Interview with Fotis Panteliadis, managing partner with KENOTOM
Kenotom is a privately owned embedded systems engineering company. It was established in 2014 by the two cofounders Fotis Panteliadis and Tilemachos Matiakis, while, Panagiotis Zapartas, Konstantinos Lamaris, and Vasileios Vasilikos joined the management team during the next 2 years. Now Kenotom employs approximately 150 employees, with the majority of them, i.e. around 125, being highly qualified engineers. The company is currently focusing on the automotive industry with customers primarily established in central Europe. We talked with Fotis Panteliadis managing partner of Kenotom. Here’s what he told us.
Tell us a few things about Kenotom. How did it all start and what exactly does the company offer?
Kenotom’s expertise is embedded systems engineering, a term that is often used interchangeably with “smart electronics”. Kenotom mainly focuses on the automotive industry but embedded systems are also used in consumer electronics, aviation, space industry, biomedical applications, power electronics, etc.
Engineering for embedded systems typically involves electronics design, firmware (hardware-near drivers), and application software (system control/algorithms etc). Mechanical engineering and robotics are applicable also to mechatronic applications (electromechanical systems e.g. automatic gearboxes, torque differentials, robotic arms etc.). The higher the requirements for the robustness of the end-product are, the more rigorous the quality control has to be before the final delivery and release of the product.
Each modern vehicle comes with numerous specialized electronic devices called ECUs (electronic control units) that are responsible for various critical functions in the car such as the ABS system, airbag control, cockpit controls, and engine control. Automotive ECUs are required to work reliably for many years and in diverse conditions (weather, terrain, driving style, etc.). Therefore, a significant amount of domain specifications & standards is applied and strict processes are followed to provide a product that meets high standards to the end-customer, the vehicle owner.
Car manufacturers do not engineer & produce the ECUs for their various models. Instead, the ECUs are designed, implemented, and mass-manufactured by highly specialized companies – the so-called automotive electronics suppliers. These are Kenotom’s customers. Kenotom provides R&D engineering services in various ECU programs for various automotive electronics suppliers. Our engineers are mostly assigned to embedded SW engineering activities but many additional roles are represented in the company’s portfolio: simulations, hardware design, requirements management, system architecture, test & verification engineering, functional safety management, and so on.
Apart from automotive applications, Kenotom has participated in customer programs for industry 4.0, aviation, robotics, and the medical industry, always with similar hardware and software capacities.
Tell us a little more about your offering and value proposition. What differentiates you from the rest of the industry? Which are your customers?
Trust is everything in our business and Kenotom has so far proven to be a trustworthy partner. Therefore, new partnerships and collaboration become easier every year. By now, Kenotom is fairly known to the automotive ECU market, especially in the german-speaking part of it.
From a technical perspective, Kenotom specializes in automotive e-mobility ECUs, which is a currently booming field. This has contributed significantly to the recent growth of Kenotom. Furthermore, our positioning in Greece gives us a much appreciated cultural and geographic proximity with our customers.
But the most important success factor is the skills and reliability of our engineers. Like every service-oriented entity, the quality of Kenotom directly equals the quality of its’ personnel. Despite the lack of experienced automotive systems engineers in Greece, Kenotom has managed to build an advantage compared to the competition. We have excellent cooperation with many universities, and we continuously improve our onboarding training program for new personnel. In addition, Kenotom shares a unique cooperative culture and solidarity that drives motivation, self-development, and engagement.
Kenotom’s customers are large companies in the German-speaking parts of the EU (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) and our aspiration is to keep growing with them and strategically expand our customer base with other selected companies.
Our strategy does not focus on growing fast. Excellence comes first, and growth follows – we believe. If we could compare it to athletics, Kenotom is not a sprinter; she is a marathon runner!
What would you consider having been your biggest challenges so far?
Kenotom has encountered three major challenges so far, and managed to face them successfully: (1) a major restructuring within our most significant customer during the first years (2) the COVID-19 pandemic, and (3) establishing and maintaining the required amount of processes and organization in an extremely rapidly growing and constantly evolving company.
In all cases, open communication within our team and our customers, as well as fast and effective decision making allowed us to overcome the difficulties. For example, being an organization that handles extremely sensitive information and carries important related certifications (information security management systems), Kenotom has not established home-office operations at a large scale.
Kenotom nevertheless toggled into 90% of teleworking in just two days. This ran very smoothly, especially taking into account that we adapted and generated new policies – kept records of all transported assets – notified customers, and concluded together to a mutually agreed home-office scheme.
One challenge yet to accomplish is to continue growing in a sustainable fashion and realize our long-term vision to build an excellence center in Thessaloniki. This is truly a journey.
What are the biggest lessons learned from your journey so far?
Kenotom is a young company, the whole team learns each and every day. One important lesson is that it is beneficial to invest time and effort into transforming from a person-based team – into a process-oriented organization. This is a continuous task, that requires dedicated efforts. But it has proven to be a good choice, setting up the basis for most of our technical achievements so far and the ones we hope for in the future.
Also, attention to detail and thoroughness are key factors for building trust relationships with our customers.
The most important realization is that the value of the company equals the quality of our engineers. Kenotom strives to offer the best possible working conditions– so that the motivation to perform develops naturally in our teams.