Erick Thürmer: Exponential Innovation is Risky and Spiritual

Erick Thürmer
Nov 11, 2019

Erick Thürmer is the co-founder of TwentySeven and CEO of Thürmer Tools, the Danish company that patented the design of thread cutting tools and has produced specialized tools for more than a century. As you enter the lobby and see Erick’s portrait as the fourth generation of Thürmer leadership, you could assume that Erick is the stuffy and traditional type of CEO. You’d be wrong.Erick’s dynamic leadership is rocketing this legacy company into the future. Erick has been called Mr. Disruption, Rock Star CEO, and a purpose-driven futurist. Erick contributed this post to talk about his SU journey, as well as his iconic family history, vision for the future, and leadership philosophy. My great-grandfather founded Thürmer Tools and patented the design of the fastener thread in 1898. He was an original visionary and I’m proud to continue his disruptive work at Thürmer. Thürmer is famous for designing the fasteners in the Eiffel Tower, but also infamous for supplying the fasteners in the Titanic. People often overlook the daring it takes to be a visionary. You have to do things that are unpopular, and you won’t always win. But the alternative—a company, or even a life of stagnation—keeps me motivated to take those risks necessary to become a visionary. I think Thürmer and Singularity University are two organizations that understand what it means to disrupt and innovate, and that’s why I’m proud to represent both.

Leveraging family tradition and SU to bring Thürmer Tools into the future

My father took over as head of Thürmer at 22 years old and made it a global manufacturing leader. He sold the company in 1989 when the workers’ unions were gaining traction in Scandinavia, meaning the business left the family for a time. In 2003, my wife and I decided to reenter the business as part of a buyback and I took over as CEO.Following in my great-grandfather’s footsteps, I quickly realized the importance of holding patents for emergent sectors of the industry. We patented the designs for numerous 3D printed threading and fastening tools, in anticipation of the impending shift to 3D production. This fastener market is worth about $17 billion annually, and I want to be sure that Thürmer is on the forefront of innovation. Before 2027, I project that more than 10% of all worldwide manufacturing production will be done with 3D printing, and that’s worth about $160 trillion in transactions. I also brought production back from China to Denmark because I believe in a future of more localized, sustainable production.A few years after the buyback, my wife encouraged me to apply to the Singularity University Executive Program to help me expand innovation and cultivate exponential thinking as a leader in the company. In my first round applying, I was actually denied, which I’ll admit kind of made me sad, but speaks well to the level of people who attend SU programs. After I expanded upon my perspective around a future of sustainable, localized manufacturing guided by AI and executed by 3D printing, I was invited to the program quickly with a couple of apologies.My first vacation as CEO of Thürmer was actually the trip to San Francisco for the SU Executive Program. I knew that the group would be talented, but I was extremely impressed by the experience and openness I found in the community. It was the first time I found a family of people that thought as I did. It helped me to feel more secure in my own abilities and to stop second-guessing myself all the time. My week at the Executive Program gave me the motivation I needed to expand the business into two additional innovative business units adjacent to the legacy Thürmer Brand. The connections I made through SU provided me the initial loan for this expansion, which, I’ll admit, could have been more important than the motivation.

3D Printing

Leading exponentially and purposefully

Because of our history and size, I understood that Thürmer would continue to experience linear growth. But was not complacent with steady growth—I wanted to see exponential change. After my week in San Francisco, I returned home to Denmark and made some pretty radical changes. I fired about a quarter of the workforce, the entire board, and then hired back an all-female board. We had been trying for a long time to get more women into our leadership, which was hard to do in manufacturing, but I decided to simplify the decision and just appoint only women. I think having masculinity and femininity working together creates an interesting dance; it creates new spaces and ideas. I also think it creates money, and with money we have runway to make real change in the industry and the world.I also took a bit of a spiritual journey. I went on a business leaders’ retreat for a few days in the desert and jungle with various company executives. One night, we drank a transformative tea and I had a few deep, difficult revelations. I decided that I wanted to reduce my ego, to humble myself. It has been a hard adjustment to make and maintain. My wife and I adjusted our salaries to be the lowest in the company to demonstrate that our commitment to purpose outweighed our commitment to personal profit. We also recently appointed a spiritual guide as the head of our board to help us stay purposeful in everything we do.Our purpose-driven approach has changed a lot at the company. We don’t just talk about purpose and spirit by sitting at round tables, we’re taking action. For example, recently we created a silencer for assault rifles and helicopters, which obviously has implications for the world outside of our offices. When I came to the meeting about the silencer, our all-women board immediately shot the product down (get it?). Our purpose-driven head of the board helped us decide to patent the silencer and then put the patent in a drawer and forget about it so that others cannot use it. This shift away from a profit-first mindset has helped us set people, ideas, and creativity as our top priorities. We are very aware of the fact that the party stops if we’re not making money, but it’s no longer our number one motivator.I am committed to the belief that risk is necessary to achieve progress and to bring disruption to any industry—especially to a century-old, family-operated manufacturing business. I appreciate SU’s curriculum and community because it encourages risk and provides support to entrepreneurs as they take those risks. I am now a part of the Singularity University Faculty and I love having the opportunity to share my passion for all things exponential. Through SU’s Family Programs, I am starting to involve my family and children more in the world of innovation and technology. I have always worked with my father and my wife, and it’s a powerful thing to interact professionally across generations. I think our children will need even more education than my own generation, so I’m excited that SU can be a source of knowledge for them early on in their lives.I am proud of the evolution of Thürmer Tools and of our expansion into innovative markets and 3D production. And I’m grateful to Singularity University programming and community for helping me explore and realize our innovative potential at Thürmer. But I know it doesn’t stop here. My vision is to set an example for the small and mid-sized business leader. I want to show other SME leaders that exponential innovation is possible and that disruption can come from smaller companies. SMEs are the backbone of most of the Western world’s economy, and they need more access to the capital, knowledge, and technology necessary to innovate. I want Thürmer Tools to become a beacon of what is possible, and I want to continue to change the industry as we know it.Erick is a member of the Singularity University Faculty in the area of digital manufacturing whose SU journey began with the Executive Program. We regularly feature posts from alumni and community members who share their perspectives and experiences. To learn more about Erick’s fascinating journey and unique leadership philosophy, check out his book, “Spiritual CEO, Thürmer in 3D,” which was published in August 2019, and is now the third most sold book in Scandinavia.