Close-Up! A conversation with David Gäbelein [QAM]

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This week we had the pleasure to sit down for a chat with David Gäbelein, Quality Assurance Manager [QAM] at IDT. David has been part of IDT since last spring. He recently took over the QAM function from his predecessor, who retired early this year. A good opportunity for a close-up on quality.

Quality seems to be a very subjective concept. What does quality mean in the corporate world and in relation to your responsibilities as QAM?

It’s very common that people use the term quality in a colloquial way to express what constitutes a thing or a person: value, class, level, condition, feature, or characteristics. When measurable criteria are lacking, quality is a subjective experience that we associate with a product or service. For me, this perception of quality is particularly important in connection with customer satisfaction. Measurably everything might be flawless, the individual experience, however, could be a different one anyway (e.g., negative). This aspect should never be neglected. Only when customers experience their needs as fulfilled, have we reached the highest level of quality. However, most of my work is based on specified requirements and standards. DIN EN ISO 9001 is the basis, as well as the standards of DIN EN ISO 14001, 50001 and 45001, for which IDT is certified as well. Objective, measurable, and exact values are key for the ISO standards. This is the foundation on which everything is built and therefore of central importance for my work, the processes within the company, and our quality mindset at IDT.

Okay, you've already mentioned the ISO standards as the foundation for your work, but what exactly does a QAM do?

I look at the entire company and all business processes, monitor them and set standards to ensure efficient working and consistent quality. Sounds simple, but it is a complex interplay of diverse activities. For example, I guide employees in the implementation of quality standards and policies, then coordinate the updating and further development of our Quality Management [QM]. Knowledge transfer and education about quality management methods is one of my tasks, as is the planning and management of audits. To ensure that everything really does fit together, the processes must be continuously monitored, errors analyzed, and regular performance reports submitted. This also makes me an important partner for the management team.

What is the value of a quality management system?

Not having a quality management system, is like being blindfolded. Maybe you optimize a little here and there, change things on demand, and stir up a lot of dust, but without being able to see clearly, you won’t be able to say if the business has improved or not. The QM creates transparency of processes, real optimization and thus benefits both our customers and us. Within the company, a well-functioning quality management system creates orientation and reliability. In addition, QM offers tools for motivating employees through goals. For me, it's always a great experience when everyone pulls in the same direction and employees feel that their individual contribution is crucial to achieving the goal and success.

How did you become QAM?

By accident. My background is automotive engineering, but the company I joined to finish my thesis had a vacancy in quality management. Pretty much from one day to the next I was responsible for the entire QM system and a team of 16 employees. I was thrown in at the deep end, and the first few years were really tough. As a QA manager, you’re always in the line of fire—it’s my job to constantly point out other people’s mistakes, and most people don’t like to face their shortcomings. That's why they often “shoot back” at the ever-nagging QAM. Let’s say I had to grow a thick skin very quickly. After two years, however, I decided that I would like to continue doing exactly this job in the future.

What do you especially like about your job?

As a QAM, I really get insight into everything and see the entire inner workings of IDT. I not only look at processes and procedures, but can also change them and thus help to make the company more efficient and more successful—that is a very rewarding job. And because I'm not just doing quality management to successfully pass audits, I set the focus specifically to bring about real changes.

I also enjoy working with people, whether they are employees, auditors, customers, or our management. For me, it’s always a matter of guiding employees so that they can accept suggestions for improvement, are open to learning and changing, and recognize the benefits for themselves. An integrated management system is not maintained and developed for the auditor. It serves the continuous improvement of the company’s processes and thus everyone. Auditors and customers have their own expectations and needs, and management’s top priority is the profitability of the company. I have to keep each of these groups in mind. This requires people's skills and patience. I like working between these different poles and find the human aspect particularly gratifying.

Which challenges do you see ahead?

I believe that we are well-equipped for the requirements that customers place on us and that we must meet for our ISO certifications. Sustainability will certainly be a topic that will take up more space in the future. But here, too, we are already working very progressively and in line with current standards. Otherwise, I am looking forward to bringing our different locations in sync. That is a very challenging task in a company that is planning further growth.