How De Nora Grew from 0 to IPO in 7 Years (with Cheat Codes!)

De Nora Water Technologies entered the water business in 2015 – with a bang. Under the lead of Mirka Wilderer (since 2019), the company further grew up to a successful IPO in July 2022. What’s to learn from it? What’s on De Nora’s and Mirka’s plate for the next months and years? Let’s explore:

with 🎙️ Mirka Wilderer – CEO at De Nora Water Technologies

💧 De Nora is a leading provider of equipment, systems, disinfection, and filtration solutions for water and wastewater treatment.

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What we covered:

🙌 How De Nora entered the water sector and how fast and transformational its track to IPO was

💙 What De Nora’s core is, and how it will evolve and develop in the next years

🧑🏽‍🤝‍🧑🏽 How to go far you don’t walk alone – and how Mirka wants her company to team up for success

💪 The secret to successful M&A moves and company integration

😊 The risk of becoming too attractive, the best success metric, company culture and employee mindset, digital transformation… and much more!

🔥 … and of course, we concluded with the 𝙧𝙖𝙥𝙞𝙙 𝙛𝙞𝙧𝙚 𝙦𝙪𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙨 🔥


Resources:

➡️ Send your warm regards to Mirka on LinkedIn.

➡️ Check De Nora’s website 

➡️ A big THANK YOU to Sciens Water for enabling this episode!

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is on Linkedin ➡️


Teaser 1 – How (unlike the Big Guys) De Nora stays agile and entrepreneurial

Teaser 2 – How De Nora is not an EPC and aims to team up to win

Teaser 3 – Mirka Wilderer’s surprising KPI for De Nora’s success


Full Video: My conversation with Mirka Wilderer (CEO of De Nora Water Technologies)


Full Transcript:

These are computer-generated, so expect some typos 🙂

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Antoine Walter: Hi Mirka, welcome to the show.

Mirka Wilderer: Thank you.

Antoine Walter: I’m curious: what shall we rethink about water?

Mirka Wilderer: So I think the water space is a very exciting space and a very, a space exciting to be in right now. I think we’re rethinking as we’re going, as we face some of these challenges that were discussed, but also in terms of what our answers are.

Antoine Walter: Rethinking is something that comes to my mind if I hear of De Nora.

Mirka Wilderer: Yeah!

The decade that shaped De Nora

Antoine Walter: Might be right or wrong, you’ll tell me. But it sounds to me like your company has been rethought quite a lot over the past decade, is that right?

Mirka Wilderer: That is correct. We are celebrating our 100-year anniversary next year, which is a big milestone and certainly something that gives us resilience and stability, but at the same time, we added the water business only in 2015 to the group.

We’ve had a number of changes of ownership since then. Last but not least, an IPO this year in June. And so, with each of these changes, certainly also always a transformational progression in our company journey.

Entering the Water Business

Antoine Walter: Adding water in 2015; was it a response to something you’ve noticed in the market, which was a challenge you wanted to take on as a company?

Mirka Wilderer: De Nora is an electrochemical technology company, and they have actually surfed the water space since the seventies. And then, early in 2001, they created a joint venture with Severn Trent purification as one of the key markets they were addressing.

And so it became a natural evolution to say, Wait a minute, if this is such a core market that we’re serving, why don’t we bring it in-house? We always joke as the second like to stand on besides the traditional family business. So we’re a group of two businesses.

De Nora’s core is to be a Technology Provider

Antoine Walter: So what are the challenges out there which you like to address as the Nora in the water words? I mean, there are so many things you could be addressing. It could be water quality, water scarcity, or advanced treatments of some kind of pollutants.

Mirka Wilderer: We are a technology provider, and our heart goes towards disinfecting and filtration water, but we’re a manufacturer. We’re not systems integrators or operators. So our heart and passion go to providing the best possible technology to solve these water challenges, whether it’s emerging contaminants, whether it is PFAS and other residuals in the water.

And I think the opportunity goes in combining technologies to come towards advanced solutions that then solve these different problems around the world.

Bringing the right technology in the right place

Antoine Walter: You just mentioned very interesting topics for a deep dive – if we had more time. PFAS, right now, as we’re in the US is probably the hottest of the press with the EPA changing its rules in June, again in August, saying that you should look at that GenX thing and that you should look at parts quadrillion. How important is it for a technology company like De Nora to align your offering to these changes in policy and changes in priorities guided by policies?

Mirka Wilderer: We have a whole portfolio of technologies, and we are serving multiple countries around the world, and so we have different changes in regulation, which allows us to provide stability to our shareholders that, you know, different technologies have different trends.

On the other hand, of course, there are new trends that are starting in one part of the world. Like PFAS that we can already anticipate will likely also become an issue somewhere else. So I would say it’s a balancing act of making sure that we are maintaining or offering our portfolio around the world to get economies of scale and make sure that we have the best possible offering there while also, of course, always being on the lookout to new regulations, new trends, new technological needs that we can pilot in a certain area, and then take from there.

How De Nora’s IPO impacted the company

Antoine Walter: What does it change as a company to go through an IPO?

Mirka Wilderer: Certainly, coming from a privately held background with a family that has a hundred-year perspective and a vision and pride that goes much beyond any type of time horizon to then becoming public, is the other end of the spectrum where you have to make sure that you reliably deliver on every single quarter.

And so that balance of having that long-term vision while now also learning how to be really reliable on delivering to the promises of our shareholders. Luckily we had a little bit of pre-run time to set all that up in preparation. But that’s certainly one of the big changes in terms of just time horizons and expectations of our shareholders.

Keeping a curious eye on market evolutions

Antoine Walter: So when you come to a conference like this one where there’s a lot of finance involved, does it kind of change your goggles as the way you look at the room?

Mirka Wilderer: I come to these conferences because I’m just super excited to talk about my favorite topic: Water. I mean, it’s hearing about the thoughts from stakeholders, but we have to make sure we stay on our course. I think the water space is really bigger than us just optimizing on one single topic and instead, we really need to take that bigger lens of this is my path, and someone else chooses a different business model. It’s super interesting to see, and someone might choose the same.

Which is also fantastic because I rather have strong competition than continue to struggle with some of the water challenges we’re seeing.

Teaming up as a technology company rather than stepping on someone’s toes

Antoine Walter: You’re a technology company. Do you aim to stay like that, or do you want to go maybe into the EPC part of the business or maybe to do a kind of service out of your technology?

Mirka Wilderer: So I think it’s really important to stay true to the core. It’s very tempting to go after the multimillion projects, but we’re not an EPC, and EPCs require different skill sets than my team has.

My team is really, really good at the technology side of it, and so we wanna keep that focus and leverage that, and then work with partners that are really good at systems integration and really good at construction. They have those capabilities. We have our capabilities, and together we can win.

What’s next for De Nora?

Antoine Walter: De Nora has been built over the last years through several M&A. Is there a secret you can share here? I have an idea about the answer, but do you have more in the pipe?

Mirka Wilderer: We are definitely in a growth mode, and we will continue to focus on building out our portfolio with advanced disinfection filtration technologies and others.

Antoine Walter: So that’s a yes which is not allowed to be a yes. Interesting!

Mirka Wilderer: Yes.

De Nora’s secret to successful M&A moves

Antoine Walter: And what’s the secret about M&A to successfully integrate those new companies into the group? Are there some things which you have, to take care of and to be very careful of?

Mirka Wilderer: I think integration really comes down to the people and taking a people-first perspective.

We’re buying capabilities, and so I find that in every acquisition, there’s maybe that threat or fear of the acquired company, that they’re gonna lose their identity. But instead, I just invested money in acquiring that capability and so making sure that we keep that forefront and make people feel appreciated and valued for what they bring to the table.

I think the integration then is a balancing act of integrating these new capabilities with the old capabilities. And creating stronger together. And so I think the topic of integration is oftentimes underestimated of how much effort that really takes to integrate systems and procedures and policies, but also making sure that we leverage each other’s capabilities and that talent view.

That just takes some time, but I think that’s where we can then really create enterprise value by taking technology or competencies and shifting them out globally.

Antoine Walter: We’ve heard this morning in the keynote from Seth Siegel how consolidation is something that shall be at the center of the talks in the next years.

If you want to strive in the water sector, there are not that many companies the size of De Nora in that sector

Mirka Wilderer: Absolutely.

Could De Nora become prey?

Antoine Walter: There are the very big guys and the small guys. Correct. Do you feel like a vehicle for growth, to meet those very big guys, or do you feel like a prey?

Mirka Wilderer: No, not a prey!

Not at all. No. I think it’s a huge opportunity, and that’s what gets me excited to shape a company. We have all these small companies that have come. A certain focus, but then they get stuck somewhere, and as we bring ’em together a diamond like that and put them into our crown, how do we again, make sure that we fully leverage the value of this acquired unit while also giving them some more scale to the business, Whether it’s the systems we use or the.

Processes. I love working with playbooks, and the playbooks aren’t academic playbooks, but they’re from the team around the world that we have in-house. How do they each solve their problem? And what can we learn from each other, peer to peer? And so we are elevating these individual companies that got stuck at some level and providing them that next level of scale.

The sales channels, the management processes, how we do business, financial savviness, and HR processes, right? All the good things across the entire value chain of the business. And that helps us to lift and enhance their growth. I think, you know,

Mirka Wilderer’s success metric for De Nora

Antoine Walter: I love your analogy of the diamond in the crown and this agility element, for sure, is an asset. So maybe, a crystal question for you. If not, you look at the five or 10-year horizon; what is that single metric which tells you that you’ve succeeded?

Mirka Wilderer: My mind is going to employee engagement, which is interesting because it’s very qualitative. But if I can keep my team hungry and driven, we will serve our customers to the best ability. That will ultimately translate into all kinds of financial KPIs. That would be fun to see but that’s not the driver.

The driver is to tap into this passion of the employees to get some global scale. And I think in the water space, I’m sure anyone you are having on your podcast shares that passion that what we do actually has a huge impact on our blue planet.

Antoine Walter: True!

Mirka Wilderer: And so, you know, if we can tap into that and leverage that, how do you quantify that?

That’s why I was pausing. Employee engagement sounds a little soft, but I think truly right. If we can unlock that potential, we’re gonna create amazing things.

Antoine Walter: Well, Mirka, to round off these interviews, I have a short set of rapid-fire questions.

Get Season 1's Summary!

17+ hours of tips, technical advice, business hints, entrepreneurial inspiration, and market insights condensed in a MASSIVE 94 PAGES INFOGRAPHIC

20 chapters featuring 19 experts, each one addressing a specific chunk of the water industry cake

An evergreen source of Water Expertise at your fingertips to support you through 2021 and the years to come

Book Cover: Don't Waste Water Podcast, Season 1 in a nutshell

Rapid Fire Questions

Short questions aiming for short answers, but I’m not cutting the microphone. My first question is, what is the most exciting project you’ve been working on and why?

Mirka Wilderer: Digital transformation and why? I think it’s fascinating to see what these new capabilities can bring to the water space.

Antoine Walter: What is this the one thing you’re doing in your job today that you will not be doing in 10 years?

Mirka Wilderer: I love my job! What will I not be doing?

Antoine Walter: If you love everything, you probably keep doing everything.

Mirka Wilderer: I love my job, so it’s good.

Antoine Walter: What is the trend to watch out for in the water sector?

Mirka Wilderer: Digital transformation. I think it will shake up and wake up that industry and innovate us in ways that we haven’t thought possible.

What’s De Nora’s special take on digital transformation?

Antoine Walter: Do you have a special take on digital transformation at De Nora?

Mirka Wilderer: I think it’s across every step on the value chain, and it’s using the data to better serve our customers. Every customer might face their water challenge for the first time. It might be unique to them, but we for sure have seen it somewhere else around the globe.

And so if we can tap into that knowledge of how we have solved it for other customers to make sure that we’re faster, better, more reliable, using data for that purpose.

Antoine Walter: You’re coming from that entrepreneurial side of the water sector. So for that last question, you’ll have to project yourself. You get elected as a global water leader, so worldwide.

An unlimited power, but you can take only one measure. You have one single move. What is it?

Mirka Wilderer: I wanna see the industry unite and have an industry voice in sustainability. That sustainability is not just reduced or decarbonization, but there’s a water theme that we drive as an industry beyond our industry.

Antoine Walter: Well, Mirka, it’s been a pleasure. I would have many more questions, but I have to be cautious of your time. Thanks for stopping by, and talk to you soon.

Mirka Wilderer: Thank you so much!

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