Next generation of German entrepreneurs enter scene | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 07.10.2012
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Next generation of German entrepreneurs enter scene

German sons and daughters of entrepreneurs are self-confident heirs, according to a new study. They want to take on responsibility, they're ambitious, they focus on innovation and on a team-oriented leadership style.

More than any other group, the next generation of German family business owners will shape the German economy and society of tomorrow - but for now, the sons and daughters of family business owners are keeping a low profile. Researchers from the Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen tried to shed some light on the question of who members of the next generation of leaders are. Together with the business monthly "Impulse" and the Foundation for Family Businesses, the researchers polled 235 potential family business successors between the ages of 16 and 35 anonymously about their opinions and values.

The first result: The days of born "heirs to the throne" are over. The young men and women have their own demands and ideas they want to pursue. They don't necessarily simply follow the orders of their "patriarchs" any more.

Most of Germany's young future entrepreneurs show a high interest in politics, but only few want to become active in the field themselves. More than a third are even convinced politicians are only interested in power, influence and money. A mere 15 percent said they could imagine a professional future in politics for themselves. The vast majority vote for liberal-conservative parties. But over the last few years, an increasing number have abandoned the free-market liberal FDP, which has traditionally called itself the party for the middle class.

Responsibility in parents' firm

Some 60 percent of the survey's participants planned to take over as successors in their own family businesses; only 13 percent have other plans. A quarter of participants have not made a decision yet. As a professional alternative to succession, more than 80 percent say they would want to start their own company or be employed in a small or medium-sized business.

Professor Reinhard Prügl, from Zeppelin University Friedrichshafen (picture: Zeppelin University/ZU)

Reinhard Prügl from Zeppelin University, Friedrichshafen

The scientific leader of the study, Reinhard Prügl, said entrepreneurs' children have clear-cut strategic priorities.

"In their role as successors they focus on growth and innovation," said Prügl, a professor at the Friedrichshafen-based Institute for Family Businesses (FIF) at Zeppelin University. "The next generation favors a very team-oriented leadership style."

The majority of study participants said company management should be passed on to family members. But they are also open to getting external managers on board, Prügl told DW, "Mostly because they can imagine running the company in teams." Yet, the those polled were also convinced that the company is stronger if the family is actively involved, he added.

The potential successors also said they want to choose their jobs themselves. About 60 percent said they don't want their own education to be shaped to fit the company's needs. And should they decide to start their own business they expect their parents' full support, said Prügl.

"The parents find it very important that their sons and daughters find a job they enjoy," he said. "Of course, they can take over in the family business, but they can just as well start their own business."

Backbone of German economy

The middle class has traditionally been the backbone of the German economic engine. More than 95 percent of all German companies are family businesses, according to the Federal Association of German entrepreneurs (BDI). Among the biggest and most well-known German family businesses count carmakers Volkswagen and BMW, as well as trading group Metro and discount supermarket chain Aldi.

The terms family business and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are often used interchangeably. And indeed, many small and medium-sized companies are run by families. But while there are quantitative limits to SMEs, family businesses are only characterized by the way property and management structures are organized and have no limit in size.

In 2011, family businesses accounted for 41.5 percent of German business volume and employed more than half of all German workers who are subject to social insurance contributions.

Take over responsibility for actions and life

According to the study by Zeppelin University, the next generation of German family business owners want to have responsibility for their actions and their lives themselves, they want to have a partner they trust and good friends who appreciate and accept them. Those are the most important values, according to the study. Being hardworking and ambitious, as well as being imaginative and creative, also ranked high.

But how do you combine company management and family? The survey participants consisted of 60 percent male and 40 percent female potential successors. About 57 percent said company management and family can be easily combined. But 34 percent acknowledged that one of the two - family or job - will always have to be sidelined. Some 60 percent said family situation demands trump professional growth. And 47 percent were convinced that the high demands of the job have a negative impact on family life.

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