Modern technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace, sparking conversations among business leaders on how it can be best used and leveraged for sustainable business growth. In the global landscape of innovation, Scotland is emerging as a powerhouse, particularly in the realms of data and AI advancements.

Against this backdrop, Zühlke Technology Group, a Swiss-founded global innovation service provider, has set its sights on Edinburgh, recognising the city’s crucial role in shaping the future of tech. In an exclusive interview with Wolfgang Emmerich, the CEO of Zühlke UK and Chair of its Board of Directors, we explore the company’s strategic move into Scotland, its commitment to fostering innovation, and the upcoming transition in leadership with the appointment of one of the first two female country CEOs at the company.

In the year 2000, you co-founded what we know today as the Zühlke Technology Group, buying out Gerry Zühlke who founded the business in 1968. What was the ambition and drive behind taking over? What did you want to achieve with the Zühlke Group?

We were a group of 11 partners who had previously worked for Gerry Zühlke and his wife Helen. Gerry was approaching the age of 70 in 2000 and they decided to retire. I am sure they had several options to sell the business, but they wanted to keep the culture and ethos of the company alive and thought the best chance of achieving that was to enable us to buy it off them and continue to run it in the way they had intended. The company was based in Zurich and had a small satellite office in Frankfurt that I had co-founded with Fabrizio Ferrandina (current Zühlke Group CEO) and Gerry. Our vision was to replicate the success of Gerry’s Swiss innovation lab in other countries. It is very satisfying to see that we have succeeded in our expansion, with Scotland being the latest addition to our international presence.

If you had to explain what Zühlke does in just one sentence, what would it be?

Our mission is to empower our clients to have lasting impact on their business, society, and the planet through innovation and technological advances.

You have been involved in some of the most important technological developments, including the launch of the NHS COVID-19 app in 2020 which was crucial in controlling the spread of the COVID-19 virus as the UK came out of lockdown. What do you see as some of your greatest achievements in your journey with Zühlke?

The COVID-19 app for England and Wales is most certainly up there in terms of the impact that Zühlke has had. The app had more than 22 million users and a paper published in Nature Communications this year estimated that the app has saved thousands of lives and prevented tens of thousands of hospitalisations.

I am also very proud of the work we have done between 2016 and 2021 for HSBC, initially building, and then continuously evolving their UK banking app, which is being used daily by millions of HSBC customers in the UK. Last year, we have designed a mobile investment journey and features to enable HSBC customers to invest money from as little as £50/month. Our collaboration with HSBC was also recently recognised by The Banker magazine, as the project won the publication’s award for best innovation in digital banking within the mobile category.

You have recently opened an office in Scotland as part of Zühlke’s global growth plan. Why is a Swiss company expanding into Scotland? Why now?

There is a lot of growth potential for Zühlke in Scotland, which we would not be able to realise without a presence in this dynamic region. While our Manchester and London offices effectively cater for clients in England and Wales expanding into Scotland unlocks new opportunities.

As the second-largest financial centre in the UK and a city with prominent AI and data capabilities, Edinburgh provides a robust ecosystem that aligns with our focus on cutting-edge technologies and driving impact. Having a strategic hub in the city enables us to tap into the amazing talent pool that originates in the STEM faculties of about a dozen excellent universities in Scotland’s central belt.

This expansion reflects our commitment to not only meet current client needs but also proactively engage with emerging opportunities in a region known for its rich talent and tech advancements.

Building a business does not come without its challenges, what advice would you give to a young person starting their first business today?

As an enthusiastic amateur endurance athlete, I draw parallels between building a business and running a marathon or participating in a 100-mile bike race. You need to have the right preparation and training, fuel (i.e. funding) to cover the distance, and you need to assemble a team and ensure that everyone maintains a balanced pace, both mentally and physically, to prevent burnout.

An important ongoing discussion is the Race to Net Zero and the urgent need to protect the world’s climate, how does Zühlke contribute to sustainability?

At Zühlke we have chosen to focus on two of the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals: ‘Good health and wellbeing’ and ‘Climate action’. In pursuit of the former, Zühlke’s Health Practice focuses on digital diagnostics and therapeutics, our investment arm, Zühlke Ventures, has invested in a portfolio of 15 Health Tech start-ups, and we work with large pharmaceutical companies, charities, and the NHS on advancing digital health.

In our commitment to climate action, we have started a number of initiatives as well. This includes helping financial services institutions in complying with emerging regulations for green finance and supporting energy retailers, producers, storage, and network operators in building the data ecosystem required to cope with fluctuations in renewable power production and consumptions.

What is next for Zühlke?

Our main focus in the coming years is on growth. As I said, we want to have lasting impact on client businesses, people, and the planet. To do this, we need to keep expanding globally while retaining our Swiss heritage and quality ethos.

We are delighted that Edinburgh is going to be a part of that and looking forward to supporting organisations, whether it be with tech implementation, regulatory adherence, or exploring the opportunities that data and AI present across sectors.

Internally, we will also be focusing on data science and AI capabilities. This year, we piloted generative AI internally and we plan to implement it extensively across our practices next year to enhance productivity through AI-assisted engineering.

As we embark on this global chapter, Angela Bishop will be taking over my role as CEO for Zühlke UK in January, becoming one of the first two female country CEOs in the Zühlke Group company. While I will remain on Zühlke’s Board of Directors, I am looking forward to seeing what Angela’s perspective will bring and excited about the new opportunities presented by our expansion into Scotland.