their insights into what’s next. Daniel Borel, co-founder of Logitech reflects on the ups and downs of a long and successful career in tech and explains why a sense of urgency is a Must to survive. In a competitive world, time is of essence.
How would you describe your younger self back when you started out as an entrepreneur?
I guess I have been quite lucky in my life (one would say: better be lucky than smart). I also had the opportunity to study at Stanford in California in 1976-77, moving from physics to computer science. The timing was perfect! It was the early days of Silicon Valley. I found myself in the midst of this very energizing, inspiring environment that motivated me to start something together with a fellow student and friend, Pierluigi Zappacosta. It wasn’t so easy to find money, especially for two guys from Europe, but we managed to collect our own funds. It was the start of microprocessors, which allowed us to build our own single board computer. As software engineers, we could develop our programs/products very fast using high-level language vs the old way based on machine-based language. We started out with word processing and used our European advantage to add hyphens, accented letters, special characters.
What challenges did you face?
First we had to feed our families, developing from scratch a product with the hope it would sell at a profit. We only had two rounds of investment of about half a million dollars each – not much by today’s standards. This was made possible thanks to Ricoh of Japan who gave us a large contract which lasted some four years during which we could hire up to 25 software engineers to develop one of the first graphical desktop personal computer. It was a unique opportunity for us, a small Swiss-American company, to survive as a small fish in a big pond, financed by such a large customer and to become fully part of the adventure of the early days of graphical user interface (GUI). The GUI gave us the chance to discover the mouse, a truly software device that one had to program, making the difference.
Our software skills allowed us to attract our first large “mouse” customer, namely Hewlett-Packard (HP) in 1984. Then within a few years we got more and more OEM customers but also started to see retail our “LogiMouse”. To be competitive, we built our first factory in Taiwan in 1986 and went public in on the Swiss stock market 1988.
What does it take to become an entrepreneur?
It is certainly not something you learn, it’s more about a passion that you grow within yourself. As one can realize it’s only by having a passion that one avoids having a job. Passion leads you to develop a Vision which is vital. Our Vision was built around the Interface between People & Technology (used to be the PC which today expanded into the Digital world). The Vision keeps your eyes focused on your Dream, preventing you from stumbling on the daily rocky roads!
The Vision keeps your eyes focused on your Dream, preventing you from stumbling on the daily rocky roads.
What mistakes have you made along the way?
You can always make mistakes, but you must only make them once. And mistakes aren’t always truly mistakes. For example, in 1984 we started manufacturing for HP. A great success, but we didn’t fully understand the notion of “working capital”. We nearly went broke… but we learned a lot.
Another example, in the early 90s, all the Taiwanese manufacturers attacked the world PC market with their own branded products, rather than producing for other manufacturers. Among others the price pressure on mice suddenly became dramatic. We had to respond very fast, it was so stressful. We had to lay people off at our locations in Ireland, the US and Taiwan. But, with the right sense of urgency we created Logitech China and began to thrive again.
Looking back at what you accomplished, what are you most proud of?
I’m proud to have survived some 40 years in the thrilling yet brutal computer industry! There was no real entry barrier to the computer industry. It’s a super exciting but also brutal industry. Ideas were open to anyone, you could invent the future with a computer and a phone line like Google did. When we moved to Taiwan in 1986, we got efficient manufacturing but also faced 50 competitors ready to undercut us and take our ideas. It gives you a sense of urgency, and today when I look back, I can see that many of the big competitors didn’t make it, but we did.
Can you feel a sense of urgency in the current crisis? What does it mean?
COVID-19 has taken us through an inflection point where the world will never be the same. You can either wait and hope it will pass, or you can look forward and anticipate what it means for your business. A crisis is a risk and an opportunity. It’s so important to face reality and look forward. We might not like the changes, but we have to move fast. There will be losers and winners. Timing is everything if you want to be a winner. This is the way the world works.
For Logitech, the COVID-19 crisis has been an unfair advantage, it’s been an enabler and accelerator of what we’ve been doing for years. We’re in e-gaming and video conferencing and we acquired a streaming company last year. Our core business with mice, keyboards and webcams has done well. Suddenly, in a matter of six months, the wind has turned, and we’ve sailed rapidly towards our goals. People have been anticipating this, but COVID-19 made it happen now.
The crisis has been an unfair advantage; it’s been an enabler and accelerator of what we’ve been doing for years.
How about for you personally?
For everyone, not just me, it’s a time of increased reflection. In some ways, you start over in your relationships – with people, with family members, with yourself. Relationships get deeper. We’ve stopped traveling, stopped polluting. It’s been a chance to reassess and rediscover our true values. A good thing at the end. Sadly though, there are too many people who have been very negatively affected, lost their jobs or business and that’s a terrible thing for society.
How do you think the Swiss authorities did in managing the crisis?
First, I think one of the major complaints is that we didn’t know much at the beginning, even now, and too many people spoke as if they did know. I think in life you have to be humble. I don’t think politicians have understood the science and the scientific approach to dealing with this pandemic. Also, one thing that nobody fully realized – and I think this is a problem with our governments – we, as a Country, had a unique opportunity to make Digital Switzerland a reality. We could have given every young person a computer along with the training needed, hence giving them the chance to enter the digital world so to minimize the danger of the Digital divide in our society!
One thing that was not fully realized was that this was a unique opportunity to make digital Switzerland a reality.