In Profile: Nicolas Hess

Nicolas Hess

Nicolas Hess

MSc International Management/CEMS '12

Working as a consultant with Deloitte – and during a project in India – Nicolas Hess came across technology that led to him co-founding intelligent automation solutions company Roboyo, which is now present in 15 countries and employs 600 people worldwide. Nicolas was also nominated for CEMS Alumni of the Year 2022 in the mid-career category for his success with Roboyo.

About Nicolas Hess

Tell us about your education and early career.

After completing my bachelor’s degree in science, business administration and economics in the University of Passau I wanted to do a master’s programme abroad and found UCD and all of its great programmes. I was particularly interested in international topics because I had spent a year in Argentina after high school in Germany. So I opted for the CEMS international management master’s at Smurfit, with a semester in Esade, Barcelona. It was a really great experience and I met a lot of good people through it.

After university I started at Deloitte in Switzerland as a management consultant. During my time there I was working on a shared services optimisation project in India. One of the other companies on the project was analysing processes for robotic process automation (RPA) – it was the first time I had come into contact with this technology. I talked to the guys from that company to find out more and they explained that it allowed automation of manual repetitive tasks. It’s not AI related but more like automating tasks that recur in manual and very mundane work. It was quite a new technology in the sense of how it was set up. I thought it sounded very future oriented, fitted very well into the digital transformation space, and could potentially be something every company could benefit from. I spoke to a Deloitte colleague and suggested we do something in this area ourselves. And I knew a friend I’d studied with in Passau would be the perfect CTO. We thought a bit about it, thought a bit more and then jumped into the cold water and set up Roboyo with zero customers, zero money and zero income.

We thought we’d focus on mid cap companies as potential customers as we were sure the bigger companies would only work with Deloitte and Accenture. But our first customer was Europe’s biggest construction company; the second was Randstad; and the third one was Volkswagen Financial Services. That made us think that maybe the big companies were also fed up working with the big consultancies because they don’t provide this in-depth knowledge and experience around specific niche topics. Since then we’ve only worked with Fortune 2000 companies. Today we work in the areas of robotic process automation, intelligent document processing, conversational AI, process mining and low code app development.

What is your current role and what does it involve?

I am chief executive at Roboyo and based in Nuremberg. We have been doubling in size each year and are now present in 15 countries and have more than 600 employees so there’s a lot more complexity to leading the company than at the beginning.

My responsibilities include setting our strategic goals together with the leadership team. I also look after all our culture – it’s important to us that we don’t become an Accenture or Deloitte with just numbers and no real company culture. And I look after our acquisitions – we bought some companies last year and are continuing to do that this year – and some key account relationships.

Has there been a defining moment in your career?

I had only been working in Deloitte for three and a half years when we set up Roboyo and I hadn’t specifically been looking for an opportunity to have my own company. Before I went to India I had applied for three jobs. They were all cool jobs and all of them gave me a verbal okay and then at the last minute everybody cancelled for some crazy reason. I was in India when I heard the third one had fallen through. I was very disappointed but in the end it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I would say very cooperative. We are very close and a very good group. We give a lot of freedom to the people who have responsibility and for me that’s key – they are in the position because I trust them and they’re very smart people. I do not want to interfere with their decisions if it is in the frame of the strategy where we want to go. Although our leadership team is dispersed around the world – we’re not sitting in the same office – we are super close.

What motivates you?

Different things. On one side I find the platform we built as a company over the last number of years so interesting because we took a lot of steps quite early compared to our competitors, like being international and being a very early mover in this fast developing market.

We’re still growing 100% each year. We have a great bunch of people and we’re very hungry for doing more and just being ahead in the automation area. I’m also really excited by the whole market opportunity. We don’t really see an end to it. The market growth is so fast because there are so many new technologies that we can apply in this whole area of process automation. It’s basically valuable to every customer, every company out there.

Who or what has influenced or inspired you?

I think it sounds a bit clichéd but we have so many cool people working at Roboyo – for me it’s very inspiring now to be at the front of such an organisation with so many different people with lots of experience and such a great mindset.

Is ongoing learning important to you?

Yes, definitely. I love the day-to-day stuff I learn about things I don’t know, never saw or worked in before. Formal learning is also important. I did a programme last year at Harvard Business School around leading professional services firms. I’m always interested in getting some external input, not only via courses like this but also through some of my mentors. There’s so much I don’t know.

What career advice would you give?

At Roboyo, having the right mindset is the most important thing. Past experience is of course important but I value most the mindset of wanting to learn and to push yourself more. In Roboyo, the people with the fastest and greatest careers are those who may at some point have had less technical knowledge or specific knowledge about the work they do but have the right mindset to ask how they can learn something they don’t know yet, or how can they be of maximum value to the customer. That’s all stuff that’s very different to learning just out of text books or just being part of a big corporation. The spirit of how you do something is very important.

You can learn this mindset if you look out proactively for the right mentors or bosses. If you’re in the first job of your career, for example, I would recommend looking out for the people you would like to work under. Are they people who motivate you to go to the next level or people who just want you to do your job and not think outside of this? It’s difficult to find this out in a first job interview but I think the whole company culture is a good indicator of how this is valued. So it is something you can learn, but it has to come proactively from you. It’s not something you can rely on others to bring out of you.

What is your biggest achievement to date?

It’s the whole journey of Roboyo. I never would have thought we would get this far and never thought that big.

What are your future plans?

I’m really interested to see if we can be number one in the process automation market in the future. Can we be this counterparty to the big consulting firms and also on a global level with a big impact? I think that would be super interesting to see – and that’s what we’re about to find out.

Insight Track

How has your degree benefited your career and personal life?
I met so many great people with whom I am still in contact today; actually several of them working in Roboyo. The network I got through the degree was great!

What is your fondest memory from your time in UCD Smurfit School?
Learning in a complete different environment, different language and culture was very enriching for me. Meeting our class and sharing a time of our life together has been very special.

How important is your UCD alumni network to you?
Very important on a personal level as I have many friends who are part of it. For work, it is important too as we are always looking for great talent and have several UCD alumni on board at Roboyo.

What are your main interests outside work?
As I don’t have much free time I try to spend as much of it with my two kids and wife.

What team do you support?
1.FC Nuremberg – I am used to pain.

What is your favourite place in the world to visit and why?
I found the waterfalls of Iguazu one of the coolest places I visited. Just majestic!

Where is home?
I am based in Nuremberg, Germany.

What charities or causes are closest to your heart?

We as a family support different charities. Two are very special to us; one in the Philippines is helping children who live on the waste dump of Manila to get a safe home and education; another in Uganda gives a loving home to orphans.

April 2023