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Germany: the 10 keys to successful family businesses

They represent 95% of German SMES and have been fairly resilient to the financial crisis. Investigation on the springs of a success story. How to do it as we

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Germany: the 10 keys to successful family businesses

They represent 95% of German SMES and have been fairly resilient to the financial crisis. Investigation on the springs of a success story.

How to do it as well as our neighbors beyond the Rhine ? In recent months, the French have tried to solve this puzzle. And even if Angela Merkel expressed support for a minimum wage that is widespread in Germany, this does not mean that family businesses, the French will find themselves on equal terms with their counterparts in germany. Because a combination of ten key factors to explain their success.

1. The bet of the quality and specialization

In Germany, when a family business has found a profitable niche, it is often preferred not to diversify in order to avoid taking unnecessary risks. The family Schwanhäusser, who created the célébrissimes highlighters, Stabilo, continues to manufacture exclusively crayons and markers to color. To justify their price often high, SMES also ensure to never make concession on the quality of their products and invest in R&D, on average 3.25% of their income, a rate far higher than the 2 % recommended by Brussels. Rather effective : 1 307 German SMES are world leaders in their activity, compared to just 75 in France. When they diversify, these family businesses remain close to their core business. Miele offers a dishwasher or refrigerator to the professionals, and Playmobil uses her experience in the molding of the plastic for sell injection machines to packaging manufacturers.

The strike force of German SMES in six key figures

99 % of German companies are SMES. They generate 39 % of the overall turnover of the country's businesses and employ 14 million workers (61 % of the active population).
95 % of the SMES are family companies.
4 400 companies, of which more than 50% of the shares are held by the founding family, with a turnover of more than 50 million euros per year.
1307. This is the number of German SMES and global leaders in their activity against only 75 in France.
Germany has 1.5 million apprentices, compared to 600 000 in France.
3,25 % of the annual income of the family companies are invested in R&D.

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2. Of social relations as "flexible"

Despite the crisis, family firms in germany were for the most part refused to dismiss part of their staff in negotiating agreements with their employees. "When I saw my backlog be reduced like skin of sorrow, in 2009, I asked my ten employees from taking their vacations in advance," says Thomas Vogl, the boss of a printing company munich. As the cases are not spread very fast, in agreement with my employees, I have reduced their schedules by dropping all their income. "Ditto for BMW, which has committed to hire 3,000 people having signed an agreement with the trade union IG Metall, with flexibility according to market conditions.

3. A transfer of business scheduled at the earliest

most German entrepreneurs want to pass their company on to their children, also the issues of succession are very early and meticulously planned. The designated heir to take up the torch must have the entrepreneurial spirit, and an academic background is not mandatory. The "heirs" are often invited by their parents to make their weapons in outside companies. "It is good to work as a salaried employee the "normal" and not as "son of" or as "junior," ", summarises Ralf Wolter, who went by BSH and Adidas before taking over the estate of his father at the head of Finn Comfort, a manufacturer of shoes top of the range. The other descendants are generally disinterested by the contractual mechanisms of implementation in a collective and foundation with or without the right to vote in the board of directors, in order to preserve unity of direction and of not diluting shareholders.

4. Devices learning and alternation well-rounded

Our neighbor has three times more young people trained in alternating than in France. "The system of education and training German follows the market demand, points out Isabelle Bourgeois, a lecturer at the university of Cergy-Pontoise. The mission of the school is to prepare for employment. A young German chooses, therefore, not an industry sanctioned by a diploma, but a profession. And learning is the pathway to enter into the professional life, with many gateways to higher skills, that they should be exempted by way of academic or acquired through continuous training in the workplace. "The selection of candidates to the learning is carried out by the companies, which are then in the professional schools with which they work. These are financed by the Länder. This dual training is "an excellent start in the professional life," judge Loert de Riese-Meyer, who takes care of the 170 apprentices that the family group Henkel recruits each year. "We prefer to train our own junior, to teach them our constant concern for quality," says Sandra Fichtl, who works for Ernst & König, a sub-contractor in the automotive industry. In Germany, 60 % of the youth apprentices are hired by the companywho trained them. A crucial asset in a Germany that is aging, where, as pointed out by Dorothee Strunz, patron saint of Lamilux (manufacture of windows), " there has, since 2010, more than places of learning that young people available ".

5. Exporters without complex

Unlike in France, the bosses of German companies, however modest they may be, do not hesitate to launch to the international. SMES generate nearly 19 % of exports, according to the federal ministry of the Economy, with a growth of 29.5% from 2000 to 2010. They adopt roughly the same approach to find a reliable local partner and be faithful. "We start by renting a booth in the largest lounge in the local shoes," says Bernd Hillen, the director of sales at Birkenstock. We sign then of the distribution contracts with shops located on site and analyze parallel applications partnership proposed by importers. Our goal is to find a company with which we can collaborate on the long term and give him a lot of autonomy. "

6. Products relocated stamped "made in Germany"

This is a topic that is almost taboo in Germany, and yet it is one of the keys to success in the international family business of respectable size. To get abroad of major contracts, it is necessary to propose attractive prices. But how to compete with rivals with low-cost products, while keeping its image made in Germany ? Our neighbors have found an answer to a very pragmatic outsourcing a large part of their production, with the German label. To begin with, car manufacturers and their sub-contractors. Cars made up to 90 % of spare parts of foreign origin can thus be considered to be German if they are assembled in the country. Thus, the drivers of the BMW X5 doesn't suspect that they will roll in reality in an all-terrain... american. In the Face of the european Commission, Berlin is ready to fight tooth and nail to defend its interests in this area.

7. Controlled growth

To remain independent vis-à-vis investors and bankers, small family businesses favour a growth-weighted, but regular. "We have never recorded a decrease in turnover in our history, but we have never not posted double-digit growth ", says Ralf Wolter. To avoid growing too fast, or to not depend on a single customer, some companies prefer to refuse a large order, such Christian Bol-lin, boss of Armaturenfabrik, a company of industrial valves : "No company should generate more than 10 % of our revenues, summarizes its executive director, Dagmar Bollin-Flade. If you lose 10 % of your turnover, you will not be happy, but it will not be dramatic. But a decline of 20 %, it is more severe. "

8. Extensive co-operation despite the competition

In a situation of rivalry, SMES in addition to-Rhine, however, can combine to appeal to customers demanding or lobbying the authorities. "In order to compete globally, more than 250 000 German companies, working in close to 45 bran ches of different activities, joined 400 business associations, calculates Reinhart W. Wettmann, author of a study of the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung. The members of these groups remain autonomous, but can associate to, much like large companies. "These partnerships sometimes go far beyond the usual duties met by the employers' federations. "The cooperation between the companies may be driven by separate legal entities in areas such as purchasing, marketing, logistics, it solutions and telecommunications, the commission, the training or the funding," adds Reinhart W. Wettmann.

9. A banking system for small business

The banking system decentralized in our neighbour to the advantage of family businesses who work together with the mutual banks, local savings banks and the regional banks. Approximately 80 % of the SMES get their funding from the institution with which they have been working together since several decades. Thanks to these good relations, the German SMES have done very little suffered from the liquidity crisis in 2009. Nearly half of them sponsored, it is true, their investments out of their own funds, and they are just 31 % to take out a bank credit to develop.

10. A great deal of caution with respect to investors

success attracts investors. SMES German family are very courted by the funds in seeking to enter their capital. But they resist : "We know very well that if we gave them the keys to the company, they would start by relocating a large part of our production, acknowledges Ralf Wolter (Finn Comfort, 700 employees). And then, what would we do after the sale ? We would have a lot of money, but for what ? "The pragmatism of the German is not a myth.

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