Dr. Henning Duderstadt was most recently involved in the operational management of the Open Innovation City project. He joined Third Element Aviation at the beginning of the year as Chief Financial Officer and third member of the Executive Board. In this article, he talks about his path to 3EA.
Henning, who are you and what do you do now at Third Element Aviation?
Well, my role is CFO – Chief Financial Officer – and I support the management in all financial matters as well as organizational development and networking!
What I’m most interested in at the moment is gaining an insight into the processes and work steps. I’m not an engineer and don’t have to and shouldn’t intervene in software or hardware development, but of course it’s important to really understand the products. So I approach things from an external perspective – even though I’ve been able to look inside the company for over two years now. I would have liked to have joined earlier, but as I was still involved in the Open Innovation City project, I was only able to join now.
You’ve just mentioned that you came from a project. What kind of background did you come to us from in general?
My background is in finance. I trained in business administration at the bank and have an MBA in Managing Financial Institutions. So I’m actually at home in the financial sector.
However, I decided in 2019 that I wanted to do something else. And I took the opportunity that presented itself to take operational responsibility for an exploratory project on the topic of open innovation and ecosystems. I had previously developed new business models at the bank and most recently promoted open innovation between start-ups and companies – so I was already fundamentally active in the field.
But you’ve actually been here for almost three years – in what form was that before you became CFO?
Funnily enough, I’ve actually been involved with the founding team for much longer because I had already gotten to know Height Tech beforehand and was then also involved in the founding of Third Element Aviation – at that time from the bank’s side. When I left the bank, it was also possible for me to work for the company in an advisory capacity.
When the advisory board was created following the entry of a strategic investor, it was Marius’ wish to support it. I couldn’t turn down this request and then became Chairman of the Advisory Board and was happy to take on this role. So at least I have always accompanied the company from this flying height, which of course makes it easier to get involved in operations now.
So you’ve been part of the Advisory Board since when? What was that time like?
We got together in 2021. That’s when I really realized for the first time what market potential we could tap into with the many use cases here. And what special positioning we have for this, which I could only guess at until then. Then to see where we stand, what we need to work on, that was a lot of fun. There are also many things that you can be very proud of, even though you might take them for granted when you work here every day.
What opportunities do you see in this market?
To be honest, I can’t imagine a pizza or fries being delivered to your doorstep by drone. However, I understand very well why drone technology simply makes sense in medical logistics or just-in-time logistics across large factory sites. If a van continues to drive across a factory site, it’s a bit like the development in school, where people have still been writing on the blackboard for 100 years.
And what exactly interested you about 3EA that made you want to continue working on it?
It actually came from this desire for a career change, i.e. the question of where I see myself professionally in the future. And 3EA was an opportunity that really fascinated me. After all, it’s not very common of course to do such a job part-time. And it was simply a huge stroke of luck for me, because I wanted to continue to position myself in the academic environment and at the same time had the opportunity to become a university lecturer for business start-ups and the main topics of my content there are also digital economy, innovation and change management. And so I hope that I can offer students added value with my practical experience and perhaps also be a gateway for new employees here.
And I believe that I can now contribute even more explicitly what I have already contributed here as an advisory board member.
I’m sure I’ll also learn a lot, because working in a start-up is of course very different from working with start-ups.
What are you looking forward to during your time here, what are your plans?
First of all, I’m really pleased that it’s possible to combine both jobs in this way. There are a lot of things I’m planning to do in the medium and short term, but at the moment the short-term topics simply outweigh the long-term ones. This also makes the learning curve extremely steep. In addition – and this is often the case in small companies – there are hardly any hierarchical levels, in a positive sense little procedural organization, so you can actually get involved quickly everywhere. So you can quickly learn how the company ticks on a day-to-day basis.
And I hope that research and development projects will continue to cross-fertilize each other here. Influence from current scientific ideas, especially in the area of open innovation. Because this company has an incredible number of collaborations for its size – and that alone is an invaluable achievement.
Welcome to the team, Henning, and have a great start to your new adventure together!
Second photo: ©World Open Innovation Conference, Bilbao (2023): https://worldopeninnovation.com/
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