“Being Aware that Anything Can Happen”


The pandemic is followed by the supply chain crisis, while Russia's attack on Ukraine is followed by the energy crisis. And the challenges are not getting any less. Quite the opposite, in fact. General Othmar Commenda on risks and how society, governments and industries can handle them.

Since Othmar Commenda, Chief of Staff of the Austrian Federal Army from 2013 to 2018, retired from active duty, he has avoided making statements in public. If you're no longer part of the game, it’s no help commenting on the game from the sidelines, he says. For PALFINGER, the General makes an exception and shares his thoughts on the current risk factors and what it takes to handle them successfully. He starts by taking stock of the current risk situation: “For Europe, migration is one of the biggest challenges of the future. We have seen the world’s population develop over many years and have to acknowledge that populations are increasing in countries that are becoming poorer and poorer, in places where the basic constructs for living are missing. In Africa alone, millions of people are moving away from many hardships — economic, climatic and political. We are not well prepared for this. We have not learned anything from the refugee crisis in 2015. That is a real challenge. The other thing is that in recent years we have not managed to reduce our dependence on energy and resources that Europe does not have.


The Ukraine war has made this unmistakably clear – without it, there would still not have been a single step to reduce these dependencies. And the cyber war, which takes place every day and causes companies and economies billions in losses, is another massive challenge. The current risk situation is very diverse.”

Living at the limit

The General recognizes the problem that there is barely any awareness of the very different types of threat. At the same time he is convinced that they can be dealt with — as long as we are prepared for them: “Let's take this now somewhat worn-out term ‘blackout’ as an example. I'm a bit tired of this topic, but in the end, it's a threat that could arise at any minute. A few years ago, the news magazine DER SPIEGEL reported how Europe almost tumbled into a mega blackout had it not been prevented by clever, efficient technicians and engineers. Europe had been lucky. If we imagine what a blackout would be like, there are ways to lessen the impact. By preparing ourselves and facing the fact that we can't always live at the limit. We need reserves. For example, we can't lower the capacity of the healthcare system to cover only average daily needs. We need to be able to cover peak demand, and exceptional peak demand at that.”

A concept for crises

What is missing, he states, is the willingness to deal with these issues and all the consequences. Things were different back in the day, and General Commenda sees no reason why they shouldn't fall back on a successful concept from the 1970s and adapt it to today's challenges: “There was something Austria had that was brilliant. It was comprehensive national defense. The term may no longer sound attractive today. But there were four pillars, the first being the psychological defense of the country. Being aware that anything can happen. It doesn't have to be a war; it could be any number of crises. The second is national economic defense, which ensured that vital products and infrastructure are available and secured. The third is national military defense. And the fourth is civil defense, i.e. the protection of the population, which again has nothing to do with armed intervention. In the end, it is these pillars that we are missing today.”

Build up reserves in good time

He believes that it is important to think and plan more long-term in all areas: “The Western world, in particular Europe, is focused on purely economic efficiency. The bottom line is that everything has to be profitable, everything has to be as cheap as possible, everything has to be there as quickly as possible. For too long, nobody has thought about what happens if the supply chain is interrupted. Nothing is kept in stock anymore. In other areas, things are no longer manufactured locally, such as semiconductors or medicines. In addition to critical infrastructure, there are also critical products. Once they have been identified, we have to start making them again. We have to make sure that we have some breathing space here and are not constantly at the limit. This means that it is a matter of creating reserves that help bridge a specific period of time during a crisis. The conclusion is not very attractive: Security is not necessarily profitable.”

Develop an overall strategy

According to the former Chief of Staff, if we want to be able to bridge crisis situations and become resilient, there is no way past setting up reserves and warehouses. And that includes all players: government, society and companies: “For financial experts, it is of course pure madness if five percent of capital is tied up in this way. But if we can face the challenge — and we do know we can do something about it — then we have to be prepared to invest. Money, resources, personnel. We need qualified personnel, we need experts who know what to do in an emergency. And we need to revive our knowledge. After all, there are enough clever people who are able to show us what is needed. Above all, we must honestly address the potential threat scenarios and develop an overall strategy together. It is an investment that definitely pays off.”

About Othmar Commenda: He began his career in the Austrian Army in 1975; in addition to his general staff training, he completed training at the United States Army War College and at the Bundeswehr Command and Staff College. Active on the staff of the Minister of Defense from 2001, Commenda was appointed Chief of Staff in 2013. In 2018, General Commenda retired from active duty.

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How PALFINGER proactively minimizes risks

Forward planning: Multiple sourcing, proactive warehousing and strategic partnerships successfully even out fluctuations in the internal and external supply chain.

Strategic partnerships

PALFINGER works in partnership with over 7,000 suppliers, around 700 of which are defined as strategic suppliers. Delivery and quality assurance contracts have been drawn up with them that take into account cost effectiveness, product, the environment, and social aspects. Long-term contracts define prices, make annual purchase quantities variable and ensure continuous supply.

Local for local

PALFINGER generally pursues a double or multiple sourcing strategy for its suppliers. To compensate for specific regional characteristics, there is now more focus on attracting suppliers from different regions. With its “local for local” procurement strategy, PALFINGER is improving its environmental footprint and contributing to local value creation, making itself more independent of global supply chains.

Acute measures: With its task forces, PALFINGER has created a flexible and efficient instrument that ensures ongoing operations during crises and works productively to solve each challenge.

  • Cyberattack Task Force: Secures data and ensures communication and as a consequence production, like during the cyberattack on PALFINGER's IT systems in 2021.
  • Covid-19 Task Force: Focuses on employee health and safety, ensuring production and liquidity
  •  Supply Chain Management Task Force: Ensures the best possible supply to PALFINGER production sites
  • Gas Emergency Readiness Task Force: Continuously monitors the gas and energy situation, preparing purpose-specific emergency plans for blackout scenarios and restricted energy supplies.