For 36 years, Urs Felber has managed the business of a&f systems ag. Now he is passing on the baton to the next generation and managing director – Philippe Lindegger. The handover to the new management team was planned over a long period and will be completed in January 2021. A perfect time to look back on the history of a&f systems ag. Because the story started quite differently.
In the beginning was A – and F
The company was founded as AF Computer-Systeme in 1984 and specialised in the Apple product portfolio. Moreover, the target was to become the biggest Apple centre in central Switzerland. Urs Felber and his team achieved this milestone on 5 May 1988. Click here to read an interesting newspaper report from the time. But where did the idea to found a company originate? And what was the secret to its success?
«Following a turbulent time at school, in the last year of my vocational training, I decided to become self-employed at all cost as I have always found it difficult to subordinate myself to others. That was that and I founded ‘AF Computer Systeme’ at 20 years of age. Our aim was to always exceed our customers’ expectations. We also always communicated transparently and openly, supported our employees and adequately recognised outstanding performance. And we still do so to this day. The other success factor was very simple indeed – hard work. Day and night in the first 15 years.»Urs Felber
The hard work paid off quickly, as the company’s history shows. In 1990, a&f has already built up a name as network specialist and system integrator thanks to various major projects and in 1991 becomes one of the biggest Apple Macintosh distributors in Switzerland. In 1993, A&F Computersysteme AG develops into the largest provider in the Swiss preprint sector. Today, a &f is the world’s leading WoodWing integrator and has been awarded the Diamond-Diamond Partnerlevel for the fourth time in a row. Urs Felber is very clear on the question of highlights:
«There are a huge number of milestones. Over the years, we often acted as pioneers, such as when almost 30 years ago, we produced ‘Cash’, a newspaper about the economy and the world’s first newspaper created with the desktop publishing possibilities of the time. This was a huge achievement that created quite a stir in all of Europe. A multitude of extremely cool projects and meetings with customers who become more than just customers or suppliers. I am also particularly proud that we became the most successful integrator in the world with OPS and WoodWing, and all from our base in the tiny country of Switzerland.»Urs Felber
36 years is a long time. Some moments are remembered forever. And the company achieved many milestones during its history. The partnership with WoodWing certainly was one of the highlights. The Dutch software developer and a&f have been a close-knit team for 17 years. In 2018, a&f systems was even awarded the title «Enterprise Partner of the year» and the Diamond-Diamond Partnerlevel in 2016, an honour which the company still holds today. In 2013, a Germany subsidiary was added to the company after the merger with the former CORE-LAB. The cooperation has flourished and numerous outstanding projects ah==have been implemented together. As an Adobe “PLATINUM Certified Reseller (PCR)”, a&f was awarded for the highest renewal rate in the EMEA region (Europe, Middle East & Africa) in 2017. 2019 brought with it several changes. In addition to a refreshing new appearance and renaming to the current company name, the entire team also moved to new, modern premises. Since then, the company has a standardised appearance as a&f systems that matches that of its subsidiary.
«I had to learn very quickly that managing a company does not just involve pleasant talks and humorous moments, but that sometimes harsh words and unpopular decisions are needed to keep the business on track. As the managing director, you have to weather every storm and lead the company to safety and success. This greatly affects you as a person.»Urs Felber
Close-knit large family, reliable team
a&f is on a success path, as those employees with the longest employment record prove. Each and every one of them has a story to tell and almost all of the have been with a&f for many years. Some of the pillars of the company, such as Thomas Portmann, Head of Finance and member of management, have been part of the team since the earliest days. Former school mates became colleagues and friends for life.
Stefan Schärer, Head of Sales & Marketing and also a member of management, has been with a&f for over 10 years. Starting out as a «disciple of Gutenberg», the «black art» is in his blood.
«I remain fascinated by print technology and enjoy the ‘scent’ of fresh ink in the print shops. Communication has developed rapidly in the past decades, thanks to which I was able to gather comprehensive knowledge of the ‘new media’ of the times and develop and manage PreMedia and CrossMedia teams prior to joining a&f.»Stefan Schärer
Serge Dillier brought movement into a&f – literally. Even though the passionate professional ballet dancer decided to change career and become an IT professional, he never lost his ease and grace. His colleagues quickly realised his huge potential when he started as an IT trainee in 2012. From then on, there was no stopping him – from systems engineer, to Head of Apple Solutions, Head of Applications and member of management.
«a&f provides you with that special something that you need for satisfying your hunger for knowledge. Not one day is the same and there is always something new and exciting to learn. I am proud to be backed by such a top team of employees in whom I can trust entirely.»Serge Dillier
Philippe Lindegger takes on the company’s management as from 2021
All candidates showed potential for taking the baton. But the choice fell on one person in the end: Philippe Lindegger. Before joining a&f, he already worked for a smaller Apple integrator. And he was looking for new challenges. In 2011, an old friend pointed him toward a&f and it quickly became clear that both parties were entirely on the same wavelength.
«My uncle gave me his old PCs when I was just five years old. They still ran on an 8” floppy disk on which you could play Pacman with 8 bit graphics. Some years later, on a 386 Compaq, I manipulated my lap times in an F1 racing game via terminal, driving my father to despair. That is when I realised that IT definitely is exciting. And so a hobby gradually developed into a career and passion.»Philippe Lindegger
Lucky for a&f, as Philippe has been a valuable team member. In January, he is officially taking over the management of a&f systems after an intensive induction period. He has great faith in the future of the company:
«I was hugely impressed by the outstanding knowledge and experience of my colleagues, who are always there for you and do not mind at all passing on their know-how. I still benefit from this daily and value it greatly. This is extremely important and I will do everything I can to ensure that it will continue in the future! a&f is always one step ahead thanks to the tireless commitment of each and every employee, and will remain an innovative partner in the field of the technical production of publications for publishing houses, media service providers / agencies and corporate publishers as well as production and service-based companies. I learn daily from Urs and value greatly that I benefit from his enormous treasure of experience in this business, which spans almost 40 years. Two things are most important to me: one must always act with the required diligence and care; and employees as well as transparent partner and customer relationships are the most valuable assets of the company.»Philippe Lindegger
The choice of successor is not just ideal for Urs Felber:
«Because the overall package is just right with him. Philippe is highly transparent, open and honest. He knows how to handle criticism. He is a born salesman. He has a great way of dealing with people and has also taken on some of my traits in recent months 😉 The perfect choice!»Urs Felber
«I believe that Philippe has that special something, the ability to also say no occasionally and to dig in until he is given the required information. Even if this is not always what one wants to hear, it is exactly what a CEO of a&f needs. I am convinced that Philippe is the right choice and that we will look forward together (with the entire management team) to the next 36 years at a&f.»Serge Dillier
«I look forward with the greatest pleasure to continue the long-standing cooperation – partnership – with Philippe and Serge. We are a brilliant team, complement each other and work in perfect harmony. We are supported by a motivated team. I am proud to be part of the ‘a&f family’.»Stefan Schärer
«As an old and experienced a&f veteran with more than 33 years to my name, I look forward immensely to participate in this generation change. The new CEO, Philippe Lindegger, stood out from the beginning at a&f and has proven his ability time and time again over the years. As a human, he fits perfectly into the company and management team and is a worthy successor of Urs Felber in all respects.»Thomas Portmann
Last but not least…
«I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank all of those involved for this once in a lifetime opportunity and huge trust placed in me. I would like to thank Urs, in particular: I will give my all to the next 36 successful years of this company and am convinced that we will manage it thanks to an outstanding team, great management and brilliant partner-customer relationships. I would like to further sincerely thank my partner and family who are always there for me and who give me great support in every situation. I now look forward to the challenges ahead, exciting times and talks.»Philippe Lindegger
«A huge thank you to my three successors. Thanks to them, the history of a&f will continue in my spirit. For me, the development of my successors is a huge personal milestone. Four years ago, I made the conscious decision to seek my luck in a management buy-out. This way we can guarantee our employees, customers and business partners continuity and business as usual. One thing one must never forget after such a long time is one’s family. My family has had to live without me many times over the past decades and always supported me with great advice and hands-on help. Without this understanding and practical assistance, many things would have been impossible. My wife and two daughters have done a brilliant job and I look forward to being able to spend quality time with my grandchildren.»Urs Felber