In 2022, Visable is celebrating two anniversaries: 90 years of wlw and 40 years of europages. And while both brands in the B2B platform provider’s portfolio come with distinct histories, Peter F. Schmid has been a central figure in guiding them towards a common future. In our interview, the CEO reflects on almost a century’s worth of B2B expertise and tells us what it took to turn a traditional publishing house into a pan-European tech company.
Mr. Schmid, you are the CEO of a company with a 90-year history. Do you still feel connected to its roots?
Very much so. There is a very simple idea at the heart of everything we do: To bring together purchasers and suppliers. And while this mission has grown in ambition and scope, it has remained the same at its core. From our humble beginnings as a publisher of printed company directories to the state-of-the-art online B2B platforms that we offer our customers and users today.
Speaking of technology throughout the years: “Wer liefert was?” started out as a publishing house. EUROPAGES also was originally conceived as a printed company directory. Today, Visable is an online company. What were some of the milestones along the way?
In 1932 we published the first company directories at the Leipzig Trade fair – aptly titled “Wer liefert was?”. Those catalogues soon became a mainstay in German purchasers’ everyday work. From there it quickly developed. To make supplier information accessible to purchasers, the “Wer liefert was?” publishing house was always at the forefront of innovation, always adapting to the technologies available at the time: In the 70s, we offered the directories on Microfiche – an almost forgotten technology. In the late 80s “Wer liefert was?” was published on CD-ROM. After its foundation in ’82, europages followed a very similar trajectory for the French market, always adapting to the latest technologies. In 1995 both companies went online – three years befo re Google, I might add [laughs]. Today, europages and wlw are the leading B2Bplatforms in Europe.
You are fast approaching your ten-year anniversary at the company as well. Some pivotal years for the company’s direction and overall success. How has the company changed in the past decade?
I think every major change begins with culture. When I first started out at “Wer liefert was?”, the culture was nowhere near what I was used to from the agile nature of the tech companies .
There was an enormous distance between the individual hierarchical levels. The boss was put on a pedestal, employees only spoke when they were asked. This was never my philosophy, because I believe that progress is nurtured through new impulses.
And these can and should come from every conceivable direction. At our German and French locations I introduced the informal form of address because it removes distance in daily exchanges and closes perceived gaps between management and staff.
Visable also adapted its platforms to changing needs. Recent technological developments include, for example, the "Message Centre", which centralises all communication between purchasers and suppliers on the platform and thus simplifies the entire purchasing process. allows users to issue and answer enquiries and exchange files. The "Visable App" enables suppliers to manage their company profiles as well as buyer enquiries on their mobile phones. Together with the wlw app for professional buyers, Visable thus offers its two core target groups better mobile user-friendliness and greater efficiency in business initiation. Thanks to europages` "Visitor Profiler" and wlw's profile visitor statistics, it is possible to find out at any time who has visited one's own company profile, including contact details. This provides sales (and marketing) with valuable information for lead generation.