The Trusted Advisor

THE TRUSTED ADVISOR is our firm’s twice-yearly publication, featuring not only articles and insights derived from our project work but also guest posts and interviews with leading business figures. They offer food-for-thought and practical advice on a variety of key topics in the leadership, corporate governance and strategy domains.

On this page, you will find all the previous issues of THE TRUSTED ADVISOR. We wish you a good and interesting read – and please feel free to share and recommend any articles you feel may be relevant to your colleagues and customers.

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Leadership 4.0

Leadership 4.0

Changing requirements on leadership in times of digitalisation
by Dr. Christian Bühring-Uhle and Felix B. Waldeier

Everyone is talking about digitalisation, the opportunities it offers and the fears it fuels. The discussion often concentrates on how to change or even reinvent business models in order to meet the challenges of digital transformation. Typically, the focus is on strategy, sales, supply chain and communication.

Digital transformation, however, does not only affect business models or the use of technology, but above all, it imposes new requirements on organisation and leadership. Fundamentally new forms of cooperation have to be formed, and it is not technology that is the scarce resource in this regard, but leadership. The success of transformation depends primarily on people changing their behaviour – and that in turn is strongly determined by the methods and quality of leadership. Due to the far-reaching and profound changes that come along with digital transformation, resistance levels can be especially high, and resistance is often ingrained, due to inertia and lack of flexibility. People are at the centre of this transformation, which makes it crucial to attract, motivate and lead talented and digital-savvy employees, but also to continuously develop and retain them. The CEO has a particularly important role to play here.

After all, a digitalisation strategy is only as effective as the organisation, and that ultimately means the people who implement it. In the words of Peter Drucker, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

A digital culture is characterized by the following main features:

  • Openness and customer orientation instead of navel-gazing
  • New, constantly changing tasks and roles
  • Eagerness to learn and experiment instead of excessive planning
  • Constant feedback and perceiving mistakes as an opportunity
  • Emphasis on delegation, creativity, autonomy – little control
  • Networked collaboration and mobile working
  • Team players instead of hierarchical management

In order to build a digital culture, it takes:

  • Momentum: A strong leader and visible figure must embody and drive the process and win people over. This can be the CEO him or herself, or some kind of “digitalisation champion” – as long as people are inspired and given enough freedom to take the transformation into their own hands to some extent.
  • The right degree of centralisation: Providing the necessary level of efficient resource allocation and standardisation without restraining the freedom required to experiment with digital working methods.
  • Agile working: Away from rigid, hierarchical processes and towards fast, interdisciplinary, experimental teamwork.
  • A learning organisation: Structures, resources and incentives that make lifelong learning and permanent change central to the organisation’s self-image.
  • The willingness to “unlearn”: Just as important as learning new working methods is to abandon well-rehearsed and well-established procedures, and to be prepared to engage in new approaches.
  • A digital talent pipeline: The facilitation of ongoing training and the systematic promotion of digitally thinking and agile young executives.

This transformation might not be easy, as it requires the organization to brace for the “war for talent”. Existing employees must be evaluated and developed systematically, and new digital talents attracted continually.

The development of digital talent in corporate management presents a particular challenge. In many cases, external management talent has to be recruited. But in this “new world”, the search for digital top executives has become even more difficult. It starts with the fact that it is much harder to define the qualities a digital talent must bring to the table. Classical hierarchical management structures have to be dismantled, “horizontal” collaboration, greater team orientation and working in decentralised teams is becoming more and more important. This inevitably changes the way we work together, and ultimately the way we lead – and the requirements for today’s executives.

Job profiles are less clear cut and can also include an increasingly high technology component, which is why in many cases the ideal candidates can no longer be found in the “typical industries” or with a direct competitor. This in turn means that in the search for digital leadership you often have to think “out of the box” and consider atypical candidate profiles (e.g. commercial leaders and non-HR managers to head the HR function). And because business models are changing much faster than before, managers in particular need to be more flexible and have the ambition and ability to adapt to new and unexpected situations and challenges.

A further effect of the paradigm shift in corporate management caused by digitalisation is that managers must be able to deal with “millennials”. They work differently, are motivated differently and thus need to be attracted in a different way. In particular, they tend to have a desire for a sense of purpose, meaning that they want to feel good about the consequences of their work. This increases the importance of employer branding and the need to credibly communicate that a new work environment has been created that is aligned with their interests and needs and that is constantly being improved.

Building a digital corporate culture and an attractive “employer brand” for millennials is a big task and can require a significant investment – but it can be a powerful driver for maintaining and increasing corporate value.

Digital Board Members

Digital Board Members

A do’s and don’ts guide for traditional Boards
by Carolyn Lutz and Nick Harris

Several editions ago, we had the privilege to interview Frits van Paasschen, who had just authored an insightful and compelling book on the challenges of technological disruption on established business models, “The Disruptors’ Feast”. Two lines that come early in the book make crystal clear the scale and speed of the challenge: “The digital revolution will make the industrial revolution seem like slow motion… If you don’t think digital disruption is coming to you and your profession, you are deluding yourself.”

And in our last TTA edition, we looked at some of the challenges and benefits of improving (gender) diversity on Boards.

In this article, we try to draw these two strands – diversity and digital – together, and investigate some of the do’s and don’ts for traditional Boards who want (need!) to become more future-oriented, diverse and digitally savvy.

Many (most!) Boards of publicly traded, as well as family-owned businesses simply do not have a considered digital recruitment strategy, and do not fully understand how this talent pool thinks and behaves.

It is critically important to understand that demand for digital talent, whether at the Board or management level, far outstrips supply. And whereas the common, safe assumption used to be that most senior executives would want to take on a Board role at some stage, it is not a given that digital talents want to become a director of even a bluechip corporate. The things that they value most in business life – autonomy, entrepreneurial freedom, openness and high frequency of communication, lack of hierarchy, quick decision-making, fast results – are qualities that they perceive (with some justification) to be lacking in larger or more traditional organisations. One well known digital entrepreneur we spoke to recently described the idea of being in a big group as “torture”.

Furthermore, digital talents approached for NED roles will often be sceptical that an organization really has the desire, particularly at the Board level, to undergo a necessary transformation or change programme. Even a cursory glance at the existing organisation can be enough to put them off – another digital leader we spoke to recently about their interest level in Board roles noted, in an incredulous tone, that most current NEDs “can’t even be bothered to create LinkedIn profiles”. What helps in attracting them is if they already have first-hand experience of a company’s products or services, or can otherwise associate with an enterprise’s brand or purpose. A “meaty” Board mission or agenda – e.g. transformation, turnaround, expansion – is almost always viewed as being more attractive than a steady-as-she-goes trajectory.

“Like hires like” is a well-known issue in recruiting. This inclination may still persist when “analogue” Boards look to bring in a digitally savvy Non Exec, but here the risk is that if they start a search process with that bias, they will likely end up hiring no-one at all. The reality is that digital natives often scare traditional Board Members because they do not look or behave at all like the existing NEDs. They are often (much) younger, (much) more outspoken, less polished, and used to greater autonomy. And their CVs show non-linear career tracks, and experience gained from start-up and entrepreneurial businesses rather than big corporates with well-known brand names.

How they will interact on your Board, and what their expectations are of how the Board operates, may well be seen as challenging. It is interesting to note in this context that “digital” hires to the Board over the past decade are much more likely to be female (25%), or born outside the country, than standard NED hires. This may be a case of Boards trying to tick two diversity boxes with one hire, or simply an indication that digital natives as a class are more heterogeneous, international and mobile than previous generations.

Set against this context, we set out some “Do’s and Don’ts” for traditional or monochrome Boards on recruiting Digital Non Executives:


  • Do be aware of why you are doing this: put simply, more diversity equals better decision-making.
  • Digital Board searches need to go wider than those for traditional NEDs – looking at non-traditional functions, internationally rather than just in the local city/country, and further down the organisation chart. Draw on a broader range of background, experience, skills and age to complement, rather than copy, the existing Directors. Contrary to received opinion, NEDs do not need to have been a CEO!
  • Do hire more than one: the goal is to build a diverse Board, not to “tick a box” or make a token appointment. The evidence is now compelling that diverse teams are more effective. The Board should therefore be thought of collectively. The ideal composition is a blend and balance of different backgrounds and complementary experience.
  • Do listen: digital NEDs can add strategic value to a business by virtue of their different vantage point – spotting new business opportunities that the Board would otherwise overlook (e.g. new customer interfaces, AI and machine learning, employee branding and engagement programmes, acquisition targets), and identifying threats that the Board may simply not be aware of (e.g. cyber security, reputational damage on social media, upstart competitors with disruptive technology).
  • Do lead by example as a Board – a digital culture will not automatically cascade down throughout an organisation just because you appoint a new NED. All the Board Members have a role to play as cheerleaders and advocates for the company´s digital future.
  • As a Board Chair: be mindful that you set not just the agenda but also the tone of Boardroom discussions, and the rules of engagement. You should devote conscious attention to ensure that all voices are heard, that there is sufficient time for questions and that discussions do not just skim the surface of a topic. With their more traditional Directors, the Chair may have to underline the credo that everyone has an (equal) say. With their digital NEDs, the Chair may have to coach on the communication style that is most appropriate and effective in such a forum (e.g. in plain English rather than overly-technical jargon or too fine a detail).
  • It is also a good idea for the Chair to assign the new NED a mentor from among the experienced directors, to encourage learning (both ways) as well as bonding.
  • Companies should ensure they have a comprehensive onboarding and induction programme for digital NEDs. Often a good hire has been lost prematurely not because they were the wrong person but because of early misapprehensions, poor understanding of stakeholder dynamics, and lost opportunities to demonstrate an early contribution.
  • NEDs from specialist backgrounds should make a conscious effort to contribute to topics beyond their area of technical expertise. A Directorship should be viewed as a learning experience, and one which will make them better managers in their day-to-day roles.
  • First-time Digital NEDs also need to be aware that a Boardroom, especially one of a publicly traded company, will function differently to the management meeting of an internet player. Corporate governance and operational management are not the same.
  • And, as a final piece of “do” advice, we would strongly recommend to aspiring Directors that they undertake a formal NED course with a well-regarded institution such as the IMD or INSEAD business schools, or the FT. This is great preparation, both as a primer for what good looks like in corporate governance, as well as a broadening training into areas such as finance, risk or HR that the executive may not have gained prior exposure to. It is also a signaller of intent that they are looking for a NED role and would take such responsibilities seriously. Lastly, being part of a NextGen NED class provides both good networking opportunities and a support community.


  • Don’t assume that digital is predominantly an “operational” topic that is beneath the consideration of a Board whose mandate is to outline the “strategic” agenda. Digital is now fundamental and intrinsic to understanding the big picture; a corporate strategy that does not take digital sufficiently into account will be fundamentally flawed from the outset.
  • Similarly, don’t assume that digital is a topic “just” for your new digital Director; everyone on the Board needs to work on their level of digital savviness. This is a trend that you cannot run or hide from forever. (Tip: Even a Chairman needs to know how to engage with social media – and to have a presentable LinkedIn profile!)
  • Set aside preconceived notions that lead to hiring like-for-like: not all NEDs need to have served as a CEO of a large company. Not all NEDs need to have “grey hair”. Accept and embrace the fact that a digital NED is likely to be younger and may have a career track that is a-typical.
  • Don’t hire just one: a lone voice and outlier – whether a digital native, or the only female NED – is too easy to ignore or side-line. It’s also unfair on them – they run the risk of being seen only as a narrow, topic expert and not an equal. At best, you won’t get the full benefit of their perspective. At worst, they will get frustrated and quickly leave. The composition of the whole Board needs to be carefully considered; this is a materially different exercise to merely swapping out a retiring NED for an identikit replacement.
  • Related to the above point, don’t assume that any one digital Director will be sufficient if the organisation requires a wholesale digital transformation. The digital universe is now so vast (e.g. social marketing, e-commerce, big data, cyber security, consumer privacy, FinTech, AI, etc.) that no one person can be a deep expert in all dimensions.
  • Don’t underestimate the impact of cultural or generational differences. The working and communication styles of digital natives may be very (sometimes radically) different. Improving the digital literacy of the Board will pay off for everyone in the long run but don’t assume it will always be plain sailing or that everyone will speak the same language from day one. Traditional Directors will need to broaden their vocabulary, and expect more questions about “purpose”, “impact”, and “customer centricity”.
  • Last but not least in this list of things “not to do”, a piece of advice for first-time NEDs: do not compromise on your values and ethics, or surrender your independence of thought. You were hired for a reason, and – as easy and tempting as it may be to rubber stamp decisions – it is incumbent on you to speak up, to question, to propose new ideas. Diversity of opinion is critically important for a well-functioning and effective Board.

It is worth restating that Board diversity should not be seen as a PR exercise. Put simply, diverse Boards are a proven driver of better decision-making.

The industry’s pace of change has never been so intense

The industry’s pace of change has never been so intense

An interview with Jan Zijderveld, CEO of Avon Products Inc.
by Andreas von Specht

With net sales of US$5.7 billion, Avon is the second-largest direct selling company in the world. Avon offers products in the beauty, household and personal care categories through its network of nearly 6m Avon Representatives. Direct selling companies such as Avon are facing significant challenges in the digital age; not only are consumers increasingly shifting their purchases online, but technology has enabled brands and retailers to offer more personalized services, a key competitive advantage previously owned by direct sellers. How is Avon going to react? TTA talked to CEO Jan Zijderveld about his mission of change.

What is special about Avon’s business model and why do you hold on to the business model of direct selling?

Unique to Avon is our woman-to-woman network of Representatives (“reps”), our belief in democratising beauty – making the latest trends and innovations accessible to all through value products – combined with our capacity to educate, engage and mobilize. I believe that the power of people selling to people is phenomenal. Our brands are known and appreciated worldwide – with virtually 100% brand recognition in major markets. From our earliest days we have been a business built on relationships of trust and care. Our network of beauty entrepreneurs gives us a direct and genuine relationship with consumers. So the Avon experience really is personal. Our six million reps know and love the products they sell because they use them every day and have a shared passion for innovative on-trend beauty. I have met hundreds of them and they believe in Avon. In a world where trust in companies is becoming a scarce commodity, our Rep’s relationship with consumers gives us pricing power, communications power and gives our customers a richly personal brand experience.

What challenges is a direct seller like Avon facing and what do you plan to do about it?

The industry’s pace of change has never been so intense. The digital world is faster and networks are wider. But flexing with the times must be part of Avon’s DNA. We need to modernize Avon and we need to be bolder and more dramatic – disrupting our ways of working. We need to open up, and start challenging and changing how we work and what we work on. That means rejuvenating the Avon brand, making our products and category portfolio work harder for us, and unlocking the power of digital for our beauty entrepreneurs across the world. Our geographic footprint positions us for growth: the majority of our business is in growing emerging and developing economies. Our main category – beauty – is high margin, high-involvement. And crucially, we are digitizing our business to make it easier for both beauty entrepreneurs and customers to do business with us. Borrowing a page from the playbook of fast-fashion brands, we are transforming Avon to become a high touch, high tech, high impact and fast beauty brand. We’re taking a fresh look at everything, with the sense of urgency that you would expect.

How are you trying to maintain Avon’s business model in the age of digitisation?

Digitisation is at the heart of our strategy. Social selling is ripe for technology, digital and analytics. We are working intensely to build the right tools to support our 6 million strong network of reps to help them provide a personal service to their customers that is underpinned by strong digital capability. Having no intermediaries between the brand and the consumer and our beauty entrepreneurs is for me one of the biggest opportunities of the Avon business.

What are the individual steps that are being implemented in order to become a “digitized Avon”?

The term ‘digital’ can be open to misinterpretation and confusion.  For us, it means the digitisation of the whole business – from the front-end, backwards throughout the value chain. Avon is undergoing a period of significant change and customer-friendly digital interfaces, supported by an efficient technology infrastructure and rich data analytics, are a key strategic driver of our future progress. We have already launched a fully digitised, mobile-enabled e-interactive brochure, allowing our Reps to connect quickly and effectively with their customers by creating an e-enabled personalised shopping cart that can be shared via WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger – sending the latest trends and products directly to their mobile devices. This includes in-built and real-time analytics for future enhancement and customisation, making it easier to track best-selling products and individual preferences etc. On launch, it received more than 500,000 visitors, with positive feedback from across Avon’s network of beauty entrepreneurs. Plans for My Avon Store are also underway. This will allow our e-reps to host their own store and run a fully digital business. Finally, we are very excited about the overwhelmingly positive response to the pilot of our new ‘Personalised Beauty App’. This is a revolutionary digital tool that will empower Reps to deliver a whole new level of personalised service to customers – quickly, conveniently and with confidence. Early results suggest that this technology provides a benefit that really resonates. We’re solving a problem and that’s powerful.

You are talking about a major shift of the Avon business model. Did you need to exchange your top management team to implement this soft digital revolution? 

We have continued to inject new talent and capabilities into the business. This includes the newly-created role of SVP, Chief Digital & Information Technology Officer. Benedetto Conversano is an outstanding talent and we will benefit from his consumer-focused digital, technological and operational skillset. He will be responsible for developing a new digital strategy as a foundational element of Avon’s future plans, while building, developing and standardizing technology solutions and delivery across the global organization. We are committed to radically rethinking how we exploit digitalisation as a game changer – evolving to become a fast-beauty brand for the omnichannel world. So our new Global Sales Organisation is also key, made up of leading experts to be deployed directly to markets for immediate impact. Focusing on enhancing the Reps experience and service model evolution, Reps segmentation, field sales excellence, commercial optimisation and entry strategies for new territories, it will use data driven insights to tailor the training and incentives that fuel Avon’s beauty entrepreneurs. We know that improving earnings potential, expanding learning opportunities and scaling best practice are fundamental to achieving our targets and sharpening Avon’s competitiveness. We are building the right structure to institute a rigorous performance culture, one where we dramatically step up accountability for end-to-end execution and results.

Did you create something like a ‘digital advisory board’ of external business leaders and/or experts with deep experience in digital organization and transformation – or are you managing the transformation process on your own? 

As part of our digitalisation ambitions, we are building a new “digital board” comprised of digital, commercial and other business leaders. Benedetto‘s role includes being Chair of Avon’s new Digital Board, which is essentially accountable for Avon’s digital transformation. The Digital Board will work closely with Avon’s Board of Directors and Executive Committee, in order to boost growth and keep digital at the forefront throughout the business.

Digital is transforming everything from consumer behaviour to employee engagement. What is the cultural change at Avon that you expect to see in the course of your transformation?

Avon is a very strong brand with a sense of warmth and likability that is really, really powerful. But at times our culture has been too internally focused and siloed. Everything is up for grabs. We’re going to be a simpler, faster, more agile business. And this starts with a different mind-set, one that is open to re-assessing the assets, infrastructure, partnerships and alliances. So the transformation already underway marks a shift away from a cumbersome and quite closed business to a nimble and open company. In other words, we are going to open up this company.

Many traditional companies are having to shift focus from top line to bottom line, further complicating the imperative of investing for the future. Further, they are at a stark disadvantage compared with start-ups, whose investors are willing to forego profit for growth. How do you resolve this conflict of aims?

I know the start-up methodology inside out and it is key. Everything is done in 2-week sprints, with clear KPIs and a tight PMO. That is how we are working as we accelerate to become a fast-beauty brand. We are investing in commercial initiatives, digital and IT infrastructure, and we are on track to stabilize our financial results and achieve our goals of low-single digit revenue growth and low double-digit margins by 2021.

Consumers are no longer isolated entities; instead, they move in self-organizing groups. The membership and subscription-driven business models tap into this desire to belong, even at the price of sharing personal data. Do you see this happening at Avon as well?

Avon believes that it is hearing the stories of our consumers – the deeper stories, the ones that go beneath the surface as well as above it, will give us our biggest connections and our biggest breakthroughs. Today’s consumers are stressed, busy, overwhelmed with information, and they are looking for brands to address their unique needs. The beauty consumer of tomorrow doesn’t want to have to tell you how she wants a product to make her feel; she will expect you to already know. She will be buying into brands to facilitate meaningful connections to lifestyles and beliefs. She wants to feel as if her products have been made just for her. Connections and conversations are, and always have been, at the heart of Avon. That direct contact with consumers means rich data, analytics and the personal approach to beauty that enables self-expression and inspires confidence that is grounded in the everyday experience of millions of women.

The rise of millennials is driving significant shifts in consumer expectations. They demand transparency and immediacy, and place little value on brands. How is Avon trying to embrace this segment?

In today’s market, authenticity is everything. Which makes it vital for us to innovate and tell our story better. We are proud to be empowering millions of micro entrepreneurs globally, giving them the tools to work in their own way and on their own terms. Avon is much more than a business – it’s a movement of women. With major sweeping social change afoot, we believe the future is full of possibilities for women, and our beauty entrepreneurs are in turn helping to reinvigorate our core purpose as a business. Interestingly, in the last 12 months, 45% of the women who have joined us are under 30. Those front-line Reps are also vital to the insights that feed breakthrough innovation and we are now delivering the newest trends faster than ever. For us, it’s about democratizing beauty, making it accessible by bringing our customers great products and the latest trends and technology at amazing value. Premium skincare is growing very, very fast so that’s a key focus. Asian beauty, Korean beauty, Japanese beauty are all huge, particularly for the millennial audience. So we are going to really look at those growth segments and go after them. Beauty is becoming increasingly complex but it is interesting that the sometimes-fickle millennial market can actually be very loyal brand consumers, especially where a brand is grounded in strong values.

You joined Avon from FMCG giant Unilever. What are your personal challenges to succeed in this mission (almost) impossible? Did you need to adjust your own style and modus operandi?

After 30 years in Unilever, having lived in seven countries, many different parts of the world, seen many, many different businesses, many different challenges and cultures, I see Avon as a business with a potential which is difficult to overstate. I love a challenge and my modus operandi has always been to do what is worthwhile, not what is easy. Can we get this business back on the front foot and drive it to the next level? Absolutely. That has to start with a deep understanding of the root issues facing this business as well as the key strengths to leverage for the future. Avon needs a fundamental reset, and that will need time, but we’re well on the way.

Jan, thank you for these insights!

AvS News

Artikel-5-AvS-Intern_150pxAvS News

Recent news and developments at AvS – International Trusted Advisors

The past months were marked not only by interesting client projects, but also by exciting developments within our firm that we are delighted to share with you in this edition of THE TRUSTED ADVISOR.

First Industry Advisors to join AvS in 2019

We are currently inviting a small group of senior “Industry Advisors” from several countries to join AvS – International Trusted Advisors as of 2019. Former industry CEO’s, CFO’s, Senior partners of global professional services firms and active NED’s have agreed to consider joining an in-house board to act as sparring partners and sounding-boards to our partners – and ambassadors for our firm in their respective markets.

Global cooperation with PwC and INSEAD

An agreement has been reached between PwC, INSEAD (Wendel International Centre for Family Enterprise) and AvS – International Trusted Advisors to conduct a global study with qualitative and quantitative research on the subject of “Making external leadership successful in Family Businesses”. Our findings will be published 2020 in several languages, used in educational activities and presented in round-tables and other PR-related events to present around the world.

News from our Latin American practice

In September, our Partner Christian Bühring-Uhle acted as a juror for the final strategy projects of the MBA class of Universidad de Los Andes, Colombia’s most prestigious business school.


No pain, no gain!

No pain, no gain!

The critical role of diversity on Boards
by Carolyn Lutz and Andreas von Specht

Diversity on Boards is very important. It’s a proven case – and there should no longer be an open question as to why. As Michael Hathorn pointed out in our interview with him for this edition of “The Trusted Advisor”, there are a large number of studies around from recent years which confirm a straightforward and compelling business case. Companies with (gender-) diverse Boards make better decisions and produce higher returns. Board success and competence includes diversity as an essential element rather than as an afterthought or as a concession to special interests. Moreover, CEOs who have crafted a diverse and effective Board are respected as secure, modern leaders who ‘get it’.

While the business case for Board diversity gains acceptance, Board composition is only slowly evolving along a continuum, from homogenous to diverse. On the one hand, the homogenous ‘Board of the past’ that has the requisite ‘business leader’ names, is relatively easy to manage, and complies with the general direction that the CEO would like to take the company. Contrast that to a high-performing diverse Board that listens and challenges, and which by virtue of the age, ethnic or gender diversity of the individual Board members offers a breadth and depth of insight, perspective, and experience that will help the Board question its assumptions and make better decisions. The Business Roundtable, a highly influential group of corporate executives, recently released a statement that explicitly links higher Board diversity with better Board performance in the two key areas of oversight and value creation.

Diversity goes well beyond just male and female – it can also manifest itself in individuals with different skills, life experiences, and philosophies. The whole point of a diverse Board is to avoid ‘male, pale, and stale’; to get a fresh view of challenges and opportunities, and to use discussion, different mind-sets and push-back to arrive at the best solution for the business. Having a broad range of collective attributes, rather than overlapping redundant competencies, positions the Board to better fulfil its governance and strategic oversight mandates. Hence, in our view it is a strategic risk, and a liability, to have an overly homogenous Board.

Most organisations have a highly diverse customer base – one would think it must make perfect sense to aspire diverse points of view represented in the most important discussions and decision making around the organisations’ future goods and services. Great ideas can come from disrupting ‘the way things have always been done’ – innovations catering to previously unknown or underserved markets. Multiple-perspective analysis of problems can change the Boardroom dynamics and is more likely to yield high-quality decisions than decisions made under a ‘groupthink’ environment. Of course, the latter is probably more comfortable, less challenging and less stretching.

The company that has a diverse Board can also enhance its attractiveness to its (hopefully diverse) workforce by sending a strong signal that developing women and minorities is important to the company. This holds equally true in attracting new talent from outside the company. Given the war for talent, no company can afford to send the signal that they do not value diverse talent.

A diverse Board will certainly enhance the organisation’s reputation vis-à-vis investors. Institutional investors have taken Board diversity into account as a factor for investment evaluation since a number of academic research papers show positive correlation between firm value and Board diversity; institutional investors are also placing greater emphasis on corporate social responsibility. Board diversity can therefore, to a certain extent, improve investor relations.

A simple and common measure to promote heterogeneity in the Boardroom – commonly known as gender diversity – is to include female representation on the Board. While this sounds like an easily implemented and logical solution, particularly for organisations whose customer base is predominantly female, in practice many boards are still 100 % male, or have just one token woman.

Reasons for failure to hire diversity candidates are numerous: it starts with a common resistance to change. In Board recruiting processes, we are often confronted with a ‘wish-list’ prerequisite for a new NED to have served as a successful CEO. This becomes a bit of a Catch-22 and automatically narrows the list of suitable diversity candidates. Other reasons can be cultural; in male-dominated countries women are often denied or discouraged from the educational opportunities, professional development, networks, and mentoring that would equip them to one day add value on a Board. Societal norms have thus made women less likely than men to raise their hands for certain professional challenges.

Around the world, progress for gender diversity on Boards is at best mixed; at the current rate of ‘improvement’ it has been calculated that we will not reach gender parity until the next millennium. However, Board diversity can be promoted by a number of methods: through imposing quotas on the Board; or by enhancing disclosures using the ‘comply or explain’ approach with the hope that companies will enhance their diversity to avoid tarnishing their company brand.

Imposing quotas refers to the mandatory requirement in appointing a minimum percentage of female directors. Since 2006, each listed company in Norway has had to ensure that women fill at least 40 % of directorship positions. In 2016, Norway had 45.4 % female NEDs; and 34 % foreigners, which can also be seen as ‘diverse’ since this implies a different language and culture. Most European countries have implemented similar mandatory requirements for gender diversity (with the exception of Switzerland, which has ‘recommendations’). In 2016 Germany, women held 26.4 % of NED roles at companies subject to quotas. Interestingly, 60 % of companies not subject to quotas in Germany had 30 % or more women on their Boards.

Another measure to enhance Board diversity besides quotas is through transparency and disclosure. Companies, under corporate governance codes, are required to disclose their diversity policy in appointing directors so that investors and stakeholders can make proper evaluation. Those who fail to implement such measures have to explain their non-compliance in the corporate governance report or equivalent. The Corporate Governance Code of the United Kingdom (2010), for example, stipulates that companies are required to incorporate diversity as a consideration in making Board appointments, to describe the Board’s policy on diversity in their annual report, and to report progress in achieving the objectives of that policy. In 2017, the largest 100 companies listed on the FTSE had 33.3 % female non-executive directors, and 24.5 % non-nationals. A 2017 Cranfield study interviewing experienced Board evaluators concluded that “(the evaluators) were extremely clear about the considerable benefits of a critical mass of diversity in the Boardroom (often defined as three ‘diverse’ individuals)”.

Switzerland, with no female quota requirement, is slowly catching up on gender diversity on Boards. In 2017, in the 20 companies comprising the Swiss Market Index, 22.2 % of directors are women – and 37 % of NEDs appointed in the past 12 months were women. The country scores among the highest for international Boards, with 61 % being non-nationals.

In order to promote diversity in Board composition, Boards should become more familiar with director search approaches to identify qualified candidates that would not otherwise come to the attention of the nominating committee. For us it is not surprising that we are involved in director searches where Chairmen specifically want us to identify candidates who operate beyond their typical field of view. We still need even more Chairmen to muster the same courage!

Only the bold will survive

Only the bold will survive

Why age diversity is an issue Boards should consider
by Anthony Harling and Dr. Christian Bühring-Uhle

For some time diversity has commonly been identified with the gender balance on company Boards. Over the past 20 years, there has been a concerted effort by companies to bring more women onto the Board and the positive effects of this trend are well documented. However, this is not the only facet of diversity. A truly balanced Board will more accurately reflect the wider population of the outside world, not only in terms of gender, but also in terms of age, ethnic background, national origin, and regional variation. Companies are more aware of gender diversity today and there is still work to be done in this regard. Age diversity could be the next hot topic, considering that Boards actually are quite “old”, and “ageing”: the median age on Boards of S&P 500 companies grew from 61 in 2005 to 63 in 2015.

There has been relatively little research on the impact of age diversity on Board performance, so there is perhaps not enough evidence to draw any firm conclusions. A recent study of companies on the OMX Stockholm, however, did look beyond the issue of gender diversity and focussed on the impact of age diversity. The conclusion that “age diversity significantly affects firm performance as measured by ROA” is worthy of note.

The increasing focus on corporate governance in recent years has been accompanied by increasing criticism of the age-old practice of “male, domestic, old” (“zu männlich, zu deutsch, zu alt” as the Sueddeutsche Zeitung describes it). The rules have changed and forward-thinking companies are taking the lead in bringing on board a more diverse population of Board members in the hope that this will change the way that the company thinks about current issues.

What are companies doing? Why does age diversity matter? Some large US companies have been quite bold in their approach. The US retailer Macy’s appointed a 45 year-old EVP from Starbucks to their board in 2014. Annie Young-Scrivner had a successful track record in her prior general management roles with PepsiCo and Starbucks when she joined the Board of Macy’s. Nevertheless, the appointment of someone with no prior CEO or Board experience elsewhere represents a significant departure for such a large, high-profile business. The success of this appointment is indicated by the fact that Macy’s went on to appoint 42 year-old Leslie Hale, executive vice president, chief financial officer and treasurer of RLJ Lodging Trust, to the Board in 2015. Starbucks appointed Clara Shih with 29 in 2011. Closer to home we have the example of Dr Christina Reuter appointed to the Supervisory Board of Kion Group AG in 2016, at age 30. Younger, talented executives with no prior Board experience are starting to make their mark.

What could be behind these moves? There could be many reasons.

Firstly, as with any other Board appointment, it is clear that any external candidate will need to bring the requisite skills, insight and capability that any appointment at this level demands. It is not enough to be younger than the average age of existing Board members, the candidate has to be exceptional as well.

The move towards a more diverse Board profile can give the company advantages in many areas. Shareholders may be interested in the novelty factor for a while, but it is the overall financial performance of the business that matters most in the long term. It is quite likely that a younger, more diverse profile brings the company greater insight into consumer behaviour. And it will it help the other Board members to better appreciate the impact of technology and social media on their future business. It is also bound to lead company Boards to demanding a greater degree of innovation, a greater pace of change. Externally companies are facing an ever-changing and fast-moving world in which the old certainties are being challenged by new, agile competitors and new realities. It is not enough simply to react to these factors; companies need to be pro-active in anticipating and preparing for a different world. Only the bold will survive.

What are the obstacles to greater age diversity on Boards? What is there to stop this happening? Age diversity in the Boardroom is not going to be a matter of legislation in the short term. There will be some companies who see this as an urgent priority, others who are not so concerned. In practice it will depend on the will of the Board as a whole. If current Board members are concerned for fear of “rocking the boat”, then change is less likely to come about. Will younger Board members be able to balance the requirements of external Board membership with the demands of their current executive role? Will they be taken sufficiently seriously by their Board colleagues? The experience of Macy’s and other Boards suggests that these issues can be overcome. The more challenging question is where these people can be found.

Unless they have worked with someone before in a prior role, no one knows how a new colleague or Board member is likely to perform. Especially if the potential Board member has no prior experience of acting in this capacity. The requirement, therefore, must be clearly understood beforehand. The Board may also need to consider the topic of governance more broadly in order to evaluate this possibility. At a minimum, this is something that current Board members will need to think about and discuss.

What is it that we should be doing today that will position us for success in the future? How important in the question of age diversity for us today? In our view, age diversity is not a “nice to have”, it is a matter of sustainability, even survival – and it is much more fun!

How Board diversity drives company performance

How Board diversity drives company performance

An interview with Dr. Michael Hathorn, Professor of International Business
by Nick Harris, Felix B. Waldeier and Karin Onater

AvS – International Trusted Advisors: Diversity is an intensely discussed topic in the business world. Could you tell us something about the commercial advantages for companies committed to building top teams with a high degree of diversity?

Michael Hathorn: The business case has been building for some time and is quite compelling, with a large number of studies that strongly correlate more gender diverse boards with higher performance on the typical financial metrics. The Credit Suisse Research Institute, for example, showed that companies with higher proportions of women in decision-making generate higher returns on equity and maintain a more conservative balance sheet. Other studies confirm that where women are the majority of top management, the business has higher sales growth, higher cash flow returns on investments and lower leverage. When you have only one woman on the Board, there is the risk of tokenism and the inevitable discounting of that person’s views. You only overcome that effect when you get a critical mass. Firms with three or more women on their Boards produce the highest impact on corporate financial performance.

What is behind this correlation between female executives and business performance improvement?

Decision-making and internal team processes appear to be more robust when there is substantial female participation. Studies conclude that women spur a deeper debate on key issues and that gender-diverse teams come up with more innovative solutions, which is critical for company survival and strategic impact in today’s very turbulent world. Furthermore, women have higher attendance rates on Boards than males do and set a new norm for their Board. As a result, male attendance rates go up as well. There are also fewer strikes and layoffs in crisis times under female leadership, measures that can be very costly for companies in the long term. Another, maybe more subtle impact of having females on Board is the improvement of corporate reputation. Many companies find themselves under a lot of pressure from their stakeholders to diversify their Boards. Consequently, a company becomes more attractive as a recruiter for female executives who appreciate a diverse approach. By doing this they gain preferential access to a much larger pool of talent. Again, these effects are not present with only one female on the Board.

If the advantages of diversity are so compelling, why do so many companies still have Boards that are monochrome?

There are a number of systemic issues that are extraordinarily difficult to overcome. First, change is difficult, and culture is persistent. There is a tendency to maintain Board recruitment processes and behaviours over time, which tend to produce very similar Board compositions. Additionally, we can observe the talent selection phenomena of “cloning”. People tend to feel more comfortable with those who are similar to them, which consequently reinforces the selection of male Board members. Another important systemic issue is that talent pipelines in organisations becomes increasingly male as the hierarchical levels increase. This results in senior talent pools that are predominantly male. However, there are enough qualified women who could rise to the top. For instance, balancing family and work is still a big barrier for women moving up the career ladder and becoming “Board ready”, but female executives usually experience a significant “work-family” challenge only over a relatively short period of their working life, perhaps 10-20% of a 40-year career. If you have identified the right talent to drive your company forward, it is worth bridging that period with creative solutions that keep female talent engaged.

Do the specific values and long-term orientation of family companies constitute an advantage in building diverse teams, compared to publicly traded companies that might operate under a lot more pressure?

The values part of this hypothesis is not consistent with my experience. I have worked with a few family companies where a commitment to patriarchal values has resulted in the less talented family member assuming a leadership position due to their gender. However, I do accept that family companies are often able to leverage a longer-term orientation toward the business as they are free from the short-term market pressures of listed companies. It is in general difficult for companies to change culture and adjust themselves to the challenges that exist in today’s world, regardless of their type. That said, I believe culture can be an important driver of strategic advantage. Google, for instance, is a listed company that adapted to the needs of its employees by offering child care, flexible working hours, leisure activities and many other benefits. Performance standards are nevertheless very high, and meritocracy seems to be a key value. Many companies equate presence with performance and do not realise that employees appreciate and become even more engaged in a flexible working environment where the quality of their work is the key metric. Companies should make use of today’s technology to increase flexibility and adjust their working environments, while continuing to focus on performance.

The “Nordic model” is often held up as the best example of a region with a gender-diverse Board landscape. What did the Scandinavian countries get right?

From the beginning, the Nordic countries aspired to develop their governance guidelines in line with global best practice. They incorporated a multi-stakeholder approach that goes far beyond just profitability. By including and holding different interest groups accountable, the issue was raised to a social level and discussed in a much more holistic way. In the case of Norway, the argument has been made that gender-diverse Boards are important for the country and for businesses alike. Using only half of the available talent pool put the country at a competitive disadvantage globally. If a Norwegian company wants to have access to its stock market, it has to make use of the entire talent pool, and this must be reflected at Board level.

Mandatory quotas are one measure used by Nordic countries to increase gender diversity. What are the arguments for and against setting gender diversity quotas for Boards, and whether those quotas should be mandatory?

I think voluntary quotas or targets are preferable as a first step to drive change, reverting to mandatory quotas if progress is insufficient. Norway actually did not strictly enforce their law regarding Board composition from the beginning but encouraged companies to comply voluntarily. Two years later, as there was little progress, the law was implemented. In a very short period of time, the Norwegian Boards of listed companies raised their Board diversity levels up to 40%. The main downside we could observe was the phenomena of “Over-Boarding”. Due to the rapid change, women were serving on many Boards in parallel and sometimes took on a little too much. However, a number of studies concluded that the consequences people feared, e.g. that companies will underperform or that female executives are not experienced enough, proved to be unwarranted.

What career advice would you share with female executives who aspire to Board positions?

Female executives first of all need to build executive experience, internationally, if possible. There is no substitute for having P&L roles and building an expertise base. Secondly, they need to question and understand their own motives for seeking Board work, and they need to be able to articulate them. It is very important for female executives to develop a broader network and actively promote their capabilities in the wider marketplace. This involves joining groups and events that may be predominantly male, and engaging in discussions with men in which they need to be able to clearly point out their accomplishments and ambitions – a rather atypical behaviour for women, which they nevertheless need to adapt in order to make significant impact in predominantly male businesses.

So far, we have talked mainly about gender diversity. Is this focus on gender warranted or should Boards be thinking in a broader, more holistic way?

In my opinion, we need to place the focus on gender balance. Females are a fundamental aspect of diversity, and they are underrepresented. By focusing on bringing more women to the Board, other types of diversity come with it: diversity of thought, mindset, experience, style, etc. However, Board recruitment always has to be driven by the needs of the Board. It is essential that companies do not approach Board diversification as a compliance exercise, but as an attempt to hire the best person for the job – which happens to be female. At the same time, we need to be aware of the need for ethnicity and nationalities on our Boards – again, not because of political correctness, but because the Board should reflect the business. If you have global operations, you need to have certain expertise with respect to your key geographies. This will increase the company’s opportunity for impact in that part of the business.

We are living in times described as Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA). The speed of change and the pressure for success is ever increasing. How can Boards keep up, adapt and stay relevant?

In a highly volatile environment, leadership is best exercised through vision and values, instead of elaborate strategic plans. We need to continuously question the assumptions we make and be willing to change our plans if warranted. Uncertainty and complexity require executives and Board members to connect very deeply to multiple levels in the organisation in order to take cross-functional decisions that are in service to the entire business. Finally, ambiguity is an invitation to drive innovation and break new ground. Boards need to recruit members who bring this deep expertise and are capable of operating across the business. They need team players who are fully engaged in the business, ready to lead a deep and meaningful debate. So far, I do not feel like companies are doing enough to address the challenges of a VUCA environment. Many Boards are too far removed from their business, where members are focused on their own “silos” of responsibility and expertise. When a serious challenge hits, these fault lines are very much exposed.

How do you ensure the right mix and chemistry, bringing together the best blend of backgrounds, expertise, perspectives and personalities?

First, you need to be very clear about the specific skills and knowledge that every Board member needs to bring in. That includes eliminating the extraneous criteria that may not have a significant impact, like being a former CEO – this is almost a non-criteria for me, since so many other executives demonstrate that they have gained a holistic view of the business during their career. You also need to define the role the future member will have on the Board. It might make sense for a female Board member to take on the role on the Nominations Committee, if you are trying to expand your scope of recruitment. Then you need to consider demographic data, diversity elements like age, gender, race, nationality etc., to be able to represent all parts of your business. Look at the automobile industry: It took some companies a long time to understand that women are a very important part of the decision-making process when it comes to buying a car. If they had engaged with female Board members with marketing acumen and an understanding of buyer behaviour, they never would have overlooked the role and influence of women in automobile purchasing. Prioritising your diversity needs alongside your business requirements will help to create focus and drive results. In the end, it is a talent question, not a gender question.

What are the necessary ground rules for a diverse Board to work together in a dynamic and highly effective way?

Research concludes that a great level of trust is essential for engaging in open debates and speaking one’s mind. If a Board member does not participate in the decision-making, he or she will naturally have reservations and will not be committed to the decision. That again reduces accountability and ultimately has a negative impact on the results. In order to create an environment in which conflict of ideas is encouraged, it is essential to develop a team Charter or common understanding that captures the mission, guideline and expectations for the team culture and team member contributions. The most important influence however is the behaviour and interaction of the Chairperson, who needs to continuously question their own mission and performance in order to build a team that is striving to improve, reflect and incorporate everyone’s ideas. A Board needs to have clear criteria for its own performance and the performance of its members and needs to regularly assess itself against these expectations.

How should that Board assessment best be done?

There is no “one size fits all” way to monitor and assess Board performance. It is important that Boards develop their own self-monitoring mechanisms for group and individual performance. That can be done with or without the help of an external advisor. For individual performance, I would always recommend a self-evaluation based on conversations with the Chair and the other Board members. The Chair then has to confirm and augment this self-evaluation and point out potential blind spots. It is amazing how many Boards have not installed a structured evaluation process because it may be perceived as somewhat negative, heavy and almost compliance-driven. But the purpose is rather to seed a culture of continuous improvement in order to become a more effective Board member and a more effective Board.

Do you have a last piece of advice on the diversity topic for Chairpersons and CEOs reading this interview?

Approach gender diversity as an opportunity to improve Board performance and to create significant additional business value – and not as an exercise in political correctness. No one else can have as significant an impact as the Chairperson and the CEO in evolving the attitude and mindset in the company to one that embraces and understands top team diversity. This is key. I have spoken with a number of Board members and Chairs who initially were very sceptical about gender diversity on their Boards. After experiencing the opportunities and impacts that a diverse Board provides, they embrace it. If all CEOs realise the benefits of a diverse team, we will not need quotas.

Michael, thank you for these insights!

Dr. Michael Hathorn is an Affiliate Professor at Arizona State University and the Thunderbird School of Global Management. In addition, he is a Partner in the area of Board Development at the International Center for Corporate Governance and teaches Leadership-Governance in the DAS program on Sustainable Business – a joint program of the University of St. Gallen and Business School Lausanne.

AvS News

Artikel-5-AvS-Intern_150pxAvS News

Recent news and developments at AvS – International Trusted Advisors

The past months were marked not only by interesting client projects, but also by exciting developments within our firm that we are delighted to share with you in this edition of THE TRUSTED ADVISOR.

New Consultant in Bogotá

In February, Eleonora Cajiao Cabrera joined our Bogotá office. Eleonora is a Colombian qualified lawyer and a UC Berkeley trained expert in International Business. She previously worked for Unilever in various senior management positions in the Andean Region and led several international expansions before becoming active in the field of Executive Search and Human Talent Advisory. As Senior Client Partner in the Bogotá office of the global consulting firm Korn Ferry, she oversaw the Consumer Goods, Big Pharma, Government and Industrial practices for the Andean, Central American and Caribbean regions. Eleonora combines almost 30 years of leadership experience in talent consulting (search, selection, and professional development) leading companies from various industries. Please click here for further information.

Panel Discussion on “Diversity on Boards” in Geneva

In cooperation with Berenberg Bank, our Geneva office organised a panel discussion entitled “Board Walk: Where are the Women? Upgrading Boardrooms with Dynamism and Diversity”. Our consultants Carolyn Lutz and Nick Harris moderated a discussion with an expert panel: Regi Aalstad and Pauline Lindwall, two internationally experienced female Non-Executive Directors, and Dr. Michael Hathorn, Professor at the Business School Lausanne and a specialist in Board diversity (who also made himself available for an interview for this issue of the TTA). Together with numerous participants, they discussed how companies can make better use of the full talent spectrum and improve Board performance.

News from our Latin American practice

Christian Bühring-Uhle, in charge of leading and developing our Latin American practice, was named “Mentor of the Month” by Endeavor Colombia in March, a leading movement for high-impact entrepreneurship around the world. In addition, Christian was also honoured by the German Colombian Chamber of Commerce end of March for his three years of service on the Board.


The critical role played by ownership strategy

The critical role played by ownership strategy

Benefits of active and responsible ownership
by Andreas von Specht and Nick Harris

Why good ownership matters

More than 80% of all global Family Businesses (FB), representing USD 1.6 trillion in assets, will seek to transfer to new owner generations in the next decade. 60% of FB owners are over 50 years old and one-third of those plan to retire within the next five years. Half of all FB owners claim that their business is heavily or even completely dependent on them and two-thirds of all owners have not yet organised their own succession. Think about these amazing statistics and add to them the learning that only 30% of businesses with family ownership manage to survive the 2nd generation, and that just a tiny fraction (3%) still exist in the 4th generation or beyond. If active and successful ownership entails founding, growing, preserving – but then also successfully transferring ownership to the next generation – many entrepreneurs risk failing in their mission.

Only 20% of discontinued family ownerships are due to well-planned and prepared divestments such as Management Buyouts. The main reasons for unsuccessful FB transfers are a lack of trust and communication issues among family shareholders – often accompanied by underlying or even openly hostile conflicts. Frequently, the next generation is insufficiently prepared to take over responsibility as shareholders, let alone as managers. Interestingly, (inheritance) tax issues are not among the main reasons for unsuccessful successions. Truly great entrepreneurs demonstrate that they can both develop a business and manage its transfer to the next generation; both imply thorough and careful planning, but the latter also includes the ability to “let go”.

Succession and the transfer of control is of course not the only challenging situation for owners. They are often confronted with other exacting family situations – the cousin who is in need of money and wishes to sell, the brother who wants his son to be elevated into a senior leadership role, or the sister who wishes to be represented by her lawyer on the Supervisory Board. From an owner’s perspective, some of these challenges may bring with them an opportunity to make a desired change or optimisation, but more often they are perceived as an unwelcome disruption and potential risk.

If these situations are managed with diligence, care and emotional intelligence, FB owners can fully benefit from the advantages that a FB clearly has in comparison to other organisations, e.g. long-term thinking, strong values, etc. But if they are ignored or badly managed, then both the business and the family can suffer badly. Emotion, money and control are the ingredients of a potentially lethal cocktail.

Succession management as the tipping point of good ownership

With ownership comes both privileges and responsibilities. Entrepreneurs need a special skill-set to guide a FB through challenging times. Courage, decisiveness, strategic oversight and, crucially, a combination of IQ and EQ are essential. Functional management skills and market knowledge also do not do any harm, of course. Last but not least, there is the requirement to manage not just a commercial organisation but also a family closely intertwined and related to this business. This can add significantly to the complexity. In our interview (third article of this edition of The Trusted Advisor), Andreas Jacobs talks about the “three dimensional” leadership of a family: horizontally, as a balancing-act between siblings; vertically between generations and the today and tomorrow. On top of that comes the family-leader role, which requires the foresight and independence to know when to let go – and to whom to hand over the torch.

Succession as such comprises two different levels that should be clearly differentiated: the succession of ownership and the succession of management. Both questions, i.e. who is entitled to own and who is entitled to manage the business, are at the core of the development of a Family Business Strategy – the family governance framework needed to give good ownership a professional structure.

The main elements of an ownership strategy

Less than 30% of all FB globally have already developed a specific Family Charter, or Constitution, which is the final output of a Family Business Strategy development. However, it is not the final document itself that is decisive. More important is the discussion process and journey that leads to its definition. Owning families increasingly understand the significance of such a process, which is normally moderated by an external facilitator. They wish to strengthen their family identity and legacy, foster harmony and secure stability within the family. Unlike a Shareholder Agreement, a Family Charter is not a legally binding document, but it defines and strengthens the DNA of a family and of their business. It thus becomes a morally binding document for the owning family and, over time, it turns into a crucial success factor. In our experience, families with such a Charter are more respectful of their own rules and governance structures, and this produces better leadership as well as more effective “checks and balances”.

During workshops with the owning families, we try to ask far-reaching questions, such as: “To whom does your business belong – and who exactly is considered family?”, “What happens in cases of conflict?” and “Can family shareholders sell their shares – and if yes, to whom?” And then there are, of course, important questions regarding “roles” in the FB, especially when it comes to leadership: “Who decides – and how – who will be entitled to manage the FB?”, “Can family members apply for leadership roles if they meet certain qualifications, and are there even certain roles ‘reserved’ for them?”, “Is it actually desired that next generations should grow into executive roles, or should they be excluded altogether from operational involvement?”.

These are hugely important questions, which often require a considered thought process and intense discussions among family shareholders before arriving at a satisfactory conclusion. They touch upon all aspects of ownership including the Family’s wealth management, inheritance, the legal structure of the FB, dividend policy and the implementation of a Supervisory Board.

The “Family Business Spirit” and good governance

In well governed and successfully run FB you find what we describe as a special “Family Business Spirit”: the company culture is strongly influenced by the owning family and determined by a mix of ethical beliefs, strong values and a modus operandi (including clearly defined do’s and don’ts) to which both the owners and the management subscribe. This often includes a long-term orientation, flat hierarchy, fast decision-making and also e.g. loyalty of staff. A family business can turn these positive aspects into a huge competitive advantage.

The Family Charter contains the guiding principles for good family governance. This can function as a disciplinary frame for the owning family itself – but it will also be carefully observed by other stakeholders outside the family. This will be explored in further detail in our second article “Do’s and don’ts of successful company ownership” by Christian Bühring-Uhle.

Do’s and don’ts of successful company ownership

Do’s and don’ts of successful company ownership

How to achieve the right impact as a company owner
by Christian Bühring-Uhle

“Dalle stalle alle stelle alle stalle” (from the stables to the stars and back to the stables) is how the Italians paraphrase the phenomenon known all over the world that very few family enterprises last beyond the 3rd generation.

The sustainability of a business enterprise depends on many factors. Perhaps the most important one is the exercise of good ownership practices. This is crucial because many other significant factors, like competent leadership, financial solidity, a viable strategy etc. all depend on the owner(s) exercising their role – which is composed of rights AND duties – in an effective and professional manner.

Founders and sole entrepreneurs are often intuitively conscious of this necessity, although for them, the roles of owner and operator are not – and do not have to be – separated. However, when ownership is shared by a group of partners, or is handed down from entrepreneurs to their successors (typically the following generations of the founder’s family), the necessity arises to separate the roles of operational day-to-day management and ownership. Many co-owners are not aware of this distinction and perceive their involvement in the business as either “in” or “out”. Consequently, they hand excessive influence as well as burdens to those co-owners who actually work in the business, while neglecting the ownership rights – and duties – of those who don’t. This puts a large premium on the role of those who work in the company, and creates significant pressures on members of entrepreneurial families to get actively involved in the operational business as well, even if that does not correspond with these individuals’ vocations and abilities. There is no “entrepreneurial gene” that is biologically inherited. The result can be seen in many family enterprises that are run by moderately capable, or outright mediocre leaders, one of the main reasons why so few companies reach, let alone survive, the third generation. The key to avoiding this is to neatly separate the roles of owner and operator, and to realize that while the role of the operator can be “outsourced” to hired managers, the owner cannot escape from his or her rights and duties (unless the ownership is transferred). This may be counterintuitive to many members of ownership groups, especially entrepreneurial families, but the important and truly essential role is not the managerial one “running” the business but that of the owner who may be “outside” but may never be passive.

It is “the owner”, and that is in many cases a rather heterogeneous group of collective owners, who:

  • Defines – and “lives” – the fundamental values of the organisation.
  • Defines the mission or “raison d’être”, the fundamental strategic objectives and the general future path of the company.
  • Selects and installs the operational leadership (which includes the difficult task of attracting, hiring and retaining top leadership talent, be it “internal” or “external”).
  • Supervises the operational leadership (which includes inspiring, challenging, coaching, incentivising and evaluating top leaders).
  • Takes critical decisions affecting the financial solidity of the business (deciding on profit distribution, profit retention or capital increases, i.e. determining when and to what extent to “take money out of, or put money into the company”).
  • Decides on the structure and changes to the structure (i.e. governance structures, mergers & acquisitions, fundamental investments and divestments).
  • Establishes the fundamental processes by which the above issues and tasks are continuously revised and evolved.

So how can you meet this challenging task? The first step is to create awareness among the owners of the significance and magnitude of this task. Then there should be a thorough discussion and an attempt to reach a common understanding on the fundamental questions mentioned above, an agreement that needs to be sufficiently documented, e.g. in a family “constitution” or “protocol”.

Reaching such an agreement requires an honest discussion and a joint decision on which of these tasks can and should be executed by the owners collectively, with or without some sort of professional assistance; which tasks would better be delegated to individual members of the ownership group; and which tasks can or should be delegated to outside professionals. Once the number of co-owners has reached a certain magnitude (this can start with as few as three co-owners if at least one of them manages the company on a day-to-day basis), it is typically recommendable to create a standing committee that executes a large number of the tasks listed above and leaves only the most fundamental decisions to a plenary assembly of co-owners. This is, of course, the structure that public companies have by law, with a Board of Directors as standing committee and a General Meeting of Shareholders as plenary assembly, and that many larger private companies have adopted for practical reasons because such a two-level professional governance system simply makes sense. There are many variations of this structure, but the general two-level set up can be regarded as a universal standard.

The central element of this governance structure is the Board, which in a private company can also be an Advisory Board and which can be composed entirely of co-owners, entirely of outside directors, or a mixture of both. The key is to have capable, independently minded members, an experienced and empowered Chair Person, and the right set of procedures and practices that make sure that the Board deals with the right set of issues, at the right level of detail, in a timely and reasoned manner.

Good governance is not only important in order to protect the fundamental interest of the owner to preserve and grow the value of the business and guarantee its sustainability. A capable Board, or comparable standing committee that helps exercise the owner’s role in a professional manner, is also a fundamental need from the perspective of the executives entrusted with the day-to-day management of the company. Regardless of whether they are “insiders” or “outsiders”, operational managers need a “functioning owner” in order to obtain timely and reasonable decisions on issues that go beyond the scope of day to day management, e.g. large investments or divestments, mergers or acquisitions, etc. In addition, they also need a “functioning boss”: someone who guides them, challenges them, gives feedback and takes the decisions that affect the executive´s contractual situation, ensuring fair and fact-based treatment.

Capable executives, who can choose between different job opportunities, will pay attention to these structures and will not “invest” their professional capital in companies that do not have an adequate governance in place. In a European study of Family Business conducted together with EY in 2016, AvS – International Trusted Advisors found that external top executives study the corporate governance of FB’s very carefully when deciding whether or not to join. Moreover, their long-term commitment correlates with the degree of professionalism of the governance structure. The more a manager fears that he/she has to depend on the goodwill and stability of a single family shareholder, the higher they perceive the risk. Excellence in governance, with clearly defined rules and ways of behaving, enables FB’s to attract and retain exceptional leaders!

That, by the way, is also the case with younger generation family members who pursue executive or entrepreneurial careers: a recent study among students belonging to entrepreneurial families revealed that less than a quarter of them intends to pursue a career in the family enterprise. The war for talent is getting increasingly tough, and professional governance structures are a must for any company that wants to attract top talent, including from within the “family talent pool”.

And what are the “don’ts”? Insufficient ownership structures can be identified by one or more of the following traits:

  • Handling key issues in an unstructured process driven by emotional and “ego” considerations.
  • Failing to discuss and choose among well thought out alternatives on fundamental issues.
  • “Board” structures composed of family members and “family friends” chosen for loyalty / emotional attachment rather than for relevant experience and competencies, thus making it hard to discuss “difficult” topics and to challenge the status quo.
  • Absence of a Board leader who structures the process, moderates and focuses the discussions, makes sure “painful” issues are being processed and serves as a “bridge” and “sparring partner” for co-owners and managers, especially the chief executive.
  • Absence of a feedback process among Board members or, even better, periodically and professionally conducted Board performance evaluation.
  • Mediocre management composed of family members and long-standing loyal employees, having advanced though the ranks basically “because they were there”, resulting in the pattern known as the “Peter Principle” whereby managers are selected based on their past, rather than on abilities relevant to the future role, so they rise in the hierarchy through promotion until they reach the level of their respective incompetence.
  • Perceived nepotism demotivating non-family managers, preventing the hiring and retention of top talent.

Taking to heart these do’s and don’ts can help business owners a long way towards creating value and sustainability.

Handing over the business to the next generation

Handing over the business to the next generation

An Interview with Dr. Andreas Jacobs, Member of the Supervisory Board of Jacobs Holding AG
by Carolyn Lutz and Felix B. Waldeier

AvS – International Trusted Advisors: There are many ways in which a company can be successfully transferred across several generations – and also many risks. From your point of view, what are the crucial aspects that owners of family businesses must take into consideration?Dr. Andreas Jacobs: Being an entrepreneur is not easy. You need to be courageous, skilful in dealing with people, and have the right education and experience for the job at hand. In a family business, dealing with the family is the top priority; that poses a further challenge in three dimensions. First, there must be a horizontal balance, that is, between the siblings of the entrepreneurial family. Second, there must be a vertical balance between the generations; the allocation and distribution between today and tomorrow. Third, there must be a farsighted leader who knows when to hand over the business and to whom – and in which kind of structure he/she leaves the company and the family.

How did this generational change take place in your company?

After building Jacobs Suchard into the third largest coffee company in Europe, in 1987, my father had bought out his three brothers and sisters who held largely equal rights in the family company. For this he indebted himself, while at the same time pursuing a globalisation of the company. This led to having to sell Jacobs Suchard in 1990 for financial reasons. Thus, there was also no successful transition from the second to the third generation. In the end, everyone received a nice pay-out but the distinguishing characteristics of a family business – bringing together family members across generations, setting aside the individual interests in favour of those of the company, moving even closer together in bad times – were suddenly gone.

Could, in your opinion and in retrospect, the loss of the company and accompanying loss of family cohesion have been avoided?

My father was too strong a personality to let his siblings with almost equal rights have an agenda different from his own. The voting rights should have been distributed differently in order to improve the culture of the majority, including veto rights and a strong role of independent third parties. Instead, 100 years of Jacobs coffee as a family business came to an abrupt end.

Against this background, how did you proceed on a corporate level – or in other words, how did you succeed with a fresh start?

One of the new / old roots was the industrial chocolate business Callebaut, which the buyer, Philip Morris, did not want at the time. This has now become a small star, which has increased its production volume from 50,000 tons of chocolate per year to almost 2 million tons today. I was able to accompany the company for over 10 years as President, and I take pride in the fact that the stock price of the company – we are listed on the stock market, and hold a good 65% of the shares – has increased by eight times since then.

Barry Callebaut went public in 1996. Is listing a family business not correlated to the risk of losing the long-term entrepreneurial view through short-term satisfaction of shareholders? How did you manage to reconcile these two forces?

Combining a dominating or a majority participation of the family with an exchange listing is not only possible, to me it represents even “the best of all worlds”. There are three main reasons for this:

The exchange listing forces us to have “state-of-the-art” reporting, controlling, compliance and governance. So I do not have to play judge and jury, but the company receives its stimulus directly from the stock market.

Furthermore, the stock market listing forces us to achieve sustainable financial performance. Sustained because the CEO ensures that the stock market price increases by improving the performance quarter by quarter. At the same time, as President, I ensured that in three years, six years or ten years, we achieved our long-term goals resulting from the right strategy and the right team.

Finally, the stock market listing facilitates the procurement of cash: capital, mezzanine, bonds and bank loans can be procured much more easily and quickly if the company has a regular rating or at least good coverage by the financial analysts.

From an economic point of view, this sounds reasonable. But what advantage do the family members have from listing their company?

For family members, too, an exchange listing is advantageous. It offers the individual members initially greater fungibility and management of their own portfolio, by enabling the selling and buying of shares on the stock exchange. In addition, it requires a stable dividend policy and thus disciplines the family shareholders not to squeeze out nor to plough back too much cash.

Can an exchange listing pose an advantage for external managers in the company?

Absolutely! It allows for a more attractive “Management Compensation Programme”, which today is essential for attracting and retaining good managers. In our companies, the top ten managers earn 50% of their salary through the equity participation programme. At the same time, however, it is just as important that a stock exchange listing allows a neutral performance assessment by the management.

You and your family are investing in different companies in different industries. Did this holding structure result from the perception of opportunities or was a corresponding investment strategy already planned for a long time? How do you take decisions?

Already some twenty years ago, my father began to divide his assets. Half went to his heirs, his wife and us children, and the other half to a family holding company. This holding company invests any excess into a foundation. While the heirs can now individually dispose of their assets, they decide jointly at the holding company and the foundation – but only on two things. On the one hand, on the appointment of the Board of Directors of the holding company and of the Board of Trustees. And on the other hand, on a possible distribution of the holding company to the Foundation. All other decisions are taken exclusively by the bodies of the companies or the Foundation.

What about the operational influence of family members? Not every family member wants to work in his or her own company – others are interested, but they cannot cope with the entrepreneurial challenges…

Naturally, we try to fill the key positions in the individual companies with family members. My brother Christian, for example, directed the Jacobs Foundation for a long time before he handed over the office to our sister Lavinia some time ago – while my successors in the presidency of Jacobs Holding are my two brothers Philippe and Nicolas. We were obviously successful in transferring the responsibilities within the family. Nevertheless, we are keen to ensure that we have mainly independent and professional people in these committees, in order to make sure that family politics and possible frictions and rivalries are not taken into the committees.

Looking at the holding of positions as well as the voting rights, we could still question the rationale behind your commitment to the holding company in combination with your investments in Barry Callebaut. Successful profits ultimately end up in the Jacobs Foundation – and not directly with you. Isn’t that demotivating?

This is a good and important question! It follows the rational that capital and voting rights should always be kept together. In other words: “If one cannot reap the fruits of his/her own actions, one loses interest, works as an employee, and the passion for the family enterprise is lost.” This is a possible danger that many advisors warned us about. Nevertheless, we have deliberately chosen this structure for the following two reasons:

With one half of the inherited wealth, each one of us received enough to live. With the introduction of the other half into a holding and foundation devoted to the common good, the family will be charitably committed and dedicated to society for generations.

Our holding company, our foundation and many foundation projects carry our name. It is hardly conceivable for me that we are no longer interested in these institutions, which bear our name. Take, for example, the Jacobs University in Bremen: when my father decided to name it after our family, it was clear to all of us that we will be supporting it as long as we have the means to do so.

But does this structure also enable future generations to engage in the operational business and the foundation?

As long as my or our offspring want to be entrepreneurial and have a corresponding professional training, they will have the opportunity to develop themselves entrepreneurially and to contribute to the company or the Foundation. As for many family businesses, the core question remains: will the following generation develop enough enthusiasm in order to become entrepreneurial themselves? Every descendant must answer this question for him or herself. From my point of view, the answer is very rarely connected to the amount of money or size of the company. Entrepreneurship does not necessarily require much money, nor does a lot of money automatically lead to entrepreneurship. Therefore, we did not have a problem with the separation of voting rights and capital, and believe that the family will continue to be engaged in entrepreneurial activity.

How do you want to ensure that this will work as smoothly as possible in the future, also when very fundamental decisions have to be taken? Do you have a clear “family governance” model?

Our entrepreneurial family consists of six tribes, who, as already mentioned, decide in a Family Council on the appointment of the Board of the holding and the Foundation, as well as on a possible dividend of the holding company to the Foundation. All other decisions are made in the bodies and management of the companies. There is a clear distinction between confidentiality and the right to speak between family councils and societies. My two sisters and my older brother Christian are not involved in the Board of Directors of the Holding, which is why they receive less information about our portfolio companies. This asymmetry of course only works as long as and to the extent that they have confidence that those who are responsible for the company work well and also in their interest. It is therefore essential to maintain an informal, personal and trusting communication culture outside the Family Council and outside the committees. Luckily, we were doing that successfully even after the death of my father nine years ago.

Based on your specific structure and the interaction between family and company, can you formulate general advice on how future generations should be prepared for their role?

A family business lives from the family – in present and future generations. Accordingly, it is essential to promote the next generation in the best possible way. It is important to take into account that not all descendants can be educated to be entrepreneurs in family businesses – there is no “entrepreneurial gene” or an entrepreneurship course to be taken! The only thing we can do is to create an environment for them which transports the appropriate values and creates role models, so that they can enjoy freedom and still learn to deal with it in a responsible way.

Andreas, thank you for these insights!

AvS News

Artikel-5-AvS-Intern_150pxAvS News

Recent news and developments at AvS – International Trusted Advisors

The past months were marked not only by interesting client projects, but also by exciting developments within our firm that we are delighted to share with you in this edition of THE TRUSTED ADVISOR.

New consultants and new office in London

As of January 2018, AvS – International Trusted Advisors will expand its presence and open its own office in London. We have established a very close cooperation with Anthony Harling, who together with his partner Jim Burley leads the consulting firm Archer Mann. Anthony Harling has over 25 years’ experience in international executive search firms, including as a Partner with Heidrick & Struggles and with Eric Salmon & Partners. After a period of close cooperation, Archer Mann is expected to integrate into AvS – International Trusted Advisors UK Ltd. in 2019.

Panel Discussion on “Diversity on Boards” in Geneva

In cooperation with Berenberg Bank, our Geneva Office is organising a panel discussion entitled “Board Walk: Where are the Women? Upgrading Boardrooms with Dynamism and Diversity“. On Thursday November 16 2017, our consultants Carolyn Lutz and Nick Harris welcome the panel participants in the Hotel d’Angleterre in Geneva. Together with Regi Aalstad and Pauline Lindwall, two internationally experienced female Non-Executive Directors, and Dr. Michael Harthorn, Professor at the Business School Lausanne and a specialist in board diversity, we will discuss how companies can make better use of the full talent spectrum and raise Board performance.

Interview with Andreas von Specht in “Tharawat Magazine”

A comprehensive Interview with Andreas von Specht on “Challenges and Opportunities of Integrating Non-Family Executives in the Family Business” was published in the Dubai-based journal for (family) companies “Tharawat”. Amongst other things, Andreas spoke about the importance of a successful integration process for the long-term success of external manager in family businesses. The Interview is available as a PDF and Podcast.

Dr. Christian Bühring-Uhle talks in front of CFOs from family businesses

On March 31 2017, Dr. Christian Bühring-Uhle spoke at the St. Galler Finance Forum in front of numerous CFOs of major family businesses from the DACH Region. The topic of the interactive event was “Negotiating as a management tool of the CFO”. Based on his long experience as an author and coach in the art of negotiation, as well as his own experience as a CEO and “acting CFO”, Christian highlighted the parallels between leading and negotiating. Together with the participants, and based on the “quadrangle of key factors” and the “negotiating dilemma”, he discussed the key criteria for understanding and successfully handling any negotiating situation.

Andreas von Specht at the “EY Global Family Business Summit” in Monte Carlo

In June 2017, Andreas von Specht participated at the “EY Global Family Business Summit” in Monaco. In front of delegates from family businesses around the world, he moderated a panel discussion on “When genes are not enough: how to attract, retain and nurture top non-family management”. Member of the panel included Guido Vanherpe, Managing Director of the third generation Belgian La Lorraine Bakery Group, Charly Kittredge, head of the sixth generation US Company Crane & Co., and Dr. Mohsen Sohi, the second external and first non-German CEO of the Freudenberg Group. Together, they discussed the value external managers can add to family businesses and how to ensure their successful integration.

Relocation of the Hamburg Office

After many years based in Gorch-Fock-Wall, our office in Hamburg has recently moved to a new location. From now on, you can find us, again in a central location, in Neuer Wall 80, close to the town hall.


Navigating through rough seas

Being a force for change

Being a force for change

An interview with Frits van Paasschen, author of “The Disruptors’ Feast”
by Andreas von Specht

Andreas von Specht: Disruption is everywhere and it is often start-ups or industry outsiders who challenge the establishment with new ideas. What is your advice for company leaders who are suddenly faced with these ever faster changes?

Frits van Paasschen: Many senior executives who have been successfully managing businesses over the past few decades are finding that the requirements for success have changed significantly – for themselves and for their organisation. I would primarily advise them to be the guiding light for the company by creating a global mind-set, understanding what is happening outside the company and translating that into necessary changes. Especially public companies are too focused on KPIs, hitting quarterly earnings and meeting the parameters of success that have been defined. As a result, it is very easy to miss the forest for the trees. CEOs and leaders constantly need to ask themselves: are the measures that define the success of our company still relevant, or are we optimising ourselves for a world that is increasingly obsolete? That is why the outside perspective is so important – not just with regard to technology, but also to other cultures and markets around the world.

How do you best obtain that outside perspective?

By installing an advisory board of “Millennials”, for example, consisting of people from both within and outside the organisation. Or by having conversations and close relationships with venture capitalists who know a lot about the start-up businesses that could become relevant. “Hackathons” can also be quite successful – putting together a contest among teams to come up with new digital solutions within a 24-hour period of time. These are all very useful ways to get an outside perspective and create a different way of thinking.

You obtained that outside perspective by e.g. relocating the corporate HQ of the hotel group Starwood to China and Dubai for a certain time. How did you sell that idea to your staff?

By asking them if there was any reason why we should not do it. That was the beginning of a real dialogue around creating a global mind-set and understanding that instead of enforcing structures from the centre, we needed to serve our regional executives if we wanted to be successful in new markets.

Being successful in new markets to some extent also depends on political developments – some of which seem to go rather backwards today.

Many recent political results – for example the US presidential election or Brexit – were surprising and troubling to us. But we should learn to expect to be surprised when complicated systems are changing rapidly. The rise of populism that we’ve seen in many European countries in the last year is another example. And that is actually very much connected with the topic of disruption: the driving force behind it is an increasing number of disenfranchised voters, whose jobs and livelihoods are either being threatened or taken away by globalisation and the spread of technology.

Are there people at the losing end of a rapidly changing global economy?

There are always winners and losers in times of change and disruption. The competitive environment for labour has become a global one, jobs can easily be moved somewhere else. And the pace of change by far exceeds the capacity of labour forces to retrain and redeploy. Unfortunately, people have a strong tendency to look for someone to blame, and it is much easier to blame somebody on the other side of the border than to look at your own nation or your own lack of relevant skills for a changing marketplace.

Have these changes in the global supply of labour led to a new “war for talent” among employers?

I think the “war for talent” has existed for some time, but it is only intensified by what is happening. Across every industry, companies are looking for people who are digitally savvy, understand social media and are able to integrate technology into existing ways of doing business. Having a global perspective and seeing across functions has become more important in today’s strongly connected world. Traditionally, companies used to recruit people with specific skills or a specific industry background. Today, companies are increasingly looking for the same kind of people that incorporate the above mentioned skills.

What would organisations need to do differently today in order to successfully seek top talent around the world?

In the past, companies spent more time recruiting talent to where they were located. Now they have to see talent as a resource that has localisation: they have to look at dynamic cities, places that are hot-beds for the creative class – places where people with the type of profile described above are much more likely to be found. Those locations – whether that is in Brooklyn, Berlin, London or Amsterdam – need to be used to recruit and retain people who live in an environment where they feel comfortable.

How do top executive search firms around the world have to adapt to these changes in order to stay relevant for their clients?

With the emergence of LinkedIn and other networks, the executive search business is experiencing its own form of digital disruption. With these advancing abilities to recruit, more and more companies are moving in-house with their talent management. But many companies are still defining the profile of their new senior executives narrowly and in traditional terms – and often not realizing that their need for new personnel might result from the need for different skills. As an advisor, you have to challenge the ideas of your clients and draw their attention to these new needs. Senior executives might be from outside the industry, but they might be the right person for the job if they are able to ask uncomfortable questions that prepare the company for a disruptive future, like: What do you believe are the biggest threats to your company today? What do you think digital disruption will look like? How do you plan on coping with that? How is your team set up to lead change? Do you have someone who can be an advocate for making changes that go from central planning and skilled manufacturing to personalisation and consumer dialogue?

Many of our clients are family-owned companies. Are they facing the same challenges as public companies in disruptive times?

Successful organisations have to be able to understand as quickly as possible what is changing – and be a force for change, not only reacting to what is happening. In comparison to family companies, public companies are much more responsive to an investor community, strongly focused on short-term earnings and therefore sometimes blind for the nuances of change. The dynamic in family companies can cut both ways: focusing on tradition and continuity can be a barrier for change, but it can also be a way of staying focused on stewardship and sustainability in the future by investing in long-term capabilities to prevent disruption.

What about the values that are so important for the DNA of a family company – are they still an advantage, or can they become a hindering block?

Values can translate into a sense of mission and purpose for the company. Instead of focusing on a revenue target, the goal embedded in values is to meet a specific consumer need. Thinking about new ways to meet that goal can be a catalyst for innovation and positive change. And for consumers today, it is increasingly important that the values of the company they buy from resonate with their own values. In the transparency of a digitally connected world, companies without a strong moral purpose are more easily outed. Therefore, the right values are perhaps even more an advantage in a changing world, not less.

Frits van Paasschen, thank you very much for your insights!

For further reading: “The Disruptors´ Feast” by Frits van Paasschen, available on Amazon.

Adapting to adversity

Adapting to adversity

How to evolve your leadership style and engage fit-for-purpose executives
by Carolyn Lutz and Nick Harris

Einstein famously said that “education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school”.

The requirements for success in today’s digital and disrupted business environment are increasingly different to those elements of success which many of the Baby Boomer and Generation X age groups took for granted. Reflecting on the dialogue with Frits van Paasschen, as well as the hundreds of conversations with business owners and leaders we have conducted over the past five years, we offer a collection of checklist ideas on how leaders can remain effective (and grounded) – as well as find their place – amid the apparent chaos.

Alleviate the negative influences and harness the positive effects

  • Embrace the challenge: accept that being a leader will stretch and challenge you, and that you will grow as a result.
  • Overcome your biases: question long-held assumptions, get the facts, seek out new information, get fresh perspectives.
  • Look outside: reach beyond your normal circle of acquaintances, reach across borders and be a citizen of the world; this is a chance to build new partnerships (and perhaps even friendships).
  • Change is natural: understand and accept that your behaviour and viewpoints may change, and that this behavioural shift is a natural response that does not have to be negative.
  • Mindfulness not mindlessness: be mindful of your situation and the world around you, focus on the essentials and prioritise your actions. Don’t succumb to analysis-paralysis; make a decision and move forward.
  • Harness the “power of failure”: recognise that mistakes are inevitable and, rather than regard them as failures, view them as necessary, evolutionary steps along the road to success. Learn and re-learn.
  • “Don’t waste a good crisis”: recognise that challenges are also opportunities (for career steps, personal development, step changes in performance), and change management may be easier to initiate and drive through in bad times than in good.
  • Agility, agility, agility: fast-moving and unpredictable times require different individual and organisational qualities such as the ability to generate new knowledge and codify that learning, to be flexible and adaptable.
  • Mission critical: discover – and communicate – your own personal sense of mission; use it to foster not just a culture of performance but a culture of purpose in your team.
  • Share the burden: “command-and-control” leadership is increasingly unfit for purpose. Consciously strive against a tendency to want to micro-manage; empower your team and practice collective decision-making instead.
  • Complement one another: build teams which are complementary – in terms of diversity of thinking as well as background – not identikit. Break down silos and “not-made-here” thinking. Raise functional leaders (such as the CHRO) onto the ExCom and develop them as true business partners to the commercial managers.

Hire for new skill-sets (but old-school values)

When hiring or promoting, leaders need to assess candidates’ skillsets, experiences and competencies, not just against existing requirements but also evolving trends and future goals. They also need to look deeper at the individual – gauge how they perceive and cope with change, understand their mind-set, uncover their inherent traits and drivers.

  • Character: look for “strength of character”; a good work ethic, determination, grit, resilience (both physical and mental); emotional maturity; and (last but not least) a sense of humour.
  • Values: what are their intrinsic values; from what do they derive purpose; what do they hold true to from their family and upbringing; how do they behave in moments of adversity.
  • Intellectual curiosity: this is a critical determinant of future potential; look for a sincere belief in (lifelong) learning and sharing of knowledge, a willingness to make mistakes as part of an improvement process, an ability to see the big picture and connect the dots.
  • Agility: probe for evidence of adaptability, flexibility, and comfort with ambiguity. Ask what they have done in their career that was truly new, ground-breaking or entrepreneurial.
  • Results orientation: inner drive and a “restlessness for results”; individuals who challenge themselves to do more and do it better.
  • Breadth: assess an individual’s range of experience and diversity of exposure: e.g. digital and traditional channels, mature and developing markets, existing and emerging product categories. Monochrome careers are a red flag.
  • Internationality: interconnected businesses require well connected and networked ´citizens of the world´ who bring internationality of experience, take a global perspective and can demonstrate the ability to leverage geographically dispersed teams.

Find your fit

For senior executives contemplating the next step on their career and development journey, it is also more important than ever to find the right corporate home. When assessing the merits and challenges of joining a new company or business, leaders should seek to understand not just where but also how they will fit into the organisation. Critical questions to pose include:

  • Is there an alignment of mission and values between you and the Board / owner?
  • What is the company ethos and the purpose beyond ‘just’ making money? If the company is a family business, does the next generation share the same sense of purpose?
  • Do they have the necessary long-term thinking – and funding – to support new ventures?
  • Entrepreneurial spirit: what is their appetite for risk? How quickly can they move? How much freedom and autonomy do they give to their managers?
  • Perspectives on change: how are decisions made? How comfortable is the organisation when “sacred cows” are challenged, or existing business processes and models questioned? How have previous change management programmes fared?
  • Will you be given the necessary time (and help) to integrate into, and learn about, the new organisation?
  • What (realistically) are your chances to succeed?
  • Last but not least, what will you learn with this organisation that you wouldn’t learn anywhere else?

And to quote Einstein again: “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

AvS News

Artikel-5-AvS-Intern_150pxAvS News

Recent news and developments at AvS – International Trusted Advisors

The past months were marked not only by interesting client projects, but also by exciting developments within our firm that we are delighted to share with you in this edition of THE TRUSTED ADVISOR.

New Consultant in our Geneva office

Born in California of Swiss parents, Carolyn Lutz grew up in France, Germany, and the UK. Carolyn began her business career in marketing with Procter & Gamble in Geneva and later as Director of International with La Prairie in Zurich. For over 20 years, Carolyn has been active in executive search; in 1998 she was the founding Partner of Heidrick & Struggles’ Geneva office. Afterwards, Carolyn founded and ran her own Geneva based executive search firm. Carolyn has broad experience in international executive search, for both multinationals and family-owned businesses. A particular area of focus is diversity, including board searches and women’s leadership. Carolyn serves on the Geneva Board of the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce, and is an Advisory Board Member of W.I.N., the Women’s International Networking Forum. Please click here for further information.

Andreas von Specht at ”EY Global Family Business Summit“ in Monte Carlo

Andreas von Specht has been invited to participate as a Speaker and Presenter of a panel discussion at the “EY Global Entrepreneur of the Year” event on the 7th/8th June 2017 in Monte Carlo. Every year, more than 1,000 entrepreneurs, CEOs and journalists from all over the world participate in this conference.

New edition of the successful book by Dr. Christian Bühring-Uhle

In January, the publishing house C.H. Beck released the second edition of the book “Negotiation Management”, written by Dr. Christian Bühring-Uhle together with his co-authors Horst Eidenmüller of the University of Oxford and Andreas Nelle of the Humboldt University. The book is regarded as the “standard work of negotiation literacy”.

News from our Latin American practice

In its edition of the 17th March 2017, the Colombian economic magazine “Dinero” (the local counterpart to the Financial Times) deals with the professionalization of Supervisory Boards in Colombia. Dr. Christian Bühring-Uhle was interviewed as one of the leading experts in the country on this topic and he was prominently cited with his views on the role of the Chairman of the Supervisory Board. The article (in Spanish) can be found here.


Finding and binding

Finding and binding

Competing for external top talents in family businesses
by Andreas von Specht

Research indicates that the number of younger family members willing and interested to take over responsibility in their respective family businesses in the future is currently at a record low. Family businesses will increasingly have to take part in the global “war for talent” to attract the best suited company leaders – and, almost more importantly, to make sure external managers will also stay and perform with the family business over a long period of time. Here is the challenge for both owners and external executives: most of these external top talents will not necessarily come from a family business background. It requires certain skills, competencies and role-model behaviour from both sides to make this marriage a happy one.

Apart from being an advisor on leadership and governance issues to other family businesses, I come from a family business background myself. Our bank in Germany, the Berenberg Bank, goes back to the year 1590. It is hence the oldest bank in Germany – and the 2nd oldest in Europe. Two family branches which have pooled their votes, together with the external general partners still control far more than 50% of the votes. The year 2015, i.e. the 425th year of the bank’s existence, was the most successful year ever. This is the result of a longer phase of significant reinvention and restructuring. The complete and highly successful “renovation” of the bank over the past 10-15 years was predominantly driven by two strong non-family executives. Both were made general partners several years ago and today have significant equity stakes. Even if perhaps different in style to previous generations of private bankers, they were highly successful when it came to reshaping our business model and improving the substance of the bank. And until recently, there was still an active member of the extended family on the board, who carried the family name. The less well known part of the story is this: since 11 years and for the first time in the 426-year history of the bank, no family member is operationally active in the leadership team. The family saw this situation coming and yet we did little to adjust. We didn’t change the slightly outdated shareholder agreement which grants the acting general partners an enormous amount of influence, decision making power and control. As long as our dominant family branch was always represented amongst the general partners, this never seemed a burning issue. It might differ now as the bank and its culture is changing. From today’s perspective it appears rather unlikely that our family business will be run by one of our family members in the foreseeable future. Is that necessarily a bad thing? Probably not – but it depends on the family’s ability to influence and calibrate events as shareholders. One can draw some interesting conclusions and lessons from this family business story. For example: great entrepreneurial genes in a family are not necessarily passed on from one generation to the next. “Good Governance” in a family business is hugely important – to attract external management, but also to protect the family interests. And there are many more.

AvS – International Trusted Advisors and EY, together with a leading university, have just completed a comprehensive study on external managers in family businesses across Europe. When talking to both the family business owners and the external CEOs and CFOs, you understand very quickly that there is a special “Family Business Spirit” in these organisations. Owning families are normally emotionally much attached to their business. The company represents an important aspect of their identity – and is in most cases far more than a financial investment. The “Family Business Spirit” becomes visible in the company culture, in the relationship between family business owner and external management – and in the working environment. Family businesses, even if highly dynamic and innovative, are always long-term oriented. An important, if not the most important objective and challenge for many is to transfer the business to the next generations.

The special “Family Business Spirit” is the bright side of family businesses. If family business owners provide long-term stability, a platform for rapid, independent decision-making, a sense of purpose and strong values – the importance of such positive role-modelling cannot be overestimated. However, this coin also has a flip-side: if family lines and shareholders are involved in underlying or painfully open, unresolved conflicts amongst themselves or with the external management, the risk of departure of external top management increases over-proportionally. Even if there are offspring interested to enter the family’s own business that still doesn’t say anything about their qualifications. What are the required experiences prior to entering the family business – and who will decide if the son or the niece brings the right mix of critical competencies necessary to make it in the top job? If a succession within the family can’t be organised – or if the future entry of a successor from within the family needs to be bridged over several years, external talents come into play.

In many family businesses you can sense some degree of uncertainty as to how an external recruiting process should be managed. They know intuitively that wrong decisions with regard to the hiring of external top executives will become painful and very costly. And yet, because external hiring of the top positions simply does not happen frequently in most family businesses, many seem to get it wrong – especially the first time. The successful “fit” of an external executive in a family business will often be “judged” after only a few weeks or months. If something feels wrong, even before the honeymoon period is over, it often has to do with a lack of deep understanding: how a family business ‘ticks’ and the dos & don’ts in this special environment. Many family businesses are difficult to analyse from the outside; their true performance, for example, is often not published. It is still surprising and sometimes almost shocking, how little some executives appear to research and investigate prior to signing an employment contract about the culture and DNA of a family business – and how this might differ quite dramatically from publicly-owned businesses. However, it can be equally surprising how little effort some owners invest into the hiring process and the careful integration of external talent.

The hopes of external top managers will mostly focus on a stable business platform with long-term, reliable investment horizons and decision–making independent of quarterly results. They expect to find flat hierarchies, few decisions-makers, uncomplicated and non-political ways of communication. And they hope to find the bright side of the “Family Business Spirit” – with a value-based entrepreneurial culture and a strong people orientation. The fears of external executives joining a family business will be around potential hidden agendas among family members, a general lack of transparency and irrational behaviour.

The ideal profile of an external executive for a family business will naturally include the most important critical competencies of such an individual. This is not only a question of previous experience, but defines a certain skill-set and the degree to which an individual displays competence in important areas. For example, the ability to initiate change, to modify a business model or to bring about true customer orientation across a large organisation. Apart from entrepreneurial and social competencies, a competence most critical to success is the ability to function in the specific environment of the family business. This is probably “the” central competency that differentiates between suitable and unsuitable executives for family businesses. It can be spotted by ‘performance based prediction’: what has somebody experienced in the past that allows a forecast for how he or she will function in a special family business culture? And even more importantly: how does he or she do it? In our experience, the majority of external executives don’t fail because of functional shortcomings. We have encountered situations where the functionally strong executive appeared completely taken by surprise when he was “suddenly” asked to leave. Simply because he had missed the subtleties of critical feedback on behaviour – which the owner ensured us he had made so crystal clear. Hired on competency – fired on chemistry and style!

Interestingly enough, compensation does not play the decisive role in attracting external executives. What really does influence the decision of external executives to join and stay in family businesses over a longer period of time, is entrepreneurial freedom. The ability to shape and form, to make educated decisions and to take full responsibility. When our firm is called in to support owners with a critical succession or appointment, almost every single brief touches upon “the search for an ‘entrepreneurial’ manager”. Well, if you seek true entrepreneurs, then you also have to treat them as such – and grant the necessary space and trust to let them flourish! And – at the same time – you will have to put ‘good governance’ in place and carefully check the competencies of your external executives.

External managers: searching for outstanding talents with low egos

External managers: searching for outstanding talents with low egos

An interview with Peter Englisch, Partner and Global Family Business Leader at EY
by Andreas von Specht and Felix B. Waldeier

AvS – International Trusted Advisors: To ensure long term success, family businesses face a growing need to recruit external top managers. What changes and developments in entrepreneurial families are responsible for the fact that a family’s own offspring are often not interested in becoming the company leader?

Peter Englisch: One of our worldwide studies amongst the biggest family businesses in 2015 shows that young people are becoming less and less interested in joining their own family’s business. From my experience, parents should talk to their children at a very early stage about the possibilities of joining the family business. Young people seek clarity and perspective for their own lives and often do not even know what opportunities – also including opportunities for change – the family business has to offer. After all, it is not about pursuing the parents’ path, but also about catering for new trends, technologies and changes in the market. This is where the next generation is needed.

If the offspring decides against joining the family business, it’s usually an external manager that needs to step in. How can business owners determine if an external manager meets the company’s needs? Is there a typical competency profile?

Family businesses, German ones in particular, are often characterized by modesty and restraint – and hence put company interests over personal matters. Family businesses therefore principally look for decent and competent personalities with a strong track record especially in strategy and leadership topics. Or in other words: They are looking for outstanding talents with low egos.

However, there are many “strong egos” especially in large corporations. Are external managers, without prior experience in family businesses, therefore second choice?

No, external managers are not per se second choice. What really matters is to determine the right person to transfer the family’s values and culture into sustainable company growth. This can also be done by external managers and there are many examples of large family businesses whose operations are successfully lead by external managers. When it comes to operations and executive management within a company, competency is king – no matter if it comes from within or from outside the family.

Or, asked the other way around: might external managers even be the better solution when it comes to leading a family business?

Appointing external managers definitely offers advantages. Managers that are not family members will always and only be judged by their qualifications and performance, as well as the way in which they lead the company – and not by their origin or family background. That allows a more objective view and unbiased management of the company – provided that the owning family indicates the long term direction and defines clear competencies.

Why is this of a particular importance in family businesses?

External managers should act within the limits of clearly defined fields of competences. This notably includes and requires a separation of company matters and the personal interests of individual owners. External managers should not therefore become involved in topics such as personal tax or financial investments, nor be compromised with requests for e.g. company cars for non-active family members.

Once an external manager has been successfully appointed, the idea is to retain him/her for the long term. However, this often does not work. What do company owners need to bear in mind in order to avoid an early and unintended exit of the external manager?

An efficient culture of communication with regular and open exchange is crucial to build additional trust. The conversations should take place in a disciplined and coordinated manner to avoid that the external manager constantly has to justify his/her decisions and actions towards family members. In addition, it is extremely important that the family owners sufficiently communicate their values so to successfully introduce the external manager to the characteristics of family businesses.

Are you talking about the much quoted “Family Business Spirit”?

“Family Business Spirit” describes the strong connection between the owning family and the company, as well as the “role model function” that creates a special company culture. Whether the “Family Business Spirit” really exists in the company, and has a positive effect on the workforce, strongly depends on the actual behaviour of the family.

On the other hand, what should external managers bear in mind to ensure that they are accepted by the owning family and to lay the path for successfully leading the business?

To me, it is crucial that an external manager sees himself/herself as part of a bigger “family”. And this requires the identification with the company and the values of the family. Nevertheless, it is important to keep a certain professional distance towards the owners. In a company, roles and expectations are clearly defined, facts and rational choices matter. In the family environment it is also about emotions, appreciation and (sometimes unclear) mutual expectations. This is a difficult terrain for non-family members. Wrong expectations, incorrect behaviour, and a lack of clear competences, as well as the mingling of company matters and private interests of the owning family, are common mistakes when appointing external managers.

That sounds like a demanding and difficult path. Are there even more risks that could lead to failure?

Another risk are objectives that focus too much on short term goals and on financial aspects. Bonus and compensation systems usually reward short term success instead of supporting the long term generation of values and sustainable profits. Long term goals are especially important in family businesses.

Are compensation systems of family companies less attractive, or in other words: do family businesses pay significantly less?

In principle, family companies pay adequately. However, since stock options and other remuneration components usually do not exist, the total compensation can be below that of comparable listed companies. In exchange, statistics show that jobs in family businesses are much safer and that the average family company affiliation is more than three times longer than in similar positions in listed companies.

Besides security of employment, are there other non-monetary components in family businesses that attract external managers?

Company culture, taking over responsibility as well as long term company values and goals are very attractive characteristics of a family business and definitely appealing for external managers. These characteristics are much more present, and lived more intensely, in family businesses than in large public corporations.

Can you point out further differences between publicly listed companies and privately-held family businesses?

The “Shareholder Value” model, still highly praised until a couple of years ago, primarily focuses on increasing the shareholders’ wealth so they won’t invest elsewhere. This means that shareholders are investors looking for the highest returns. A strong shareholder orientation is a typical management style in publicly listed companies. Family businesses, in contrast, focus much more on “Responsible Ownership”. This concept is about much more than short-term financial incentives: it is about creating long term values and actively living the company’s responsibility for employees, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. This concept obviously differs a lot from the shareholder value approach – and successfully proved itself during the crisis.

Looking at the advantages and disadvantages of family businesses, one could ask: do publicly listed family businesses combine the “best of both worlds” for external managers?

This cannot be said, in general. There are a variety of reasons for family businesses to go public, e.g. access to capital markets to finance growth, introduction of Governance Systems, succession planning or to facilitate the compensation of a withdrawing shareholder. Needless to say, a regulated environment also creates more clarity for external managers. However, the Chair and the control of the Supervisory Board usually stays with a family member.

“Good Governance”: over recent years, Corporate Governance has become more and more important for larger corporations. What role does it play for family businesses?

There is a unique challenge in family businesses: corporate governance systems have to be adjusted to the rules and guidelines agreed within the family. This is often called the “Family Governance” – and it defines the long term goals and values of the family, creates clarity with regard to leadership and control, criteria for employing family members, and for dealing with withdrawing shareholders etc. This not only helps the family, but also the external managers, to understand and respect the reciprocal expectations and fields of responsibility. The subject of Corporate Governance is constantly developing and will be of increasing importance in the future – also for family businesses.

Peter Englisch, thank you very much for your insights!

How the Board ensures Good Governance

How the Board ensures Good Governance

What to look for – and what to avoid – in effectively operating Boards
by Dr. Christian Bühring-Uhle

The sustainability of a business depends on its sustained ability to attract capable leadership talent, and that in turn depends in large measure on the quality of its governance. Good governance, therefore, is not only important for its own sake but also as a requirement for attracting – and retaining – top management talent, be it external or internal (the good ones have alternatives…). In our practice as advisors to owners of significant businesses we are often asked what it takes to ensure good governance, and the key really is to have an effectively functioning Board, be it a classical Board of Directors or an Advisory Board which can play an almost equally significant role for the quality of governance in a privately held company.

In order to achieve the desired impact, the Board, in the first place, needs clarity of purpose. The primary purpose of the Board, at least in a privately held enterprise, is to exercise the owners’ rights and obligations (also vis-vis the other stakeholders), and to protect their interests, ensuring that the company is well managed, that fundamental decisions are taken on the basis of good judgment, and at the right moment. A productive and well-functioning Board, however, is also an indispensable resource for management. The best CEOs appreciate – and seek – the advice and challenge of critical, independent-minded Board members and especially an experienced Chairperson as sparring partner. Another function of the Board, and especially the Chairperson, can be to act as an intermediary, and at times even a mediator, between shareholders and management, or among different groups of shareholders.

Another important feature of effective Boards is clarity of focus. Experienced Board members, led by a capable Chairperson, will focus on the long-term well-being and sustainability of the business. They emphasise strategy over tactics, and distinguish what’s really relevant. A truly productive Board uses at least two-thirds of its time to think about the future – instead of reviewing and questioning past dealings or, worse, being presented quarterly reports and figures. A key focus for every effective Board is talent. The Board has to make sure that the company is managed by the best available talent which means not only selecting and employing the right executives, but also to help them integrate, to supervise, support and challenge them, to help them grow, to compensate them adequately, to retain them, and, when necessary, to replace them (in time).

An effectively operating Board will be able to deal with typical problems that can arise. Some Boards experience a large difference of expertise and understanding among Board members, which is acceptable and manageable as long as it derives from a diversity of backgrounds and not from a lack of (time) commitment or meeting management. Another problem can be a clash of personalities within the Board. In general, it is advisable to have strong, and diverse, personalities in the Board room, and if they – and particularly the Chairperson – have the right set of communication skills, there will be productive discussions and a high level of added value. Another problem is directly linked to productivity: sometimes Boards simply don’t get through the agenda in the allotted timeframe, and see Board members heading to the airport before the issues are resolved. And some Boards become paralysed because issues remain unresolved or won’t even be touched on due to the fear of generating antagonism.

There are a number of simple operating methods that set apart the productive Board. In our experience, a well-organised Board:

  • Operates on the basis of a well-thought-out agenda, with relevant topics, a reasonable order and time allocation, distributed with sufficient lead time, asking members to comment and make suggestions, so as to avoid last-minute changes.
  • Plans and respects adequate breaks, which are long enough so that Board members can be 100% “present” during the sessions, i.e. no one is distracted by smart phones etc.
  • Receives all relevant materials with sufficient lead time, typically one week, and everyone comes to the meeting having read the materials, allowing to focus the discussions on questions, comments, suggestions, i.e. discussing the issues rather than taking in the information.
  • Cultivates an atmosphere of candid, reflected discussions, where ideas flow freely and respectful disagreement is encouraged rather than suppressed.
  • Generates meaningful minutes, recording the decisions and the “to dos”, as well as whatever is essential to document their reasoning, rather than producing a sort of transcript that no one will read; minutes are distributed immediately (no later than three working days) after the meeting and any comments are received well in advance of the following session.
  • Undergoes periodic evaluations of its performance, either in an auto-evaluation or, preferably, with the help of competent external experts; the evaluation is frank and confidential, so as to allow an honest discussion among Board members as to how to optimise the way the Board works and adds value to the company.

The value a Board generates for the company is highly influenced by its composition. Being a Board member is a challenging, potentially inspiring and fulfilling, but above all a demanding, sophisticated task. Board members have to be individually suitable to this task, and collectively capable to act as a team so as to bring the members’ abilities to bear for the benefit of the company and its stakeholders. As individuals, they have to be well chosen on multiple dimensions:

  • Relevant Experience – which can be functional, industry or topic-based, or simply as business (or other) leaders.
  • Analytical Strength – Board members have to process large amounts of complex and sometimes ambiguous information.
  • Judgment – being able to take decisions based on limited facts (no “analysis paralysis”),
  • Motivation (and time commitment) – wanting to really make a difference, not just collecting prestigious titles or feeling obliged to someone they know.
  • Integrity – above all, the highest degree of honesty, integrity and independence. And, allied to this, an ability to work in groups (being able to listen to and value differing points of view, wanting to contribute to group results without looking for personal recognition or benefit).

The effectiveness of this group also depends on how it is composed, i.e. how the individual capabilities, personalities and perspectives complement each other. An assortment of great musicians will not automatically form a well-honed band or orchestra. When egos are big, and spirits competitive, the opposite may happen (and often does): personalities and (often pre-determined) opinions clash, everyone tries to dominate, and all the energy produces more heat than propulsion, putting off and frustrating management rather than supporting and inspiring it. A well-functioning Board requires a significant degree of humility from its members: dedicating time, attention, energy, doing one’s homework, and limiting one’s interventions to what benefits the group rather than seeking confirmation for own actions and attitudes, and serving one’s ego. And the more diverse the group, the higher the challenge of working productively. But so too will be the benefits be higher in terms of richness of ideas and soundness of decisions. We still see too many “monochrome” Boards that are male dominated or composed of nationals from the home market.

To make the most of the potential offered by the “raw material”, the group of individual “musicians”, is the task of the Chairperson who, not unlike the conductor of an orchestra, makes sure that the total is more than the sum of its parts – and not the other way around. An effective Chair instils in the Board an operating culture of openness, seriousness, respect, humanity, humility, professionalism and discipline (which does not preclude a certain degree of humour, companionship and fun). At the same time, the Chair is a serious sparring partner and mentor to the executive team and personifies the identity and the values of the company and their owners.

This will become evident especially in times of crisis when the Board, and particularly its Chairperson, makes sure the company reacts in a calm, reasoned and expedient manner. And that the executive leadership is up to the task, backed and supported by the Board where appropriate – or replaced in a timely manner, if and when necessary, and in accordance with a succession plan the Board has developed well ahead of any crisis situation.

AvS News

Artikel-5-AvS-Intern_150pxAvS News

Recent news and developments at AvS – International Trusted Advisors

The past months were marked not only by interesting client projects, but also by exciting developments within our firm that we are delighted to share with you in this edition of THE TRUSTED ADVISOR.

Publication of a European study on “External Executives in Family Companies“

Only 20% of students from entrepreneurial families plan to continue in the family business. Even so, there seems to be insufficient awareness of the growing risk caused by this lack of succession. This gap can be closed by a deliberate decision to recruit an external manager as an alternative to family members. The results of the study titled “External Managers in Family Businesses”, conducted by AvS – International Advisors together with EY and supported by ESCP Europe (Berlin), show that in this context, family businesses seek not merely employees but “co-entrepreneurs” who are suited to the company and the family — so the aim is to find a good emotional and cultural fit. Based on an initial qualitative study, a quantitative research was conducted in which hundreds of owners, as well as non-family top managers in big family businesses in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and The Netherlands, have been interviewed. Please click here to download the study English, French or German.

Andreas von Specht speaking at events in Monaco, at INSEAD and in the Baltics

In June, Andreas von Specht participated at the “EY Global Family Business Summit” in Monaco. He addressed approx. 400 delegates from around the world and then moderated a panel discussion on “Effective Leadership: attracting and retaining top talent in family business”. Members of the panel included James Wates CBE, Chairman of the UK-based Wates Group, who was one of the ‘Entrepreneurs of the Year 2016’ – and with whom Andreas discussed the importance of good family governance as well as the challenges in recruiting external talent for family businesses.

Later in June, Andreas was invited to address the ‘Family Enterprise Day’ at INSEAD in Fontainebleau. He introduced the concept of the ‘B Corporation’ and later participated in a panel on “A Practitioner Perspective on Entrepreneurship & Innovation in the Family Business”.

In October, Andreas was asked to speak at a series of family business roundtables in the Baltics (Lithuania and Latvia). Many family businesses in this region are currently transitioning (or about to do so) to the second generation. In front of the leaders of these businesses, Andreas spoke about “The Art of Managing Family Businesses” and how to facilitate this important transition, followed by a panel discussion with family business practitioners in which Andreas shared his insights on Family Business Governance.

News from our Latin American practice

Together with the German-Colombian Chamber of Commerce and with the support of the regional office of the IFC/World Bank Group and the CESA, a renowned local business school focusing on privately enterprises, AvS – International Trusted Advisors organised the first “German-Colombian Congress on Family Business” in September. 60 representatives of Colombian entrepreneurial families discussed strategies of family and company governance with our three regional Advisors, and experts from the sponsoring organisations.

Christian Bühring-Uhle, Head of our Latin American practice, was appointed Honorary Representative of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg (“Hamburg Ambassador”) in Bogotá by the Lord Mayor of Hamburg, Olaf Scholz.

Endeavor, the leading global high-impact entrepreneurship movement, also selected Christian Bühring-Uhle for its pool of distinguished Mentors, who serve as sparring partners to a highly selective group of high-potential young entrepreneurs.

New staff at our Frankfurt office

As part of the ongoing growth of our German activities, we are happy to welcome two new team members at our Frankfurt office. As of the end of September, Karin Wollmann has joined our Research Team as Project Coordinator and will support and steer our different international assignments. Having successfully worked with Karin over the past years on a freelance basis, we are glad to have her on board as a full team member. In mid-October, Julia Brüssow started in her new role as Partner Assistant and Office Manager. As the primary contact for all administrative concerns, you can reach her at +49 (69) 2713975-21.


The Benefit Corporation

The Benefit Corporation

Building a culture of purpose as the business model of the future?
by Andreas von Specht and Dr. Christian Bühring-Uhle

Traditionally, a business either operates “for-profit” or “not-for-profit”. The majority of businesses are, of course, “for-profit”, existing to generate revenue to benefit a sole proprietor, or a larger group of members or shareholders. By contrast, a “not-for-profit” organisation generally exists for the primary purpose of serving a “greater good” or social purpose other than profit. Non-profit organisations may certainly earn money and create profits; however, this money must always be put back into the organisation itself and used to benefit the mission for which it was formed. In other words, no money is distributed to owners or shareholders. Benefit Corporations, simply put, do not see a contradiction between “doing well” and “doing good”: they pursue the dual purpose of making money for their owners, and making the world a better place. They combine the “greater good” and social purpose of a non-profit organisation with the freedom to create and distribute profit among owners and shareholders.

Launched in the United States, Benefit Corporations fall into two main categories: legal “benefit corporations” which face legislative requirements to generate both shareholder and social benefit, and “Certified B Corporations” which are not legally bound but are certified by the not-for-profit organisation “B Lab”. Both types of entities are referred to among proponents as “B Corps”.

B Corps are for-profit companies that pledge to achieve social goals as well as business ones. Their social and environmental performance must be regularly certified by B Lab. B-Lab was set up in 2006 with three goals. The first goal was to create an externally valid mechanism for accrediting. That somebody could look at a company and with a relatively simple grasp could say: “that is a good business.” The second goal was to change legislation. In most countries in the world, including some states of the US, it is not even legal to have the governance of an organisation measured by purpose as well as profit. If you are a Director of a company and you make a decision that is not in the immediate financial interests of the shareholders, you could theoretically be sued. So changing legislation to allow purpose to be imbedded into the governance of organisations was critical. In the past six years, 27 states have passed laws allowing companies to incorporate themselves as “benefit corporations”. And the third objective was to create a kind of community, so that companies who are interested in more than just making money can learn from each other and do new things.

The commitments that these B Corps are making aren’t just rhetorical. Whereas a regular business can abandon altruistic policies when times get tough, a Benefit Corporation cannot. Shareholders can sue its directors for not carrying out the company’s social mission, just as they can sue directors of traditional companies for violating their fiduciary duty.

Why would any company tie its hands this way?

Becoming a B Corp raises the reputational cost of abandoning declared social goals. It’s what some economists might call a “commitment device” — a way of insuring that you will live up to your original promises. Being a B Corp also protects a company against pressure from investors. Since the 1970s, the dominant ideology in the corporate world has been that a company’s fundamental purpose is to boost investor returns: as Milton Friedman put it, increased profits are the “only social responsibility of business”.

Many, if not most CEOs, still feel huge pressure to maximize shareholder value. At a B Corp, though, shareholders are just one constituency. In today’s fiercely competitive business environment, one might assume that a company that thinks altruistically is doomed to failure. To a die-hard free-marketeer, a B Corp is just a way to waste shareholder money on “feel-good” projects. However, sustainability and good corporate citizenship are issues that are routinely covered by the media, and businesses are very aware of their reputation on these issues. Businesses are also increasingly aware that their reputation can hugely impact their ability to compete for talent and engage consumers, both as loyal customers and also as promoters for the brand. Having a social mission can hence offer distinct advantages. It’s an important way for a company to attract and retain top talents. Research data shows that talents – especially younger ones, belonging to the millennium generation – want to work for socially conscious companies, and will even accept lower compensation in exchange for a greater sense of purpose. Until now, such people often work for not-for-profits, but B Corps may soon become a more attractive option.

Why does a culture of purpose matter?

Just watch the world around you. We are in the middle of another industrial revolution – but this one is happening so much faster than the original, which took almost a hundred years. The unbelievable pace with which markets, industries and business models are changing is stunning and unprecedented. In parallel, the political landscape is changing rapidly – causing a great deal of uncertainty and even fear. Systems of transportation, energy and communication are in the middle of this third revolution. Little will remain as we knew it in the 70 years before. And more and more, it becomes a common belief – even in the US, China or India – that we will have to treat our planet with more care. At the UN conference on climate change in Paris last November, 196 countries agreed to set a goal of limiting global warming to less than two degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. The agreement calls for “zero net anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions” to be reached during the second half of the 21st century. Yet this will not be nearly enough in the long run; it doesn’t suffice that only country leaders sign protocols and treaties. A huge challenge also lies ahead for company leaders around the globe to contribute to “saving the world”: they will need to build a culture of purpose.

Purpose predicts success

The need to build a purposeful corporate culture, however, is not exclusively based on concerns for the environment and our world. Research clearly indicates that purpose oriented employees are 50% more likely to become leaders in their organisations, consider that their work makes an impact, and believe that they grow both personally and professionally. 79% of purpose-oriented workers plan to stay with their current employers longer than two years compared to 69% of their peers. They are almost twice as likely to recommend their employers. US research revealed that less than 1/3 of the U.S. workforce is purpose-oriented. It also revealed that women are significantly more likely to be purpose-oriented than men.

Non-purpose oriented employees by contrast tend to leave their job sooner, to gain less meaning from their work and to lack deep relationships at work. Purpose orientation of employees results in “higher net promoters of brand”, “higher levels of meaning”, “higher leadership potential” and “higher retention”. By building a culture of purpose, organisations will likely get into a much stronger position to attract the best and smartest talents around the world!

Benefitting society as well as shareholders

Benefitting society as well as shareholders

An interview with Lorna Davis, Chief Manifesto Catalyst at Danone
by Andreas von Specht and Nick Harris

AvS: Danone has entered into an agreement with B Lab, the organisation that accredits B Corporations, or Benefit Corporations. What does the concept of the ‘Benefit Corporation’ mean for Danone as a global FMCG company?

Lorna Davis: It’s about finding a credible mechanism for transforming a global business that is a marriage of purpose and profit. So B Corporation status would be – if you like my simple language – the ‘Fair Trade of Business’; somebody could look at a company and with a relatively easy grasp say that is a ‘good business’. It needs to be externally motivated and externally credited, with both a legal and a community purpose.

AvS: Why is this so important?

Lorna Davis: B Lab, the non-profit organisation who initiated this idea in 2006, started off from the “try-to-change-the-world” perspective. And if you look at the 220 questions in the ‘B Impact’ questionnaire that gets you accredited, they tend to be very small company focused. So, for example, you get a lot of points for local sourcing. However, when you are a big company, often you are globally sourcing and that has all sorts of benefits. Take Evian water. The carbon footprint of a bottle getting from Evian to Shanghai on a train and a ship is smaller than the carbon footprint of driving it in a truck to Brussels. We don’t think that global vs. local is necessarily the only question. So what became clear to us is that B Corporation thinking is very interesting but to get this movement to build scale you are going to need big companies to get on board. And ultimately, consumers will say: “I want to buy from companies that are doing good as well as making money.”

AvS: For Danone, this is the continuation of a long journey?

Lorna Davis: Indeed, yes. We have always been purpose driven in some ways. In 1917, when Daniel Carasso started this business, yoghurt was seen as very good for your stomach and was sold in pharmacies. Then Antoine Riboud took that on, saying publicly in 1972 that the responsibility of a company does not end at the factory gate, and launching what he called the ‘Double Project’. Frank Riboud took it to another level again in the 90’s, by creating the mission “to bring health through food to as many people as possible”. The organisation then sold off bits of the business that were not consistent with that and bought into more healthy products, like Numico infant nutrition. In the early 2000´s we started a system, a mechanism in the company called the “Danone Way”: a training, accreditation and auditing system inside the company to ensure our people around the world are doing their job in an ethical way. In 2006, we launched ‘Danone Communities’, creating a partnership with Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh, to launch nine social businesses designed to change the world, each in its own little way. Its only purpose is to make social change, not to make money. Then in 2009, we created an ‘Ecosysteme’ Fund which received a hundred million dollars from the shareholders, and we said to all of the people in the Danone business, we want you to create meaningful projects that are good for the world in your local environment.

AvS: If you look into the future, transforming the core of the Danone business – what’s your sense of how costly this will be, how difficult, and how long it might take?

Lorna Davis: The answer to the question is: I don’t know. The question implies that this is an either-or-game, which it in fact has been in the past.

AvS: Is it still an either-or game today or is it possible to do both?

Lorna Davis: We think ultimately that there is no trade-off. But the question is time. How does that work in a week, a quarter, a month, a year, a cycle? And that’s where you need maturity, you need an understanding of nuances, and where we think you see a magical combination happening. For example, in Romania, our country GM partnered together with a local NGO and with the Red Cross, to promote natural birth and breast feeding. The Romanian founder of the NGO learned a huge amount from our business people about how to get things done, and our GM learned about how to make a real difference in the community. There are many people in communities who are trying to do real good, and then there are people in business who are really good at achieving results. And so if you put together the desire to do good and add that to the ability to really get stuff done, you get this magical combination. 15 or 20 years ago, people would speak about it but then they wouldn’t deliver it. But as the issues of the world get bigger and bigger, as people realise that the system is not sustainable, as people realise that there is a better way, they say: “actually, I am going to put my money on what I believe in.”

AvS: Does this resonate more with young audiences only, or is it not that clear cut?

Lorna Davis: Good question! It is complicated. For young people it is, in a way, not even news. Like that’s the way the world is. But what I notice is that we are all complicated. People have this interesting internal dynamic around their desire for money, power, and success. Particularly people who have young families and are early on in their careers. They have this internal tension around making a difference versus climbing the ladder, irrespective of whether the ladder is against the right wall. We haven’t really seen a pattern yet except to say there is a bunch of younger people that are very clear, they are in. There is a bunch of people on the sides, for example the people who work in Ecosystemes or Danone Communities, who are clearly in and who are willing to trade off more material ambitions. And then it gets more complex.

AvS: What kind of resistance do you encounter and how do you deal with that?

Lorna Davis: I love the concept that there are only two realities in life, either love or fear. And by definition, if somebody is coming at you with anything that isn’t love, it is fear. So the question is: what are they afraid of? And so resistance is just fear. And it’s understandable – we are all terrified; if we weren’t terrified we wouldn’t be awake! Life can be scary. So empathy is really important. I never met anyone who was purely nasty; people are just frightened. Empathy is therefore important to overcome initial resistance. Credibility is also important; if you don’t know what you are talking about, then why should anybody listen to you? And then you have to have logic. If you think that someone’s rationale doesn’t make any sense, no matter how much empathy they show or how much structural power they have, people aren’t going to listen. So a combination of empathy, credibility and logic is needed. But the biggest chunk of it, in terrifying times like these, is empathy, because people are afraid.

AvS: If you think about the challenges you are facing, what keeps you awake at night?

Lorna Davis: It’s the balance between disruption and stability. Big corporations are generally structured around a manufacturing process; they are designed to organise, to create discipline in activities, to allocate tasks in a chain. Effectively what we are trying to do now is move from this ‘mechanical’ system to an ‘organic’ system where we operate more intuitively and are much more porous to the outside world, much more connected with NGO’s, governments and communities. As you are moving from one system to another, you need to disrupt the first system enough so that people understand the old rules don’t exist anymore. But at the same time replace that mechanism with another system, one that is more fluid, more natural, and more organic. That is not easy to do in real time.

AvS: Are employees getting actively involved?

Lorna Davis: When we launched the Danone B Corp manifesto, we asked employees: “if we would live this manifesto, what would that look like?” And we offered a prize for the top 21 ideas. Unbelievable ideas came in, mostly from the younger people in the company. One recent idea was to run a ‘Manifestival’, an open air festival where you combine a mixture of music, messages from inspiring young people who are trying to change the world, and demonstrations of socially valuable projects. The idea is brilliant. But then the question is: “how are we going to find a way to bring that idea to reality?” We will need to take resources from somewhere in the organisation, find the money, put a team together. And that is just one example. There are hundreds of ideas being generated and each one is an opportunity to learn a new way of communicating, to live a passion.

AvS: How do you try to prioritise from all the ideas coming in – do you have a matrix or do you go on intuition?

Lorna Davis: It’s a combination. First of all, it is good crowd sourcing technology, so if a lot of people think it’s a good idea, than probably it is a good idea. For example, one of the biggest ideas is that every ‘Danoner’ should be an ambassador for every division of the company. At the moment, we might have someone in the Water division whose sister is pregnant but he doesn’t know anything about babies, even though Danone has a whole Infant Nutrition division. So the question is how do employees access the available knowledge? How do we get every single one of the 104,000 Danoners into a position where they know what they need to know about the rest of the company, and are able to access expertise and resources to make meaningful contributions outside the group? It is a big idea; it is complicated but the prize is significant. We are going after those ideas because there you’ve got leverage. It is like a matrix: size-of-prize / degree-of-difficulty. There are some ideas out there which are big and difficult. Equally, there are some ideas that are smaller scale but still important which I’m encouraging at a local level. One young employee came up with the fantastic idea for a recycled container that uses solar energy to clean water, for example in Africa. His idea is being funded by his boss directly. He is working on prototypes, and then hopefully we can scale it up.

AvS: If a general manager were to come up with a brilliant business idea in the sense of being commercially profitable, but which ran contrary to where the company is trying to go in terms of ethics, what would happen then?

Lorna Davis: It is a great question; it is one of the reasons we are so interested in the external community. We are not a very authoritarian company and we are much more interested in raising the internal awareness of our people. But when one makes a commitment to the outside world you then have to think very carefully before you break it. So I think that the external connections are coming now full circle to B Corp. When you are part of a community that wants to make a difference in the world and you have decided that you are going to do something for the greater good – let us assume that you are going to change to a new kind of ethically sourced packaging. But the costs of that packaging goes up and you could easily go back to a non-ethically sourced packaging that is cheaper, and maybe nobody would notice. But if you are part of the community, you are going to think about these questions differently.

AvS: Lorna Davis, thank you very much for your insights!

Talent seeks purpose

Talent seeks purpose

The implications for talent at ‘purpose driven’ companies
by Nick Harris and Felix B. Waldeier

Competency based assessment and development has been around for decades, and while best-in-class companies have continued to evolve the individual competencies over time, the underlying bedrock – results orientation, strategic orientation, team leadership – remained broadly constant for a long period.

During the more turbulent times since 2008, the ‘War for Talent’ did not cease but rather has become more nuanced, context-specific and difficult. Finding leaders with a strong (historic) track record of driving results is no longer enough; companies needed to extrapolate into the future of executives and identify those with the potential, and the character, to perform in environments which are not just more pressurised and competitive but also continually changing. In a “VUCA” world (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous), companies need more than just solid ‘corporate soldiers’. They need leaders who demonstrate resilience, adaptability, intellectual curiosity, creative thinking – not least in order to be able to attract new talent among a target group that is becoming ever more demanding and “picky”.

And as if that were not enough, a new dimension is increasingly coming to the fore – both for employers and executives: doing well is no longer enough, they also want to do good.

Talent magnets

Employees and consumers worldwide are increasingly saying that they do not want to be associated with companies that, put simply, “don’t care about the world”. Millennials, in particular, ‘vote with their feet’ and do not want to work for companies that appear unconcerned by the environment and society in which they operate, companies where they cannot see the purpose.

Big businesses have in-built advantages in terms of scale, resources, competences and expertise. Organisations that can take that existing structural power and then add the purpose-driven dimension, will win in two ways: firstly, becoming more attractive to consumers as a provider of goods or services, and secondly, becoming a magnet for employees who want to work in an environment which is not just successful but inspiring. Danone, for instance – which already had a history of “doing good through the provision of healthy food”, and which is now one of the first Europe-based multinationals seeking to transform its organisation towards a ‘Benefit Corporation’ – has already seen this have a positive impact on its talent attraction.

The career helix: doing well vs. doing good

While for younger generations especially this concept of ‘doing good’ as a consumer or worker is not new, the practical realities are more complicated. Employees and executives have complex, sometimes competing, internal dynamics around their desire for advancement, money, power and success. Particularly executives who are early on in their careers, or who have young families to provide for, often have an internal tension between ‘making a difference’ and ‘climbing the ladder’, irrespective of where that leader is leading to.

Curiosity is king

For those who aspire to reach the C-suite, (multi-region) international experience is now a must. Western business leaders who have spent time living and working in developing markets such as China often find that this experience changes their perspective, sometimes in a fundamental way. The standard, predictable solutions which they are used to finding in developed markets often don’t apply there. The speed and unpredictability of emerging markets is greater, and reliable data is in shorter supply. Curiosity is a manager’s best friend and the ability to learn on the go is vital. Aspiring executives who imagine that a business career is a smooth progression, or comes clearly marked with warning signs, are not going to enjoy managing an international business in today’s environment. A different set of skills is required for navigating a journey where uncertainty and change are constant companions.

Orchestrating change

Inspiring an organisation to change itself fundamentally, whether to survive a new competitive challenge or to become a force for good in society, cannot just be commanded from the top. It requires both the right conductor, to instigate and engage the organisation from above, as well as an energised and enthusiastic groundswell of support. More junior employees also need to feel that their voices are heard and that they can operate within an organisation’s matrix to make things happen. And companies must ensure that the interplay between their internal organisation and the world externally is more open and fluid, that they are simply more connected to the outside world.

Leading the parade

What then does it take, in terms of competencies, for a person to be a successful change agent? Successful, global companies increasingly look for people who display two competencies similar to those needed by managers in China: first, “enormous curiosity” and the ability to think broadly; second, the ability to handle ambiguity and navigate a way through the complex systems and dynamics that exist within a large company. The third competency, and arguably the most important, is they need to be able to get things done while at the same time “codifying” what they are doing so that they can turn a project into a lesson – make it happen, distil what success looks like and how it was achieved, and use the learnings to teach others. This parallel processing is a critical skill. The final key competency is influencing. Persuading people and acting as an ‘ambassador’ of change requires a combination of behaviours – empathy, credibility and logic. “You can’t just turn up in a country and say: I am here from the head office and I am here to help!”

Turning up the heat on competencies

How companies grade and evaluate their people, the traditional career structure will all change significantly over time. While not looking to completely reengineer their existing career structures immediately, some of the most dynamic global corporations are already looking to “turn up the heat” on critical competencies such as learning agility. Expectations around behaviours are also being raised; career derailers are being highlighted more openly and red flagged earlier, for example ‘territorial behaviour’.

The most highly rated, and in-demand, managers will be those who do not just score well on driving results but who also have the ability and willingness to open connections externally, and to provide meaningful value for their employees, customers and community.

Equally, the most successful, and sought-after, employers will be those who do not oblige their workers to make a trade-off between doing good for others and doing well for themselves. Companies can give themselves a sustained competitive advantage through the attraction and retention of top talents with whom there is a shared harmony of (profitable) purpose.

AvS News

Artikel-5-AvS-Intern_150pxAvS News

Recent news and developments at AvS – International Trusted Advisors

The past months were marked not only by interesting client projects, but also by exciting developments within our firm that we are delighted to share with you in this edition of THE TRUSTED ADVISOR.

Presentation of a European study by EY and AvS on “External Executives in Family Companies“

Since 2014, we have carried out a study on “External Executives in Family Companies” together with EY and supported by ESCP Europe (Berlin). Company owning families and external managers form a strong team in many family businesses today. But what makes some of these teams more successful than others? What makes a family business an interesting work place for excellent managers? And what are the crucial sticking points that enable a harmonious and long-term cooperation for both sides? We have received answers to these questions as well as many interesting perspectives from large family businesses. Initial results were presented a few days ago during the “EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2016” conference in Monaco. Within this event, and as part of the “EY Global Family Business Summit”, Andreas von Specht moderated a roundtable discussion on “Effective leadership: attracting and retaining top talent in family business” in front of hundreds of family entrepreneurs from around the world. In the upcoming months, the main results and findings of the study are to be presented at different events with family entrepreneurs in Europe.

New office and staff in Geneva

Our Geneva office, opened in early 2015, has moved to a new location a few weeks ago. From now on you will find us even more centrally located within walking distance of the main train station at Rue du Mont-Blanc 19. As an important centre for consumer and luxury goods multinationals, international organisations, family businesses and family offices, Geneva plays a strategic role within our firm’s global client support network. Within this context, we are also happy to announce that Josta Vencken has joined our Geneva team as Head of Research. Josta has extensive experience as a researcher in the fields of strategic and management consulting (Egon Zehnder and Booz Allen) and at the IMD Business School.

Latin America practice is growing

After the introduction of Ricardo Sala and Nelson Echeverría as our two new Partners in the Bogotá office in 2015, we have completed various assignments not only in Columbia, Mexico and Peru, but also our first project in Ecuador. We advise, for example, the owning family of one of the leading industrial companies, as well as one of the largest agro-industrial groups in the country, in the development of owner strategies, succession and governance structures. Other projects have a broad international scope, for example the development of a regional expansion concept (strategy and organisational structure) in the Andean region for a global agricultural / mining group. We are also active in the development of a regional expansion concept (strategy and organisational structure) in the Andean region for a global agricultural / commodity group.

New website and e-mail addresses

A few days ago, our new website went “live”. Please feel free to visit our completely redesigned website at our new domain to enjoy an overview of our consulting approach, our consulting services and our team, as well as our offices and cooperation partners. As part of the change of our internet domain our e-mail addresses have changed accordingly. The contact details for each of our offices can be found on our new website. The individual e-mail addresses of our consultants and staff follow this structure: j.doe(at) Although all messages to the previously used e-mail addresses will be automatically forwarded, we would kindly like to ask you to update the contact details in your e-mail software.


Due to the continuously growing number of international clients and consulting projects, and the corresponding demand, we are pleased to offer you an English version of THE TRUSTED ADVISOR from this issue onwards. Please feel free to inform those people in your English speaking network for whom our publication might be of interest.


Rollentrennung als Schlüssel zum Erfolg

003-1-cbuRollentrennung als Schlüssel zum Erfolg

Empfehlungen für Familienunternehmen in der 2. und 3. Generation
von Dr. Christian Bühring-Uhle

Um auf ein erfolgreiches Unternehmerleben zurückblicken zu können, sollte man nicht nur ein leistungsfähiges und wertvolles Unternehmen aufgebaut haben, sondern man sollte auch durch eine tragfähige Nachfolgelösung die Grundlage für eine nachhaltige weitere Entwicklung geschaffen haben – große Werke überdauern ihre Schöpfer. Mehr als drei Viertel der deutschen Unternehmen sind in Familienhand. Aber nur in etwa einem Viertel der Fälle gelingt der Übergang in die dritte Generation. Nicht immer stehen Kinder oder Enkel, oder auch Nichten und Neffen im „richtigen“ Alter zur Verfügung, die den Willen – und die Fähigkeit im Sinne von Ausbildung, Erfahrung und Persönlichkeit – haben, ein Unternehmen zu führen. Und nicht immer stimmt die Einstellung: Sehen sie die potenziellen Nachfolger als „Diener“ des Unternehmens, seiner Inhaber, seiner Mitarbeiter und der Gemeinschaft, in der es angesiedelt ist? Oder empfinden sie sich als „Gutsherren“, mit dem angeborenen Recht Chef zu sein, ohne lästige Rechenschaftspflichten?Wenn eine Unternehmung in die nächste Generation übertragen wird, entfällt häufig die Deckungsgleichheit von Inhaber und Geschäftsführer, die typischerweise prägend ist für das Gründungsunternehmen. In der zweiten Generation gibt es häufig Gesellschafter, die nicht im Unternehmen arbeiten, und häufig trifft man auch Familienmitglieder an, die zwar im Unternehmen arbeiten, die aber (noch) nicht zum Gesellschafterkreis gehören. Aber auch wenn alle Inhaber Geschäftsführer sind, und alle Geschäftsführer Anteile am Unternehmen halten, so arbeiten diese doch nicht einfach nur „für sich selbst“, sondern sie arbeiten, meistens sogar überwiegend, „für andere“, sind insofern als „Diener“ zu verstehen und schulden den übrigen Gesellschaftern Rechenschaft. Hieraus erwachsen Spannungen, die, wenn sie nicht adäquat beherrscht werden, ein Unternehmen zugrunde richten können. Ungefähr 70% der erfolgreichen Unternehmerfamilien verlieren zwischen der ersten und der dritten Generation die Kontrolle über das unternehmerische Vermögen – und die Harmonie in der Familie. In 60% der Fälle ist dies auf interpersonale Konflikte (Störungen in Vertrauen und Kommunikation) zurück zu führen.

Die wichtigsten “neuralgischen Punkte” sind:

  • Wie schafft man angemessene, wirkungsvolle Überwachungsmechanismen für Geschäftsführer, die (Mit-) Inhaber sind?
  • Wie stellt man sicher, dass die Geschäftsführung in Grundsatzfragen die Entscheidungen erwirken kann, die von einem kompetenten Inhaber erwartet werden müssen (rechtzeitige, fundierte Entscheidungen)?
  • Wie erreicht man es, dass die im Unternehmen tätigen Familienmitglieder ihren Fähigkeiten entsprechend eingesetzt, entwickelt, geführt und vergütet werden?
  • Wie werden die Interessen der nicht im Unternehmen tätigen Gesellschafter gewahrt?
  • Wie kann das in vielen Hierarchien anzutreffende Phänomen vermieden werden, dass Führungskräfte im Laufe der Zeit an eine Stelle befördert werden, in der sie überfordert sind? Hierfür sind Familienunternehmen besonders anfällig, da oft besondere Rücksichten genommen werden, wenn Mitarbeiter „zur Familie“ gehören oder „der Familie“ über lange Jahre loyal gedient haben.
  • Wie können erstklassige Talente gewonnen, ausgewählt, integriert und im Unternehmen gehalten werden – unabhängig davon, ob es sich um Externe oder auch Familienmitglieder handelt?

Der Schlüssel zur Lösung aller diesen Fragen ist eine saubere Trennung der Rollen von Eigentümer und Geschäftsführung. Das Ziel muss sein, beide Rollen professionell und wirkungsvoll auszufüllen, um sowohl das Unternehmen in seinem Bestand zu sichern und auszubauen, als auch um den Frieden in der Inhaberfamilie zu wahren. Dies erfordert allerdings typischerweise bei den handelnden Personen einen Paradigmenwechsel. Insbesondere die zweite Generation, die in eine Unternehmerfamilie hineingeboren wurde, in der typischerweise der Inhaber, oder oft auch ein Inhaber-Ehepaar, das eigene Unternehmen geführt hat und schalten und walten konnte, wie es ihm (oder ihr, oder ihnen) beliebte, muss verstehen und verinnerlichen, dass „das Spiel“ in der nachfolgenden Generationen ein anderes ist. Diejenigen, die in der Führung des Unternehmens aktiv sind, müssen begreifen, dass sie in erster Linie dem Unternehmen und seinen Inhabern in ihrer Gesamtheit dienen. Das heißt, sie müssen transparent agieren, sich Fragen gefallen lassen und Rechenschaft ablegen. Das ist mit einer „Gutsherrenmentalität“ nicht in Einklang zu bringen. Und für die Gesellschafter bedeutet dies, ganz gleich ob sie an der Unternehmensführung beteiligt sind oder nicht, dass sie den Mut aufbringen und sich die Kompetenz aneignen müssen, um den Bruder, Onkel, Vetter, Neffen (oder Schwester, Tante etc.) zu überwachen und Transparenz und Rechenschaft einzufordern. Hierbei handelt es sich nicht nur um die Ausübung eines Rechts als Mit-Inhaber, sondern auch um eine Pflicht, dem eigenen Vermögen und dem der eigenen Familie gegenüber, aber auch gegenüber dem Familienmitglied, das eine oft schwierige und belastende Aufgabe und Verantwortung übernommen hat und ein Recht (und typischerweise auch den Bedarf) hat, Feedback zu erhalten und sich weiter entwickeln zu können.

Diese Aufgabe des professionellen Inhabers ist nicht einfach, aber sie ist unausweichlich. Und ab einer bestimmten Größenordnung von Unternehmen ist diese Aufgabe oft ohne die Hilfe kompetenter Dritter, typischer Weise in Form eines Aufsichts- oder Beratungsorgans, nicht angemessen zu bewerkstelligen. Bei Aktiengesellschaftern gibt es dafür den Aufsichtsrat, wobei es zusätzlich oft noch einen Gesellschafterrat oder Familienrat gibt, insbesondere wenn der Aktionärskreis durch eine Familie geprägt wird und der Aufsichtsrat mitbestimmt ist. In der weit überwiegenden Zahl von Familiengesellschaften fällt aber diese Rolle dem Beirat zu.

Ein solches Gremium kann der Schlüssel zur kompetenten Wahrnehmung der Inhaberrolle und damit zur sauberen Trennung der Rollen von Inhaber und Geschäftsführung sein – wenn dieses Gremium das richtige Mandat, die richtige Besetzung und die richtige Einstellung hat. Zum Mandat gehört entweder die Übertragung von Gesellschafterrechten, also die Kompetenz grundlegende Entscheidungen zu treffen, oder zumindest die Verpflichtung, dass der Beirat (oder ein vergleichbares Gremium) zu wichtigen Fragen angehört und zu einer Stellungnahme aufgefordert wird. Die Besetzung ist von überragender Bedeutung. Sowohl die Inhaberfamilien mit ihren Werten und strategischen Zielen sollte dort angemessen vertreten sein, als auch Externe, die sowohl unternehmerischen Sachverstand, relevante Branchenkenntnis und Erfahrung in der Führung von Unternehmen mitbringen, als auch eine hinreichende Distanz zu den handelnden Personen aufweisen. Auch die Einstellung ist von großer Bedeutung: neben strikter Objektivität und Unparteilichkeit, gekoppelt mit einer vollständigen mentalen und materiellen Unabhängigkeit, müssen Beiräte, um gute Sparring Partner sein zu können, auch den Mut haben unbequeme Fragen zu stellen und unangenehme Wahrheiten auszusprechen. Auch müssen sie die Hartnäckigkeit aufweisen, sich nicht mit ausweichenden Antworten oder Mittelmaß zufrieden zu geben. Eine besondere Rolle kommt naturgemäß dem (oder der) Beiratsvorsitzenden zu, der (oder die) dem Ganzen Orientierung gibt, im Interesse der Inhaber „die Führung führt“ und eine wichtige Brückenfunktion innehat – zwischen Eigentümern und Management, aber manchmal auch innerhalb der beiden Kreise, also zwischen Gesellschaftern und zwischen Mitgliedern des Managements.

Es ist nicht leicht den angesprochenen Paradigmenwechsel herbeizuführen und eine belastbare Struktur für die kompetente Wahrnehmung der Inhaberrolle aufzubauen – und zu besetzen. Oft wird dies ohne kompetente und vertrauenswürdige externe Unterstützung nicht möglich sein. Aber der Aufwand lohnt sich, denn nur mit einer guten Nachfolgelösung kann das erfolgreiche Unternehmerwirken vollendet werden.

In or Out?

businessman choosing right partner from many candidatesIn or Out?

Perspectives on internal and external CEO appointments
by Nick Harris

Appointing a new CEO is likely to be the single most important people decision that most Boards and owners will ever have to make. And the choice on whether to make an internal or external appointment is often a difficult, and sometimes a highly emotional, dilemma.
Below, we give some summary perspectives on the relative merits and considerations of internal vs. external candidates. We have deliberately not referenced the many published studies on this topic, but rather have drawn on our own observations from previous C-level succession projects.

Internal Appointment

+ Conveys a sense – particularly internally – of stability/continuity rather than disruption (i.e. ‘evolution not revolution’)

+ Sends a message that the company develops/promotes from within, up to the top level

+ Candidate is a well known commodity (i.e. you know exactly what you are getting)

+ Candidate already knows the organisation (therefore, no/little risk in terms of cultural fit)

+ Candidate’s learning curve is less steep (i.e. he/she knows what they are getting into; can be mentored ahead of time by the current incumbent)

Less likely to act as a change agent; more likely to bring incremental – rather than breakthrough game-changing – improvement

May be less likely to challenge and ‘stand up to’ the Board

External Appointment

+ Conveys a sense – particularly externally and to the markets – that the company is continually striving to out-perform and is not ‘resisting on its laurels’

+ Sends a message that the company is committed to recruiting the best-in-class, global talent

+ Candidate brings in new knowledge and best practices from other organisations

+ Candidate will bring a fresh perspective, likely spotting both weaknesses and opportunities more readily

Steeper learning curve; candidate must learn about a new environment and adapt to the culture (a comprehensive onboarding & integration programme is indispensible to mitigate the risk)

Risk that internal candidate(s) become demotivated or leave

Thus there are pros and cons to both kinds of appointment. Appropriateness is situational: dependent on the current and future/looked-for state of the company, and the type of mission (both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’) which the CEO must accomplish.

External appointments are, by definition, riskier… However, (successful) external appointees typically drive greater value over time… So, the risk with externals is higher, but so too is the potential upside.

In conclusion, considering both internal and external options – objectively and rigorously – is best practice. And ultimately, the ‘right answer’ is the ‘right candidate’!

Über junge Unternehmer und „alte“ Werte

Respect Ethics Honest Integrity Signpost Meaning Good Qualities

Über junge Unternehmer und „alte“ Werte

Die Bedeutung vermeintlich traditioneller Werte für Start-ups
von Andreas von Specht und Felix B. Waldeier

Gerade in Deutschland wird immer wieder die herausragende Stellung von zumeist über mehrere Generationen erfolgreich aufgebauten Familienunternehmen betont. Befragt man die betroffenen Familienunternehmer, dann kann man viel über die Bedeutung von flachen Hierarchien, schnellen Entscheidungen oder langfristigem Denken erfahren. Im gleichen Atemzug – häufig auch in Abgrenzung zu eher anonymen Konzernstrukturen – ist dann gerne die Rede von der großen Bedeutung von „Werten“. Loyalität, Vertrauen, Ehrlichkeit, Integrität, Gerechtigkeit und Verlässlichkeit – diese Werte werden häufig mit Deutschlands Familienunternehmen assoziiert. Und in vielen Fällen vermutlich auch vollkommen zu Recht. Uns hat allerdings auch interessiert, wie Unternehmer/Gründer von Start-ups über die Bedeutung solcher Werte denken. Bleiben traditionelle Werte bei Neugründungen, rasantem Wachstum und permanenter Veränderung auf der Strecke? Kann man sie sich womöglich gar nicht leisten? Wir haben in der Berliner Start-up-Szene den erfolgreichen Gründer von Thermondo, Philipp Pausder, getroffen.Herr Pausder, unternehmerische Werte stehen oft in engem Bezug zur Art des jeweiligen Unternehmens. Deshalb zunächst die Frage: In welchem Bereich ist Thermondo tätig?

Thermondo ist ein technologiegetriebener Heizungsbauer. Wir haben die Prozesse des Heizungswechsels grundlegend optimiert, revolutionieren so das Handwerk und eröffnen der Energiewirtschaft die Möglichkeit in kleinteilige Energiedienstleistungen einzusteigen. So kommen unsere Kunden einfacher und schneller bei guten Preisen zu einer neuen Heizung.

Welche Bedeutung haben eher klassische, traditionelle Werte wie Loyalität, Vertrauen und Ehrlichkeit für Ihr unternehmerisches Handeln?

Eine sehr hohe Bedeutung – gerade auch in der Beziehung zu unseren Mitarbeitern. In der heutigen Arbeitswelt sind Talent und Humankapital die knappsten Ressourcen. Diese müssen durch ein solides Wertegerüst im Unternehmen gesichert und gefördert werden.

Und wie schaut es bei einem aggressiv wachsenden Unternehmen mit Gerechtigkeit und Verlässlichkeit im Kontext unternehmerischer Werte aus?

Für uns ist es von herausragender Bedeutung die besten und schlausten Köpfe zu gewinnen. Menschen, die viel Leidenschaft für ihren Job mitbringen und die sich – oft aufgrund wertvoller Erfahrung und einer guten Ausbildung – ihren Job am Markt häufig aussuchen können. Gerechtigkeit gegenüber jedem einzelnen Mitarbeiter und Verlässlichkeit in Absprachen und im unternehmerischen Handeln sind daher die Kernelemente der von den Mitarbeitern erlebten, unternehmerischen Integrität.

Wie locken Sie denn die “besten und schlausten Köpfe“ in Ihr Unternehmen?

Jüngere Leistungsträger wollen natürlich gut verdienen, Dialoge auf Augenhöhe führen und schnell umfangreiche Freiheit und Verantwortung spüren. Aber sie wollen auch Teil eines Unternehmens sein, für das es sich lohnt 50-60 Stunden in der Woche zu arbeiten. Da sind unsere Werte und die Sinnhaftigkeit des Unternehmensinhalts extrem wichtig. Werte bekommen damit für mich, neben anderen Funktionen, den Status eines Pfeilers der intrinsischen Motivation.

Welche Rolle spielen diese Werte beim Verhältnis zu Ihren Geschäftspartnern?

Auch in der Beziehung zu unseren Geschäftspartnern sind Werte natürlich extrem wichtig. Wir mischen ja ein ganzes Wirtschaftssegment auf und sind somit in der Rolle des Veränderers und Innovators. Dabei ist es wichtig genau zu verstehen, wie viel Veränderung wir unseren Geschäftspartnern und anderen Marktteilnehmern überhaupt zumuten können. Wir müssen sie herausfordern, dürfen sie aber nicht überfordern. Dabei ist es zentral, dass wir uns trotz oder gerade wegen unserer Andersartigkeit als verlässlicher, werteorientierter Geschäftspartner erweisen.

Gibt es darüber hinaus weitere Werte oder Handlungsmaxime, die Ihr Unternehmen charakterisieren?

Die Freiheit im Denken, das Hinterfragen von Vorgaben und ein sehr hohes Maß an Veränderungsbereitschaft! Als kleines, junges und sehr schnell wachsendes Unternehmen müssen wir einfach besser, schneller und smarter sein. Das können wir nur, wenn wir, wie bereits erläutert, die besten Leute gewinnen. Gleichzeitig müssen diesen Top-Talenten echte Freiheiten im Denken und Handeln zugestanden werden. Und letztlich müssen wir es schaffen, die ganze Mannschaft auf ein gemeinsames Unternehmensziel einzuschwören, an dem sich dann alles Denken und Handeln zu orientieren hat.

Sehen Sie einen Unterschied zwischen dem Wertesystem traditioneller Familienunternehmen und dem von Start-ups?

Für mich sind die gerade angesprochenen Werte gar nicht immer „typisch“ für traditionelle Familienunternehmen. Viel eher stellen sie für mich generell Werte für „gutes Unternehmertum“ dar.

Worin sehen Sie denn wesentliche Unterschiede zwischen traditionellen Familienunternehmen und Start-ups?

Aus meiner Sicht ist der größte Unterschied zwischen traditionellen Unternehmen und Start-ups nicht der Wertekanon, sondern der kompromisslose Fokus auf Output. Ohne Output und damit einhergehendem Wachstum erreicht ein Start-up die nächste Finanzierungsrunde nämlich nicht. Jeder Tag ist kostbar und Stillstand ist Rückschritt. Formell und informell setzen wir uns Ziele auf Wochen- und Monatsbasis und definieren klare Meilensteine, die wir in diesem Zeitraum erreichen wollen. Es gibt keine starren Jobbeschreibungen, sondern Prioritäten und Jobinhalte müssen sich permanent und flexibel unseren Zielen und Vorgaben neu anpassen.

Inwiefern verbinden Sie unternehmerische Werte mit dem von Ihnen beschriebenen „kompromisslosen Fokus auf Output“ zur Erreichung ihrer unternehmerischen Ziele?

Die Führung eines Unternehmens darf natürlich nicht nur auf der Ebene von Kennzahlen und Meilensteinen stattfinden. Gerade Mitarbeiter in Start-ups brauchen aufgrund der unheimlich hohen Dynamik und der flexiblen Jobgestaltung Orientierung, Wertschätzung und ein hohes Maß an menschlicher Nahbarkeit in der Führung. Nur dann gelingt das Einschwören auf ein gemeinsames Ziel.

Wann sehen Sie ein gemeinsames Ziel oder den unternehmerischen Erfolg erreicht?

Der Maßstab für unternehmerischen Erfolg bedeutet für mich etwas geschaffen zu haben, was nicht mehr verschwindet und somit dann auch dauerhaft zum Wohlstand unserer Gesellschaft beiträgt. Einen Markt nachhaltig verändert oder eine anstehende Entwicklung früher erkannt und dann konsequent umgesetzt zu haben, ist für mich unternehmerischer Erfolg. Uns wird oft gesagt, dass das, was wir bei Thermondo vorhaben, eigentlich unmöglich ist. Und das, was wir machen, kann angeblich gar nicht funktionieren: Das Handwerk nachhaltig zu verändern oder gar zu digitalisieren. Wir zeigen aber, dass es eben doch geht!

Wie wichtig sind Ihnen Nachhaltigkeit und Langfristigkeit Ihres Erfolgs – und wie würden Sie diese definieren?

Nachhaltiger, langfristiger Erfolg ist mir für unser Unternehmen sehr wichtig. Wir sagen unseren Mitarbeitern immer, dass wir einen neuen Typus eines Unternehmens schaffen wollen: einen digitalen, bundesweiten, vertikal-integrierten Handwerksbetrieb, den Gatekeeper in einer kleinteilig werdenden Energielandschaft. Den gibt es bisher nicht und mein Ansporn ist es zu beweisen, dass wir nicht ein vorübergehendes Phänomen sind, sondern ein Vorreiter. Ich möchte, dass man in zehn Jahren zurückschaut und sagt: „Thermondo war der Pionier, andere haben es nachgemacht.“ Damit man dies eines Tages sagen kann, müssen wir nachhaltig Erfolg haben. Nachhaltiger Erfolg bedeutet für mich Profitabilität bei anhaltendem Umsatzwachstum.

Sehen Sie eine bestimmte Verantwortung junger Unternehmer gegenüber der Gesellschaft?

Gesellschaftliche Verantwortung empfinde ich als sehr wichtig – und natürlich tragen diese auch junge Unternehmer wie wir. Unsere Tätigkeit bei Thermondo trägt beispielsweise zur Reduzierung von CO? bei. Darüber hinaus schaffen wir Arbeitsplätze und bilden unsere Mitarbeiter für Jobs von morgen aus, für die es zurzeit noch keine Studiengänge oder Ausbildungen gibt. Wir haben bereits 150 Arbeitsplätze geschaffen, bis Weihnachten werden es knapp 180 sein. Diese Leistung ist mir sehr wichtig! Große Unternehmen bauen aufgrund ihrer Innovationsschwäche in der Regel Arbeitsplätze ab. Unsere Gesellschaft braucht daher die kleinen, innovationsstarken Einheiten, denn die schaffen die Arbeitsplätze.

Verlieren traditionelle Werte im Zuge der Globalisierung und Internationalisierung der Unternehmen zunehmend an Bedeutung?

Überhaupt nicht! Aber aus meiner Sicht hat die Vergangenheit keinen allgemeingültigen Anspruch auf das Vorhandensein von Werten. Es gibt doch zahlreiche Beispiele von Unternehmen aus der Zeit vor der Globalisierung und Internationalisierung, die diese traditionellen Werte überhaupt nicht gelebt haben. Grundsätzlich sehe ich keine Anzeichen dafür, dass Werte im Kontext global agierender Unternehmen auf dem Rückzug sind, sondern vielmehr, dass diesen sukzessive wieder eine stärkere Bedeutung zukommt.

Herr Pausder, wir danken Ihnen sehr herzlich für dieses Gespräch!

In eigener Sache

Artikel-5-AvS-Intern_150pxIn eigener Sache

Neuigkeiten aus dem Umfeld von AvS – International Trusted Advisors

Die vergangenen Monate waren nicht nur durch spannende Projekte geprägt, sondern ebenso durch interessante Entwicklungen innerhalb unserer Firma, über die wir im Rahmen dieser Ausgabe des THE TRUSTED ADVISOR ebenfalls berichten möchten.

Neuer Berater und neues Büro in Genf

Anfang des Jahres haben wir unser drittes Auslandsbüro in Genf eröffnet. Als wichtiger Dreh- und Angelpunkt, an dem nicht nur die europäischen Zentralen verschiedener Konsumgüterunternehmen, sondern auch besonders viele Familienunternehmen und Family Offices ihren Sitz haben, ist Genf für die weltweite Begleitung unserer Klienten von strategischer Bedeutung.

Seit Anfang des Jahres verstärkt Nick Harris unser Berater-Team. Nick, der seit vielen Jahren in Genf lebt, war in den letzten 10 Jahren bei Egon Zehnder tätig und hat dort u.a. die weltweiten Konsumgüter- und Handelsaktivitäten unterstützt und koordiniert. In seiner neuen Rolle widmet er sich dem Aufbau unseres Genfer Büros und insbesondere auch der Stärkung unserer internationalen Klientenbeziehungen. Neben seiner Industriespezialisierung bringt Nick Erfahrung im Bereich Talent Management sowie bei der Unterstützung von Nachfolgeprozessen gerade auch in familiengeführten Unternehmen mit. Weitere Informationen finden Sie hier.

Neuer Partner / Senior Advisor in Bogotá

Im Frühjahr haben wir in unserem im vergangenen Jahr eröffneten Büro in Bogotá mehrere Veranstaltungen durchgeführt, um unsere süd- und mittelamerikanischen Aktivitäten weiter auszubauen. Unserem Partner in Bogota, Dr. Christian Bühring-Uhle, ist es seitdem schnell gelungen uns erheblich zu verstärken:

Ricardo Sala ist im Sommer dieses Jahres von Spencer Stuart zu uns gewechselt und wird zukünftig als Partner unsere süd- und mittelamerikanischen Klienten beraten. Ricardo, der in den 90er Jahren eine Zeit lang Kolumbiens Botschafter in Bonn war, verfügt über langjährige Erfahrung als CEO und Aufsichtsrat u.a. in Familienunternehmen. Bei Spencer Stuart war er in den letzten Jahren verantwortlich für die Industrie- und Aufsichtsratspraxis in Kolumbien und anderen Ländern Lateinamerikas. Weitere Informationen finden Sie hier.

Mit Nelson Echeverría, dem früheren CEO von BASF Kolumbien/Venezuela/Ecuador, konnten wir einen herausragend vernetzten Senior Advisor für den Aufbau von Klientenbeziehungen gewinnen. Er wird uns eng beratend zur Seite stehen sowie fallweise auch auf anspruchsvollen Beratungsprojekten mitarbeiten. Nelson verfügt über jahrzehntelange Erfahrung im internationalen Top Management und engagiert sich u.a. in verschiedenen Aufsichts- und Beiräten sowie Stiftungen. Gemeinsam mit Christian Bühring-Uhle ist er im Präsidium der Deutsch-Kolumbianischen Handelskammer. Weitere Informationen finden Sie hier.

Erweiterung unseres Netzwerks an Kooperationspartnern

In den vergangenen zwei Jahren ist es uns gelungen, neben der Etablierung eigener Büros auch enge Beziehungen zu Kooperationspartnern in Ländern aufzubauen, in denen wir bisher noch keine eigenen Büros unterhalten. So sind wir inzwischen in der Lage, internationale Projekte auch mit der Unterstützung von sehr erfahrenen Beratern in England, Skandinavien, der Tschechischen Republik und Italien, aber auch in New York, Atlanta, Montreal, Singapur und Sydney durchzuführen. Langfristig verfolgt AvS – International Trusted Advisors das Ziel, auf jedem Kontinent mindestens ein eigenes Büro zu unterhalten.


Der Erfolgsfaktor „Fremdmanager“

Artikel-1-Fremdmanager_150pxDer Erfolgsfaktor „Fremdmanager“

Externe Besetzung von Führungspositionen in Familienunternehmen
von Andreas von Specht

1. Herausforderungen bei der Rekrutierung

Nur weniger als die Hälfte der Familienunternehmen erscheint in der Lage, ihre Führung aus den eigenen Reihen der Familie zu besetzen. Vielen Eigentümerfamilien geht schlicht der Nachwuchs aus. Aber selbst wenn es Kinder oder Enkelkinder gibt, heißt dies noch lange nicht, dass Eignung, Qualifikation und Wille vorhanden sind, um eine familieninterne Nachfolge anzutreten.

Wenn sich absehen lässt, dass eine familieninterne Nachbesetzung längerfristig nicht zu organisieren ist, erscheint der Verkauf des gesamten Unternehmens zwar für manche Eigner zumindest eine denkbare Option zu sein. Aber auch wenn die Bereitschaft, das vom eigenen Großvater gegründete Unternehmen eines Tages zu verkaufen, bei manchen größer geworden ist, stellt diese Option für viele Familien weiter keine gewünschte Zukunftslösung dar. Wenn eine familieninterne Nachfolge im Unternehmen nicht möglich erscheint oder der Zeitpunkt bis zum Eintritt der eigenen Kinder über mehrere Jahre überbrückt werden muss, kommt zwangsläufig die Option ‚Fremdmanagement‘ ins Spiel.

Immer mehr Familiengesellschaften entscheiden sich dazu, familienfremde Führungskräfte für die operative Leitung ihrer Unternehmen anzuheuern. Schätzungen zufolge werden nur noch gut 40% der Familienunternehmen in Deutschland ihre oberste Führungsetage allein mit Eigengewächsen besetzen können. Um eine langfristig erfolgreiche Besetzung zu meistern, kommt zunächst dem Rekrutierungsprozess von Fremdmanagern eine große Bedeutung zu. In vielen Familienunternehmen besteht nach wie vor Unsicherheit darüber, wie ein solcher Prozess professionell überhaupt organisiert werden soll, um Personalentscheidungen „aus dem Bauch heraus“ zu vermeiden.

Fehlbesetzungen von wichtigen Führungsfunktionen mit externen Managern sind leider häufig und sehr teuer. Sie können außerdem zu einem Imageschaden gegenüber Kunden, Lieferanten und Mitarbeitern – im Extremfall sogar zu einer existenziellen Bedrohung des eigenen Unternehmens führen. Neben vielen anderen Kriterien erscheint vor allem die ‚Mittelstandsbefähigung‘ und noch spezifischer, die Vorerfahrung in anderen Familienunternehmen ein relevantes Auswahlkriterium zu sein. Wir haben in unserer Beratungspraxis zahlreiche Fremdmanager erlebt, die die Werte und Zielvorstellungen der Eigentümerfamilie ihres Unternehmens offenbar nicht wirklich verstanden hatten – und sich diesen entsprechend auch nicht unterordnen konnten.

Zur sorgfältigen Vorbereitung der Rekrutierung eines Fremdmanagers, muss sich der Gesellschafterkreis zunächst Klarheit über die Aufgaben, Kompetenzverteilung und Verantwortlichkeiten der obersten Leitungsfunktion verschaffen. Man wird schwerlich einen erstklassigen, unternehmerisch agierenden Fremdmanager für das Unternehmen gewinnen können, wenn man nicht auch bereit ist, entsprechend großzügig angelegte Gestaltungsspielräume und Entscheidungskompetenzen zu schaffen. Zur Definition eines professionellen Anforderungsprofils gehört selbstverständlich auch die Frage, welche „kritischen Kompetenzen“ ein solcher Fremdmanager mitbringen muss. Hier geht es nicht allein um langjährige Erfahrung, sondern um die Ausprägung von bestimmten Kompetenzfeldern, also beispielweise die Fähigkeit, Strategien zu entwickeln und umzusetzen, Veränderungen in das Unternehmen einzubringen oder „gelebte Kundenorientierung“ auf die Vertriebsmannschaft zu übertragen. Um sich auf dieses Kompetenzbild einigen zu können, muss die Familie sich naturgemäß auch darüber im Klaren sein, was in den nächsten Jahren konkret vom Fremdmanager erwartet wird und woran der Erfolg seiner Tätigkeit gemessen werden soll.

2. Erfolgsfaktoren für Fremdmanager in Familienunternehmen

Die erfolgreiche „Passform“ vieler Fremdmanager in Familienunternehmen entscheidet sich häufig nach nur wenigen Monaten. Es gibt eine große Anzahl an Familienunternehmen, die insbesondere mit der ersten Einstellung von Fremdmanagern in ihre Geschäftsführung unzufrieden waren. In vielen Fällen stellte sich heraus, dass sich Familie und/oder Fremdmanager nicht ausreichend intensiv mit dem neuen Unternehmen bzw. der einzustellenden Person auseinandergesetzt hatten. Auch kommen bei Familienunternehmen besondere Störgefühle und Sensitivitäten hinzu, die in dieser Form nicht gleich zu einem Konflikt bei Großunternehmen führen würden. Also beispielsweise die Wahl der „falschen“ Dienstwagenmarke, als zu aufwendig empfundene Büroausstattung oder eine „überzogene Selbstdarstellung“ in der Öffentlichkeit. Sehr viele Familienunternehmen erwarten zudem, dass der Fremdmanager mit der Familie kurzfristig an den Standort zieht. Auch hier kann sehr schnell Sand ins Getriebe kommen. Neben einem guten Integrationsprozess kommt vor allem einem engen, persönlichen Kontakt und einer kontinuierlichen, möglichst vertrauensvollen Kommunikation eine sehr große Bedeutung zu. Studien zufolge sind weniger fachliche Defizite der Grund für das Scheitern von Fremdmanagern als vor allem Konflikte zwischen Familie/Familienmitgliedern und Fremdmanager – und diese Konflikte entstehen in der Regel am Anfang und deutlich seltener nach 15 Jahren.

Ein weiterer, wesentlicher Erfolgsfaktor versteckt sich hinter der Frage einer erfolgreichen ‚Governance‘. Eine sorgfältige Definition und Organisation der Inhaberfunktion, beispielsweise unterstützt durch einen kompetenten Beirat mit klar definierten Kompetenzen, bildet den notwendigen Rahmen, innerhalb dessen ein angestellter Unternehmensführer erfolgreich wirken – aber auch geführt werden kann. Gerade beim Übergang von einem Inhabergeführten zum fremdgeführten Unternehmen kommt es häufig zu Reibungen, wenn die Inhaberseite nicht klar ‚sortiert‘ und die Kompetenzen von Management einerseits und Inhaberseite andererseits nicht sorgfältig abgegrenzt sind. Familienfremde Beiratsmitglieder, insbesondere aber der Beiratsvorsitzende spielen dabei häufig eine Schlüsselrolle, da sie als ‚Brückenbauer‘ des gegenseitigen Verständnisses von Familie und Management wirken können.

Welche Rolle Fremdmanager in Familienunternehmen spielen, hängt nicht zuletzt von ihrer persönlichen Bindung zur Unternehmerfamilie und deren Einflussnahme auf das Geschäft ab. Im Übrigen scheint es einige ungeschriebene Regeln zu geben, die den Erfolg von Fremdmanagern in Familienunternehmen deutlich beeinflussen. Also zum Beispiel der Rat, gesellschaftlich eine gewisse Distanz zur Eigentümerfamilie zu wahren und nicht die gleiche Mitgliedschaft in Clubs oder Vereinigungen wie Familienmitglieder anzustreben. Oder auch das Gebot, Gesellschafter unterschiedlicher Stämme möglichst gleich zu behandeln, um am Ende nicht zwischen die Stühle zu geraten. Ganz wesentlich ist auch die Frage, wie und in welchem Umfang der Fremdmanager die Familie über relevante Vorgänge informiert.

3. Die langfristige Bindung von Fremdmanagern an Familienunternehmen

Materielle Anreizsysteme für familienfremde Firmenchefs konzentrieren sich häufig auf Erfolgsprämien, bei denen dann überwiegend quantitative Bezugsgrößen als Bemessungsgrundlage verwendet werden. Immer noch anzutreffen ist auch der Bonus „nach Gutsherrenart“, obwohl es auch bei der Gestaltung der Anreizsysteme inzwischen eine Professionalisierung in Familienunternehmen gegeben hat. Bei der Lösung der familienfremden Nachfolge taucht selbstverständlich auch die Herausforderung auf, herausragende Fremdmanager für den langfristigen Verbleib und für langfristig ausgerichtetes Handeln zu motivieren.

Wir haben in unserer Beratungspraxis Fälle erlebt, wo Kapitalbeteiligungen als Element des Entlohnungspakets für Fremdmanager von Familienunternehmen erwogen – und dann tatsächlich auch umgesetzt wurden. Dabei gibt es einige große Hindernisse zu überwinden – insbesondere auch die psychologische Barriere vieler Familien, überhaupt jemals einen Fremdmanager in den Gesellschafterkreis aufzunehmen und ihm entsprechende Rechte zuzugestehen. Die Ausgestaltung einer Beteiligung ist schwierig: So muss die Austarierung der Beteiligungsverhältnisse berücksichtigt werden, die tatsächliche Anteilsbewertung nachvollziehbar und fair erfolgen und letztlich dann die Übertragung von Kapitalanteilen in ihren Details (z.B. Vererbbarkeit der Anteile bzw. Rückübertragung der Anteile bei Ausscheiden) geregelt werden. Wir haben kürzlich ein Familienunternehmen beraten, bei dem sich diese Herausforderungen alle als lösbar und überwindbar herausstellten, nachdem die Familie zunächst die schwierige Grundsatzentscheidung getroffen hatte, Kapitalanteile an einen Fremdmanager abzugeben. Diese Grundsatzentscheidung führte dann schon einmal dazu, dass völlig andere ‚Kaliber‘ von Kandidaten für den Vorsitz der Geschäftsführung gewonnen werden konnten. Fremdmanager, die vorher mit ziemlicher Sicherheit in Bezug auf Unternehmensgröße und Gehaltssysteme abgewunken hätten, waren plötzlich mit einer langfristigen Perspektive der echten, unternehmerischen Beteiligung interessierbar.

Es gibt unbestreitbare Schwierigkeiten bei der Umsetzung der Kapitalbeteiligung eines Fremdmanagers und auch die mit der Implementierung verbundenen administrativen Aufwände und Kosten sind nicht unerheblich. Dies sollte aber nicht dazu führen, diese Option vorzeitig auszuschlagen, da umgekehrt auch enorme Chancen bestehen, echte Unternehmer für die langfristige Entwicklung des Unternehmens gewinnen zu können.

Wenn es Familienunternehmen gelingt, herausragend qualifizierte und unternehmerisch geprägte Fremdmanager in ihre Unternehmen zu integrieren, können diese das entscheidende Rädchen im Uhrwerk des unternehmerischen Erfolgs sein.

Gratwanderung zwischen Fluch und Segen

Artikel-2-Gratwanderung_150pxGratwanderung zwischen Fluch und Segen

Familienmitglieder im Management (1): Herausforderungen und Risiken
von Dr. Christian Bühring-Uhle

Die meisten Familienunternehmen werden immer noch von Mitgliedern der Inhaberfamilie(n) geführt, und dies oft, über Generationen hinweg, mit großem Erfolg. Viele scheitern aber auch an dieser Aufgabe, und so mancher wird, auch ohne zu scheitern, nicht glücklich in dieser komplexen und von vielen als „undankbar“ empfundenen Rolle. Dies ist natürlich nicht nur das Problem des betroffenen Familienmanagers, sondern häufig eine Existenzfrage für das Unternehmen. Die typischen Wettbewerbsvorteile von Familienunternehmen – kurze Entscheidungswege, nachhaltiges Wirtschaften, eine klar formulierte Mission, hohe Identifikation der Mitarbeiter mit dem Unternehmen, besserer Umgang mit Risiken, Konzentration aufs Geschäft statt auf die persönliche Karriere etc. – können nur zur Geltung kommen, wenn das Familienunternehmen auch gut geführt wird. Wir möchten daher einige der Problemstellungen sowie die wichtigsten Faktoren beleuchten, die den Erfolg – oder Misserfolg – für Familienmitglieder im Management ausmachen können.Manager im Unternehmen der eigenen Familie zu sein ist mit besonderen Anforderungen verbunden, denn typischer Weise muss man nicht nur das Unternehmen (mit-)managen, sondern auch „die Familie“ – mit allem, was sich hinter diesem scheinbar einfachen Begriff verbirgt. Die damit verbundene Komplexität stellt eine besondere Herausforderung dar: Manche Familienmanager sind bereits überfordert, weil sie für die von ihnen ausgeübte Führungstätigkeit oft nicht hinreichend vorbereitet wurden – und manchmal schlicht nicht qualifiziert sind. Hinzu kommen können eine manchmal als ausgesprochen belastend empfundene „Einsamkeit an der Spitze“, ein (selten eingestandenes) Gefühl der Überforderung, glücklose Entscheidungen, Demotivation und Fluktuation im mittleren Management, ein Mangel an Vertrauen, Reibungsverluste durch „Grabenkämpfe“ in der Familie und das Ringen um die Anerkennung und das Vertrauen der maßgeblichen Familienmitglieder. Dies geht zuweilen einher mit einem schlichten Mangel an Qualität, der sich im schlimmsten Fall durch die ganze Organisation ziehen kann.

Nicht nur, aber insbesondere in Familienunternehmen finden sich geradezu Paradebeispiele für das „Peter Principle“, d.h. dass „bewährte“ Mitarbeiter und Führungskräfte so weit befördert werden, bis sie an den Punkt ihrer eigenen Inkompetenz gelangen und damit zwangsläufig überfordert sind. Dies betrifft einerseits Familienmitglieder, die mit Führungsaufgaben nicht wegen ihrer bewiesenen Qualifikationen betreut werden, sondern weil sie zur Familie gehören und „dran sind“ (was natürlich von anderen Mitarbeitern und Führungskräften mit Argwohn beobachtet wird). Andererseits finden sich in der Führung häufig auch ergebene externe Mitarbeiter, die sich primär als „treue Diener der Familie“ bewährt und nicht durch unter Beweis gestellte Kompetenzen qualifiziert haben (und auch das bleibt anderen Mitarbeitern, insbesondere Leistungsträgern, nicht verborgen).

Mittelmaß hat die Tendenz um sich zu greifen, wobei dann häufig das Phänomen des “Flaschenzuges“ zu beobachten ist: mittelmäßige Führungskräfte ziehen ebenfalls mittelmäßige Team-Mitglieder nach, die sie nicht in Frage stellen und ihnen nicht gefährlich werden. Niemandem wird wehgetan, und es entsteht eine gefährliche Komfortzone, die dann auch noch gern mit einem guten Betriebsklima verwechselt wird. Solange es dem Unternehmen gut geht, werden diese Zustände von den Anteilseignern, also „der Familie“, bewusst oder unbewusst toleriert. Je länger dieser Zustand anhält, desto gefährlicher wird er: Es stellt sich manchmal geradezu eine Suchtproblematik ein – das betroffene Familienmitglied wird zunehmend nicht nur wirtschaftlich sondern auch psychologisch abhängig vom Familienunternehmen und der Rolle, in die es hineinmanövriert worden ist und an die es sich gewöhnt hat.

Wenn die Zeiten schwierig werden zeigt sich manchmal ein dramatischer Mangel an Anpassungsfähigkeit und gescheiterte Familienmanager fallen in ein tiefes Loch. Zu dem Drama des beruflichen Scheiterns kommt nämlich noch das Gefühl, vor der Familie versagt und das Erbe der Vorfahren aufs Spiel gesetzt zu haben. Und wenn der Betroffene sich dann „in der freien Wildbahn“ eine neue Stelle suchen soll, stellt sich nicht selten heraus, dass jemand, der lediglich eine protegierte (und zu weit vorgerückte) Karriere im Unternehmen seiner Familie vorweisen kann, als „nicht vermittelbar“ gilt. Es stellt sich dann die Herausforderung, für das betroffene Familienmitglied gesichtswahrend eine Aufgabe zu finden, die den tatsächlichen Fähigkeiten entspricht und durch die ein echter Beitrag zum Erfolg des Unternehmens (falls es die Krise überlebt) geleistet werden kann.

Im Artikel „Sicher durchs Minenfeld“, der an diesen Beitrag anknüpft, wenden wir uns den Vorkehrungen zu, mit denen man diese Probleme in den Griff bekommt und die „Pathologie“ des Familienunternehmens vermeidet.

Sicher durchs Minenfeld

Artikel-3-Minenfeld_150pxSicher durchs Minenfeld

Familienmitglieder im Management (2) : Erfolgsfaktoren und Ratschläge
von Felix B. Waldeier

Im Artikel „Gratwanderung zwischen Fluch und Segen“, auf den dieser Beitrag aufbaut, haben wir uns mit den typischen Herausforderungen, Problemstellungen und Risiken beschäftigt, mit denen Familienmitglieder als Manager im Unternehmen der eigenen Familien konfrontiert werden. Um solch kritische Situationen dem Unternehmen – und den im Unternehmen tätigen Familienmitgliedern – zu ersparen, sind zunächst einmal klare Strukturen und Spielregeln erforderlich. Spätestens in der zweiten Generation muss ein Familienunternehmen die Rollen und Aufgaben von Inhabern und Management sauber trennen. Dabei geht es zunächst um das Grundverständnis und die Haltung, mit der die Familienmitglieder diese Aufgaben wahrnehmen. Das ist einfacher bei Familienmitgliedern, die nur Inhaber oder nur Manager sind. In vielen Fällen ist jemand jedoch sowohl (Mit-)Gesellschafter als auch Führungskraft im „eigenen“ Unternehmen. In diesem Szenario ist es wichtig, sein jeweiliges Verhalten daran anzupassen, ob man in einem besagten Moment gerade den „Gesellschafter-Hut“ oder den „Manager-Hut“ auf dem Kopf trägt. Dies geht erheblich einfacher, wenn entsprechende Corporate Governance Strukturen geschaffen werden.Tragender Grundpfeiler dieser Strukturen sollte, wie bereits an anderer Stelle dargestellt, in erster Linie ein Beirat, bzw. je nach rechtlichem Rahmen ein entsprechendes Organ sein. Der Beirat ist die zentrale Instanz, in der Belange der Gesellschafter diskutiert, entschieden und gegenüber dem Management kommuniziert werden. Der Beirat ist das Forum, in dem das Unternehmen aus Sicht der Inhaber (und damit „der Familie“) gesehen, bewertet und ausgerichtet wird. Dazu muss der Beirat nicht unbedingt durch Übertragung wesentlicher Gesellschafterrechte „scharf geschaltet“ werden. Wenn der Gesellschafterkreis übersichtlich genug ist oder durch einen Gesellschafterausschuss handlungsfähig gemacht wird, kann durchaus schon ein erheblicher Qualitätssprung erreicht werden, wenn in einem professionell besetzten Beirat die Themen analysiert, bewertet und „vorgedacht“ werden. Die finalen Entscheidungen können dann durchaus „dem Inhaber“ überlassen bleiben.

Ein anderes wesentliches Element in der Struktur von Familienunternehmen sind die Verträge der im Unternehmen tätigen Familienmitglieder. Es ist sehr zu empfehlen, dass diese einem Drittvergleich standhalten, d.h. dass Familienmitglieder keine „Extrawurst“ erhalten und sich an denselben Maßstäben messen lassen müssen wie Fremdmanager auch. Der Vergleich sollte dabei mit entsprechenden Führungskräften anderer Unternehmen hergestellt werden. Insbesondere beim Einsatz von Fremdmanagern ist eine Gleichbehandlung dieser und der Familienmitglieder sehr zu empfehlen und sollte daher auch durch einen mit angesehenen, kompetenten externen Persönlichkeiten besetzen Beirat sichergestellt werden. Dabei geht es nicht nur darum ein angemessenes Leistungsniveau sicherzustellen, sondern auch darum, die Glaubwürdigkeit und „das Standing“ des Familienmitglieds als Manager zu stärken. Wichtig ist hierbei ein hohes Maß ans Transparenz (statt der zuweilen noch in Familienunternehmen anzutreffenden, geradezu zwangshaften „Geheimniskrämerei“): Je offener das Ganze gehandhabt wird, desto höher ist das Vertrauen der übrigen Führungskräfte – und der übrigen Familienmitglieder – in die Leistung des in der Führung des Unternehmens aktiven Familienmitglieds.

Ein weiterer, wichtiger Punkt ist die systematische Nachfolge- und Nachwuchsplanung und die richtige Vorbereitung der für eine mögliche Führung des Unternehmens identifizierten Familienmitglieder. Dazu gehört natürlich eine gute, relevante Ausbildung, aber nach unserer Erfahrung zwingend auch Berufserfahrung möglichst außerhalb des Familienunternehmens. Dabei geht es nicht nur darum den Horizont zu erweitern, sondern auch darum, sich außerhalb der Protektion der Familie für Führungsaufgaben zu qualifizieren und Führungserfahrung zu gewinnen. Dies ist ein Filter im Ausleseprozess, aber auch eine wichtige Quelle für das Selbstbewusstsein der Nachwuchsführungskraft und für das Ansehen im Familienunternehmen gegenüber Mitarbeitern und Familie. Wenn die Nachwuchsführungskraft dann ihre Karriere im Unternehmen der Familie fortsetzt, ist darauf zu achten, dass sie vor echte und wachsende, aber auch „schaffbare“ Herausforderungen gestellt wird. Es müssen Fehler gemacht werden können, aber ein Scheitern „vor laufenden Kameras“ ist zu vermeiden.

Aus Sicht des im Management tätigen Familienmitglieds gibt es ein paar nützliche Faustregeln. Es ist hilfreich, bewusst mit den unterschiedlichen Sphären – bspw. dem Management, dem Beirat, dem Gesellschafterkreis und der Familie – umzugehen, in denen sich der Familienmanager bewegt. Zwischen diesen Sphären gibt es natürlich Überschneidungen und manche Menschen gehören mehreren dieser Sphären an – so eben auch die meisten Familienmanager. Es ist aber wichtig, diese Sphären gedanklich zu trennen und sich darauf jeweils gesondert einzustellen. Man ist – richtigerweise – ein etwas anderer Mensch, wenn man in einer Management-Sitzung über einem operativen Problem brütet und Entscheidungen dazu trifft, als wenn man im Beirat „antritt“ (oder eine Beiratssitzung so vorbereitet, dass man die Chancen maximiert „seine“ Entscheidung durchzukriegen). Oder wenn man den eher passiven Mitgliedern des Gesellschafterkreises erklärt, was im Unternehmen vor sich geht (z.B. warum die Gewinne nächstes Jahr leider thesauriert werden müssen), oder wenn man zu Hause am Küchentisch sitzt oder bei seinen Eltern Sonntags bei Kaffee und Kuchen zu Besuch ist. Eine andere hilfreiche Faustregel ist, mit Emotionen bewusst umzugehen – sowohl mit den eigenen, als auch mit denen der übrigen Familienmitglieder und sonstiger „Stakeholder“. Emotionen spielen gerade in Familienunternehmen eine große Rolle und um sie managen zu können, muss man sie annehmen und verstehen. Von zentraler Bedeutung ist Kommunikation – sowieso immer, aber gerade auch in Familienunternehmen, da die Familie so wichtig für das Unternehmen ist und umgekehrt. Und da gibt es typischer Weise eine Reihe von Leuten, die sich für etwas interessieren, was sie nicht verstehen, und wo sie mitreden wollen – und oftmals mitreden dürfen oder sogar müssen. Wer da nicht sorgfältig, respektvoll und häufig kommuniziert, wird davon früher oder später eingeholt. Dabei spielt Vertrauen eine große Rolle – grundsätzlich, aber eben auch ganz besonders in Familienunternehmen und Unternehmerfamilien. Wer hier erfolgreich sein will, muss lernen Vertrauen zu verdienen, Vertrauen zu honorieren, Vertrauen in Anspruch zu nehmen und Vertrauen zu schenken. Dies steht in enger Wechselwirkung mit guter Kommunikation und einem guten Umgang mit Emotionen. Und hilft gegen die eingangs erwähnte Einsamkeit. Was in diesem Zusammenhang auch hilft, sind Mentoring und der Austausch mit „Peers“. Viele Familienunternehmer profitieren nachhaltig von Netzwerken und Unternehmervereinigungen, die bewusst einen solchen Austausch fördern.

Last but not least: Man muss auch den Absprung schaffen. Großartige Unternehmerleistung ist nicht nur Aufbau – sondern eben auch Übergabe. Nichts währet ewig, und zu einem wirklich erfolgreichen Leben als Unternehmer gehört ganz besonders in einem Familienunternehmen, dass man aktiv am Aufbau einer Nachfolgelösung arbeitet. Dass man sich überlegt, was man als nächstes tut und dass man den richtigen Zeitpunkt findet, um mit einem guten Gefühl den Stab zu übergeben.

Allrounder mit hoher Sozialkompetenz

Artikel-4-Allrounder_150pxAllrounder mit hoher Sozialkompetenz

Warum der Anspruch an Beiratsvorsitzende besonders hoch ist
von Andreas von Specht

Mit rund 15,5 Millionen Beschäftigten stellen Familienunternehmen etwa 60% aller sozialversicherungspflichtigen Arbeitsplätze in Deutschland. Sie bilden somit das ökonomische Rückgrat Deutschlands und gelten als Export-Motor unserer Wirtschaft. Familienunternehmen sind häufig schneller, direkter und deutlich innovativer als Konzerne. Doch die Veränderungsprozesse, denen sich deutsche Familienunternehmer in den letzten 20 Jahren ausgesetzt sahen, sind gewaltig – und haben manches Geschäftsmodell komplett neu entstehen lassen: Internationalisierung, Umweltschutz, technologischer Fortschritt und vor allem die Weiterentwicklung von Internet & E-Commerce erforderten Anpassung, Wandel und Entscheidungen mit großer Tragweite. Hinzu kam bei sehr vielen Familienunternehmen der Generationenübergang, der für sich allein schon einen Teil der Unternehmer stark ge- oder gar überfordert hat. Während mehr als zwei Drittel der großen, nicht in Familienhand befindlichen Unternehmen, bei diesen Herausforderungen auch auf die Unterstützung eines Aufsichtsgremiums zählen können, haben in Deutschland mehr als die Hälfte der Familienunternehmen bisher kein solch unterstützendes Gremium. Würde man die Beiräte, die ausschließlich als Katastrophenschutz beim Komplettausfall des Unternehmers eingerichtet wurden, auch noch abziehen, würde es noch deutlich kritischer aussehen. Sogar ein paar sehr bekannte, global agierende Familienunternehmen mit einem Jahresumsatz von mehreren hundert Millionen Euro können keinen, oder zumindest keinen professionell aufgestellten, mit Entscheidungsbefähigung und Kompetenzen ausgestatteten Beirat vorweisen.Was auf den ersten Blick unverständlich und vor allem bei größeren Unternehmen fast fahrlässig wirkt, hat häufig recht profane Gründe: Man möchte sich nicht ins Geschäft hineinschauen oder gar hineinreden lassen, scheut das vermeintliche Aufgeben von Unabhängigkeit und befürchtet höheren administrativen Aufwand oder eigenen Zeitverlust. Auch die mit der Einrichtung eines Beirats verbundenen Kosten werden häufig als Ablehnungsgrund herangeführt.

Dabei kann ein sorgfältig zusammengestellter und gut vernetzter Beirat Gold wert sein: Als Begleiter, „Hinterfrager“ und Mittler zwischen Gesellschaftern oder auch zwischen Gesellschaftern und Management. Es gibt natürlich viele operativ tätige Gesellschafter, aber eben häufig auch solche, die das Unternehmen nur interessiert begleiten. Gerade bei wichtigen Personal-, großen Strategie- oder auch Investitionsentscheidungen haben verschiedene Gesellschafter häufig eine klare Meinung – nicht aber zwangsläufig immer dieselbe. Einem gut aufgestellten Beirat, vor allem auch einem akzeptierten und respektierten Vorsitzenden gelingt es in solchen Situationen einen Interessenausgleich zu finden, zu moderieren oder auch eher uninformierte oder gar uninteressierte Anteilseigner bei der Stange zu halten.

Der Beirat kann eine wichtige Rolle bei der Vermittlung der von den Gesellschaftern definierten Werte, Visionen und strategischen Parameter an das Management spielen. Vor allem aber auch bei der „Kalibrierung“ des Unternehmers selbst – der ansonsten häufig „einsam in der Spitze“ und durch Verantwortungs- und Entscheidungsdruck stark belastet agieren muss. Ein guter Beirat kontrolliert, beaufsichtigt und berät das Management und die Familie. Als neutrale Instanz nimmt er ggf. aber auch einmal das Management gegen allzu große finanzielle Forderungen oder Machtansprüche der Gesellschafter in Schutz. Ganz besonders wichtig kann seine Rolle auch bei den häufig emotional sehr schwierigen Nachfolgeentscheidungen werden, an denen so viele Familien letztlich scheitern – und sich womöglich daran entzweien.

Die vielen unterschiedlichen Herausforderungen stellen besonders hohe Anforderungen an die „Allrounder-Fähigkeiten“ vor allem des Beiratsvorsitzenden. Dieser soll schließlich nicht nur aktiv begleiten und kontrollieren, sondern bei wichtigen Entscheidungen auch kenntnisreich Verantwortung übernehmen. Neben einem beträchtlichen Zeitbudget, „General Management“-Kompetenz und Führungserfahrung sind vor allem auch Empathie, Einfühlungsvermögen, Standhaftigkeit und innere Unabhängigkeit gefragt. Als akzeptierter, respektierter und möglichst objektiver Vermittler sollte der Vorsitzende idealerweise bereits Erfahrung mit den spezifischen Beziehungsmustern in Familienunternehmen haben. Anders als bei anonymen Anteilseignern spielen hier häufiger Emotionen, womöglich auch schwere „emotionale Rucksäcke“ aus der Vergangenheit eine Rolle. Gleichzeitig muss vor allem der Vorsitzende die Befähigung besitzen das Interesse der Gesellschafter auch bei unterschiedlichen Auffassungen innerhalb des Beiratsgremiums zu erkennen und zu wahren.

Wahrlich ist dies kein Job für Frühstücksdirektoren oder Pöstchen-Sammler, sondern eine hoch-anspruchsvolle und verantwortungsvolle Aufgabe. Zwar ist das persönliche Haftungsrisiko, welches sich aus der Gesetzeslage und der öffentlichen Diskussion um Corporate Governance und Compliance ergibt in Aufsichtsräten von Publikumsgesellschaften bisher noch ungleich höher einzuschätzen. Aber auch bei Familiengesellschaften und deren Aufsicht ist zum Glück eine zunehmende Professionalisierung und mindestens auch eine deutlich erhöhte, moralische Haftung feststellbar. Dies ist gut so, denn die Zeiten, in denen sich der Inhaber seinen Beirat aus Tennispartnern, rotarischen Freunden und allenfalls dem Wirtschaftsprüfer rekrutierte, sollten der Vergangenheit angehören.

Ob der Beiratsvorsitzende aus der Familie entsandt oder besser vom Markt rekrutiert werden sollte, lässt sich pauschal nicht beantworten. So gibt es viele erfolgreiche Familienunternehmer, die nach der Generationenübergabe nahtlos in die Funktion des Beiratsvorsitzenden gewechselt sind – und dabei die operative Verantwortung für das Tagesgeschäft tatsächlich losgelassen haben. Solche Beiratsvorsitzende, wie beispielsweise Jürgen Heraeus (Heraeus), Paul Leibinger (Trumpf) oder Michael Otto (Otto Group), besitzen dann den unschätzbaren Vorteil intimer Kenntnisse des Gesamtgeschäfts, der strategischen Herausforderungen des Marktes und der Gemengelage innerhalb der Familie. Andererseits kann auch einiges dafür sprechen, die Funktion des Vorsitzenden besser extern zu besetzen, denn nicht jeder Vollblutunternehmer ist gut im „Loslassen“. Ein starker externer Beiratsvorsitzender ist auch dann gefragt, wenn die Familie eher gesellschafter- als unternehmergeprägt ist und bspw. zu wenig betriebswirtschaftliche Kenntnisse aufweist. Oder auch genau umgekehrt, wenn die Familie bspw. schon die gesamte operative Geschäftsführung beherrscht und ein starker, neutraler Außenstehender zur Sicherstellung von objektivierter ‚Kalibrierung’ und Unternehmenskontrolle erwünscht ist.

Entscheidendes Auswahlkriterium bei der Bestellung des Vorsitzenden und des Gremiums insgesamt muss die Kompetenz sein. Natürlich spielt gerade auch Vertrauen eine herausragende Rolle – aber Kompetenz und Vertrauen bedingen einander zumeist. In seiner Gesamtzusammensetzung sollte der Beirat spezifische, für das jeweilige Familienunternehmen wichtige Kompetenzen abdecken – wie Branchenkenntnis, strategische Ausrichtung, Bilanzsicherheit, internationale Geschäftsausweitung, Akquisitionserfahrung oder auch Talent Management.

Wie findet und gewinnt man solche Beiratsmitglieder – und vor allem Vorsitzende? Mit der langsam zunehmenden Professionalisierung der Beiräte hat auch die Professionalisierung von Beiratssuchen zugenommen. Es reicht häufig einfach nicht, befreundete Unternehmer aus der Region zu fragen, oder das eigene regionale Netzwerk zu durchforsten. Zumal keineswegs sichergestellt ist, dass der mit einem befreundete, erfolgreiche Unternehmer dann auch einen exzellenten Beirat inkl. des notwendigen Zeitbudgets abgibt. Der große Vorteil einer professionellen, von einem unabhängigen Berater durchgeführten Suche ist die breite Auswahl und tatsächliche Kompetenzprüfung. Auch hier haben sich die Zeiten geändert: Heute müssen es selbst bekannte Kandidaten für einen Beiratsvorsitz „ertragen“, dass sie interviewt und dann einem professionellen Auswahlprozess ausgesetzt werden. Auf diese Weise sollten sich dann die Chancen signifikant erhöhen, einen Allrounder mit hoher Sozialkompetenz für das Familienunternehmen zu gewinnen.

Warum der Anspruch an Beiratsvorsitzende besonders hoch ist
von Andreas von Specht

Mit rund 15,5 Millionen Beschäftigten stellen Familienunternehmen etwa 60% aller sozialversicherungspflichtigen Arbeitsplätze in Deutschland. Sie bilden somit das ökonomische Rückgrat Deutschlands und gelten als Export-Motor unserer Wirtschaft. Familienunternehmen sind häufig schneller, direkter und deutlich innovativer als Konzerne. Doch die Veränderungsprozesse, denen sich deutsche Familienunternehmer in den letzten 20 Jahren ausgesetzt sahen, sind gewaltig – und haben manches Geschäftsmodell komplett neu entstehen lassen: Internationalisierung, Umweltschutz, technologischer Fortschritt und vor allem die Weiterentwicklung von Internet & E-Commerce erforderten Anpassung, Wandel und Entscheidungen mit großer Tragweite. Hinzu kam bei sehr vielen Familienunternehmen der Generationenübergang, der für sich allein schon einen Teil der Unternehmer stark ge- oder gar überfordert hat. Während mehr als zwei Drittel der großen, nicht in Familienhand befindlichen Unternehmen, bei diesen Herausforderungen auch auf die Unterstützung eines Aufsichtsgremiums zählen können, haben in Deutschland mehr als die Hälfte der Familienunternehmen bisher kein solch unterstützendes Gremium. Würde man die Beiräte, die ausschließlich als Katastrophenschutz beim Komplettausfall des Unternehmers eingerichtet wurden, auch noch abziehen, würde es noch deutlich kritischer aussehen. Sogar ein paar sehr bekannte, global agierende Familienunternehmen mit einem Jahresumsatz von mehreren hundert Millionen Euro können keinen, oder zumindest keinen professionell aufgestellten, mit Entscheidungsbefähigung und Kompetenzen ausgestatteten Beirat vorweisen.Was auf den ersten Blick unverständlich und vor allem bei größeren Unternehmen fast fahrlässig wirkt, hat häufig recht profane Gründe: Man möchte sich nicht ins Geschäft hineinschauen oder gar hineinreden lassen, scheut das vermeintliche Aufgeben von Unabhängigkeit und befürchtet höheren administrativen Aufwand oder eigenen Zeitverlust. Auch die mit der Einrichtung eines Beirats verbundenen Kosten werden häufig als Ablehnungsgrund herangeführt.

Dabei kann ein sorgfältig zusammengestellter und gut vernetzter Beirat Gold wert sein: Als Begleiter, „Hinterfrager“ und Mittler zwischen Gesellschaftern oder auch zwischen Gesellschaftern und Management. Es gibt natürlich viele operativ tätige Gesellschafter, aber eben häufig auch solche, die das Unternehmen nur interessiert begleiten. Gerade bei wichtigen Personal-, großen Strategie- oder auch Investitionsentscheidungen haben verschiedene Gesellschafter häufig eine klare Meinung – nicht aber zwangsläufig immer dieselbe. Einem gut aufgestellten Beirat, vor allem auch einem akzeptierten und respektierten Vorsitzenden gelingt es in solchen Situationen einen Interessenausgleich zu finden, zu moderieren oder auch eher uninformierte oder gar uninteressierte Anteilseigner bei der Stange zu halten.

Der Beirat kann eine wichtige Rolle bei der Vermittlung der von den Gesellschaftern definierten Werte, Visionen und strategischen Parameter an das Management spielen. Vor allem aber auch bei der „Kalibrierung“ des Unternehmers selbst – der ansonsten häufig „einsam in der Spitze“ und durch Verantwortungs- und Entscheidungsdruck stark belastet agieren muss. Ein guter Beirat kontrolliert, beaufsichtigt und berät das Management und die Familie. Als neutrale Instanz nimmt er ggf. aber auch einmal das Management gegen allzu große finanzielle Forderungen oder Machtansprüche der Gesellschafter in Schutz. Ganz besonders wichtig kann seine Rolle auch bei den häufig emotional sehr schwierigen Nachfolgeentscheidungen werden, an denen so viele Familien letztlich scheitern – und sich womöglich daran entzweien.

Die vielen unterschiedlichen Herausforderungen stellen besonders hohe Anforderungen an die „Allrounder-Fähigkeiten“ vor allem des Beiratsvorsitzenden. Dieser soll schließlich nicht nur aktiv begleiten und kontrollieren, sondern bei wichtigen Entscheidungen auch kenntnisreich Verantwortung übernehmen. Neben einem beträchtlichen Zeitbudget, „General Management“-Kompetenz und Führungserfahrung sind vor allem auch Empathie, Einfühlungsvermögen, Standhaftigkeit und innere Unabhängigkeit gefragt. Als akzeptierter, respektierter und möglichst objektiver Vermittler sollte der Vorsitzende idealerweise bereits Erfahrung mit den spezifischen Beziehungsmustern in Familienunternehmen haben. Anders als bei anonymen Anteilseignern spielen hier häufiger Emotionen, womöglich auch schwere „emotionale Rucksäcke“ aus der Vergangenheit eine Rolle. Gleichzeitig muss vor allem der Vorsitzende die Befähigung besitzen das Interesse der Gesellschafter auch bei unterschiedlichen Auffassungen innerhalb des Beiratsgremiums zu erkennen und zu wahren.

Wahrlich ist dies kein Job für Frühstücksdirektoren oder Pöstchen-Sammler, sondern eine hoch-anspruchsvolle und verantwortungsvolle Aufgabe. Zwar ist das persönliche Haftungsrisiko, welches sich aus der Gesetzeslage und der öffentlichen Diskussion um Corporate Governance und Compliance ergibt in Aufsichtsräten von Publikumsgesellschaften bisher noch ungleich höher einzuschätzen. Aber auch bei Familiengesellschaften und deren Aufsicht ist zum Glück eine zunehmende Professionalisierung und mindestens auch eine deutlich erhöhte, moralische Haftung feststellbar. Dies ist gut so, denn die Zeiten, in denen sich der Inhaber seinen Beirat aus Tennispartnern, rotarischen Freunden und allenfalls dem Wirtschaftsprüfer rekrutierte, sollten der Vergangenheit angehören.

Ob der Beiratsvorsitzende aus der Familie entsandt oder besser vom Markt rekrutiert werden sollte, lässt sich pauschal nicht beantworten. So gibt es viele erfolgreiche Familienunternehmer, die nach der Generationenübergabe nahtlos in die Funktion des Beiratsvorsitzenden gewechselt sind – und dabei die operative Verantwortung für das Tagesgeschäft tatsächlich losgelassen haben. Solche Beiratsvorsitzende, wie beispielsweise Jürgen Heraeus (Heraeus), Paul Leibinger (Trumpf) oder Michael Otto (Otto Group), besitzen dann den unschätzbaren Vorteil intimer Kenntnisse des Gesamtgeschäfts, der strategischen Herausforderungen des Marktes und der Gemengelage innerhalb der Familie. Andererseits kann auch einiges dafür sprechen, die Funktion des Vorsitzenden besser extern zu besetzen, denn nicht jeder Vollblutunternehmer ist gut im „Loslassen“. Ein starker externer Beiratsvorsitzender ist auch dann gefragt, wenn die Familie eher gesellschafter- als unternehmergeprägt ist und bspw. zu wenig betriebswirtschaftliche Kenntnisse aufweist. Oder auch genau umgekehrt, wenn die Familie bspw. schon die gesamte operative Geschäftsführung beherrscht und ein starker, neutraler Außenstehender zur Sicherstellung von objektivierter ‚Kalibrierung’ und Unternehmenskontrolle erwünscht ist.

Entscheidendes Auswahlkriterium bei der Bestellung des Vorsitzenden und des Gremiums insgesamt muss die Kompetenz sein. Natürlich spielt gerade auch Vertrauen eine herausragende Rolle – aber Kompetenz und Vertrauen bedingen einander zumeist. In seiner Gesamtzusammensetzung sollte der Beirat spezifische, für das jeweilige Familienunternehmen wichtige Kompetenzen abdecken – wie Branchenkenntnis, strategische Ausrichtung, Bilanzsicherheit, internationale Geschäftsausweitung, Akquisitionserfahrung oder auch Talent Management.

Wie findet und gewinnt man solche Beiratsmitglieder – und vor allem Vorsitzende? Mit der langsam zunehmenden Professionalisierung der Beiräte hat auch die Professionalisierung von Beiratssuchen zugenommen. Es reicht häufig einfach nicht, befreundete Unternehmer aus der Region zu fragen, oder das eigene regionale Netzwerk zu durchforsten. Zumal keineswegs sichergestellt ist, dass der mit einem befreundete, erfolgreiche Unternehmer dann auch einen exzellenten Beirat inkl. des notwendigen Zeitbudgets abgibt. Der große Vorteil einer professionellen, von einem unabhängigen Berater durchgeführten Suche ist die breite Auswahl und tatsächliche Kompetenzprüfung. Auch hier haben sich die Zeiten geändert: Heute müssen es selbst bekannte Kandidaten für einen Beiratsvorsitz „ertragen“, dass sie interviewt und dann einem professionellen Auswahlprozess ausgesetzt werden. Auf diese Weise sollten sich dann die Chancen signifikant erhöhen, einen Allrounder mit hoher Sozialkompetenz für das Familienunternehmen zu gewinnen.

In eigener Sache

Artikel-5-AvS-Intern_150pxIn eigener Sache

Neuigkeiten aus dem Umfeld von AvS – International Trusted Advisors

Das vergangene Jahr war nicht nur durch spannende Projekte geprägt, sondern ebenso durch interessante Entwicklungen und besondere Momente, über die wir im Rahmen dieser Ausgabe des THE TRUSTED ADVISOR ebenfalls berichten möchten.

Neues Büro von AvS – International Trusted Advisors in Bogotá (Kolumbien)

Ende 2014 haben wir unser zweites Auslandsbüro in Bogotá (Kolumbien) eröffnet. Mit kontinuierlich guten Wachstumsraten zwischen vier und sieben Prozent, einem starken Anstieg der Exporte sowie internationaler Investitionen hebt sich Kolumbien seit einigen Jahren stark vom Rest des Kontinents ab. Dr. Christian Bühring-Uhle, der in Bogotá lebt, wird den Aufbau des Büros in diesem Jahr maßgeblich vorantreiben und damit die Basis für eine erfolgreiche Zusammenarbeit mit lateinamerikanischen Klienten legen.

Kooperation mit Ernst & Young im Rahmen einer internationalen Studie

Eigentümerfamilien und externe Manager bilden heute in vielen Familienunternehmen ein starkes Gespann. Doch was macht einige dieser Teams erfolgreicher als andere? Was macht ein Familienunternehmen für sehr gute Manager überhaupt erst interessant? Und wo liegen die entscheidenden Knackpunkte, die ein harmonisches und langfristiges Miteinander für beide Seiten ermöglichen? Gemeinsam mit Ernst & Young sowie in wissenschaftlicher Begleitung durch die ESCP Europe in Berlin führen wir derzeit eine Studie zum Thema „Fremdmanager in Familienunternehmen“ durch. Hierzu werden eine Vielzahl deutscher Familienunternehmen mit mindestens 300 Mitarbeitern und einem Jahresumsatz von mindestens EUR 300 Millionen befragt, die ausschließlich von (familien-)externen Managern geführt werden. Um die verschiedenen Perspektiven zu beleuchten, werden dabei nicht nur eben diese Manager befragt, sondern auch die Inhaber des Familienunternehmens selbst. Das Besondere dabei: Unsere Studie ist offenbar eine der ersten zu diesem ausgesprochen interessanten Thema! Wir werden Sie informieren, sobald die Ergebnisse vorliegen und die Studie veröffentlicht wurde.

Spätsommerlicher Empfang in Frankfurt am Main

Gemeinsam mit rund 70 Unternehmern, Vorständen und hochkarätigen Gästen haben wir an einem milden Abend Anfang September den vergangenen, zugegebenermaßen ein wenig durchwachsenen Sommer verabschiedet. Bei einem Glas Wein und guten Gesprächen rund um unseren Springbrunnen haben wir nicht nur die Gelegenheit genutzt unseren neuen Garten, sondern auch unsere neue Büroetage im Hochparterre einzuweihen.

Weihnachtsaktion für jugendliche Flüchtlingsopfer aus Somalia und Afghanistan

Zum Jahresende werden vielerorts die knusprigen Gänse aus den Öfen geholt und dazu eine gute Flasche Rotwein serviert. Nicht nur zu dieser Jahreszeit, aber insbesondere auch dann, sollte man innehalten und an diejenigen denken, die zur gleichen Zeit unter Krieg, Verfolgung, Unterdrückung oder Hunger leiden. Um diesen Qualen zu entfliehen, suchen Menschen verstärkt Schutz in Deutschland – so auch eine Gruppe von zwölf jugendlichen Flüchtlingsopfern aus Somalia und Afghanistan. Diese werden zurzeit durch die ASB Lehrerkooperative gGmbH in Frankfurt betreut, lernen Deutsch und erfahren eine aktive Eingliederung. Uns hat dieses Projekt beeindruckt und entsprechend wollten auch wir, organisiert durch unsere fünf studentischen Mitarbeiter, unseren Beitrag dazu leisten. Dem Wunsch der Jugendlichen nach einem Tischkicker sind wir gerne nachgekommen und haben diesen kurz vor Weihnachten nicht nur persönlich überreicht, sondern auch gemeinsam mit ihnen eingeweiht.


Die schwierige Generationennachfolge

fbwaldeier_middleDie schwierige Generationennachfolge

Unternehmerische Herausforderungen bei Übergabe des Staffelstabs
von Felix B. Waldeier

Auch in diesem Jahr suchen wieder über 20.000 Familienunternehmen in Deutschland einen Nachfolger. Naturgemäß soll der Nachfolger am liebsten aus eigenem Nachwuchs entstammen, wobei das bekanntermaßen nicht immer möglich ist – oder in manchen Fällen eben auch eindrucksvoll schief geht. Nach Schätzungen des Instituts für Mittelstandsforschung (IfM) schaffen es im Schnitt lediglich 10-15% der dort erfassten Unternehmen in die dritte Generation. Und diese Erfahrungswerte drohen angesichts des demographischen Wandels keinesfalls besser zu werden. Entsprechend gibt es zahlreiche Familienunternehmer, die mangels eigenen Nachwuchses für die Nachfolge nach Fremdmanagern suchen – oder am Ende ihr Unternehmen sogar verkaufen müssen.Von den demographischen Aspekten des Problems einmal abgesehen, sind aber häufig auch schwere innerfamiliäre Konflikte Ursache für gescheiterte – oder gar nicht erst zustande kommende – Unternehmensnachfolgen. In diesem Zusammenhang wäre es sicherlich übertrieben von einer generellen Tabuisierung dieses Themas zu sprechen. Aber in der Regel wird in Deutschland lieber das hingebungsvolle Loblied auf die Familienunternehmen gesungen, die mit großen Vorteilen wie Schnelligkeit, Entscheidungsfreude und Anpassungsfähigkeit als kleine, innovative, kostenbewusste und wendige Spieler in den Weltmärkten reüssieren. Und selbstverständlich erwachsen gerade aus diesen mittelstandsspezifischen Vorteilen und besonderen Tugenden tatsächlich auch große Wettbewerbsvorteile – und nicht selten herausragende Weltmarktführer.

Wahr ist aber leider auch, dass sich diese Vorteile ins drastische Gegenteil verkehren können, wenn es den Patriarchen an eigener Kalibrierung und Selbstreflexion fehlt, sie selbst nicht loslassen können – oder sich Stammesfürsten bei Anwälten die Klinke in die Hand, sich aber nicht mehr die eigene geben mögen. Wer der Meinung ist, dass die monatlich in verschiedensten Wirtschaftsmagazinen genüsslich ausgewalzten Probleme bei großen Familienunternehmen wie Oetker, Schlecker, Merckle oder Oppenheim zwar spannende, ggf. unrühmliche, aber eben auch extreme Ausnahmen seien, der irrt nach unserer Erfahrung leider. Sie sind vielleicht die Spitze des Eisbergs, aber weniger spektakuläre Probleme bei weniger großen oder prominenten Familienunternehmen existieren en masse. Und sicherlich gibt es auch eine ganze Reihe von Familienfehden, die bisher (auch durch Glück) von den Nachforschungen der Journalisten verschont geblieben sind. Nicht wenige dieser Konflikte haben sehr direkt mit Nachfolgethemen zu tun.

Doch wo genau liegen die Ursachen für ebendiese Probleme rund um Unternehmensnachfolgen? In vielen Fällen hat die nachfolgende Generation schlicht andere Zukunftspläne für sich oder die Firma als ihre Eltern. In anderen Fällen wiederum bringen potenzielle Nachfolger (scheinbar oder tatsächlich) nicht ausreichend unternehmerische Qualifikationen mit, um die Unternehmensnachfolge anzutreten. Und immer noch viel zu häufig wird die Übergabe als ein wesentlicher Teil der Unternehmerleistung verzögert, verpasst oder gar zurückgenommen. In unserer Beratungstätigkeit haben wir bereits menschlich-tragische Auseinandersetzungen in Familienunternehmen miterlebt, bei denen bspw. der Senior mit 78 Jahren unerwartet zurückkam, nachdem er bereits acht Jahre zuvor das Unternehmen (nicht aber die Mehrheit der Anteile) vor hunderten Gästen mit einem symbolischen Schlüssel und feuchten Augen dem auch nicht mehr so jungen Sohn übergeben hatte. Zwischenzeitlich hatte er dann wohl festgestellt, dass es auch in der Toskana irgendwann einmal langweilig werden kann – und es der Sohn alleine und ohne seine Mithilfe vermutlich nicht schaffen würde. Nicht selten zermürben stark emotional geprägte Machtkämpfe um Nachfolgen, Anteile oder Einflussnahme zwischen oder innerhalb von Generationen und Familienstämmen die Beteiligten. Dies kann schnell zu nicht mehr zu kittenden Zerwürfnissen der Gesellschafter untereinander führen, im schlimmsten Fall sogar zum Zerbrechen des Unternehmens.

Was ist Familienunternehmern zu raten? Auch wenn Empfehlungen natürlich immer den individuellen Kontext des Unternehmens berücksichtigen müssen, so kann sicherlich festgehalten werden: Eine erfolgreiche Nachfolge muss mit ausreichendem Vorlauf geplant und mit allen Beteiligten umfassend vorbereitet werden. Die meisten Nachfolgesituationen kommen rein biologisch bedingt aus Altersgründen zustande – und sind damit eigentlich vorhersehbar. Manchmal schlägt jedoch auch das Schicksal zu und eine Nachfolge muss sehr kurzfristig, bspw. aus Krankheitsgründen organisiert werden. Gerade aber diese entsprechenden Notfallpläne hat die Mehrheit der betroffenen Unternehmen und Familien leider nicht in der Schublade liegen. Und gibt es in solchen Fällen dann auch keinen Beirat, der bereits Verantwortung trägt oder zumindest kurzfristig „scharfgeschaltet“ werden kann, sind viele Familien mit der Situation überfordert.

Gelungene Übergaben werden oft acht bis zehn Jahre oder mehr im Voraus geplant, denn idealerweise sollten Senior und Nachfolger das Unternehmen ja sogar noch mehrere Jahre gemeinsam führen. Im Idealfall gibt es einen gut durchdachten, strukturierten und objektivierten Entscheidungsprozess, der zu einer geregelten Nachfolgelösung aus Sicht aller Beteiligten führt. Sollte es familieninterne Optionen für die Nachfolge geben, so muss mit diesen Kandidaten in der Entwicklung sehr sorgsam umgegangen werden. Den Grundstein legt bereits die Ausbildungsentscheidung, die Fortsetzung erfolgt anschließend in der Berufserfahrung. Bei mehreren Kandidaten aus unterschiedlichen Familien-/Gesellschafterstämmen sollte natürlich am Ende möglichst der oder die Beste gewinnen – und nicht die „Dicke des Bluts“ ausschlaggebend sein. Die Frage, ob und welcher Kandidat in einer Familie am besten geeignet ist das Unternehmen zu führen oder auch als aktiver Gesellschafter zu begleiten, ist eine der schwierigsten überhaupt. Auch hieran sind bereits viele Familien zerbrochen. Offensichtliche Nicht-Eignung oder offensichtlich herausragende Eignung sind dabei noch relativ leicht zu beurteilen – selbst für Väter. Äußerst schwierig aber wird es, wenn zwischen „noch geeignet“ und „knapp nicht geeignet“ unterschieden werden muss. Auch Nachfolger können zwar in größere Funktionen hineinwachsen und sich entwickeln, aber „Unternehmer-Gene“ werden leider selten vererbt und kommen auch bei größerer Gestaltungsfreiheit nicht plötzlich zum Vorschein. Ein externer Moderator – ob Beiratsvorsitzender oder auch unabhängiger Berater – kann bei solchen Entscheidungen wichtige Unterstützungsarbeit leisten, für eine gewisse Objektivität sorgen und versuchen, sich andeutende Familienkonflikte zu moderieren bzw. aufzulösen.

Neben Überlegungen zu Absicherung und Vorsorge, sollten auch finanzielle und rechtliche Aspekte einer Nachfolge nicht vernachlässigt werden. Ein potenzieller Nachfolger muss unter Umständen, abhängig von der aktuellen Unternehmensbewertung, mit erheblichen Transaktionskosten (Steuern, Kosten für (juristische) Beratung etc.) rechnen. Darüber hinaus ist es sinnvoll, frühzeitig eine langfristige Familienstrategie zu erarbeiten, welche Interessen von Familie und Gesellschafterverantwortung in Einklang bringt und einen Rahmen bildet, um das Unternehmen erfolgreich in die nächsten Generationen zu überführen. Niedergeschrieben in einer Familien- und Unternehmensverfassung können dann u.a. Unternehmenswerte und -ziele, aber auch Voraussetzungen für einen Nachfolger festgelegt werden.

Am Ende bleibt der schwierige Prozess der Generationennachfolge eine der zentralen Herausforderungen, die der Unternehmer als persönliche Aufgabe mit hoher Priorität ansehen sollte. Der rechtzeitige Anstoß des Prozesses, das umfassende Involvieren aller Beteiligten, eine offene Kommunikation sowie die Inanspruchnahme externer Unterstützung und Beratung kann eine erfolgreiche Generationennachfolge sehr positiv beeinflussen.

Aktives „Nachfolge-Management“

cbu_middleAktives „Nachfolge-Management“

Die Rolle der Aufsichtsorgane bei der Nachfolgeplanung für CEOs
von Dr. Christian Bühring-Uhle

Jedes Jahr werden mindestens 10-15% der CEO-Positionen neu besetzt und dabei hat insbesondere der Vorsitzende des Aufsichtsgremiums eine besondere Rolle und Verantwortung. In der Realität kann man jedoch bei der Bewältigung von Nachfolgesituationen immer wieder schwerwiegende Fehler beobachten – mit manchmal fatalen Folgen für das Unternehmen.Jedes Jahr werden mindestens 10-15% der CEO-Positionen neu besetzt, was einer durchschnittlichen Verweildauer von höchstens sieben bis acht Jahren entspricht. Obwohl es sich nicht nur um eine außergewöhnlich wichtige, sondern auch unausweichliche Aufgabenstellung handelt, sind die meisten Unternehmen darauf nicht vorbereitet. In den Vereinigten Staaten können Aktionäre das „Board of Directors“ sogar im Klagewege zur Erstellung eines Nachfolgeplans zwingen, und dennoch hat eine Umfrage in den USA ergeben, dass in 50% der Unternehmen das Board of Directors sich nicht in der Lage sah, im Bedarfsfall einen Nachfolger zu benennen. In 40% der Unternehmen wurde angegeben, dass es nicht einen einzigen geeigneten, internen Nachfolgekandidaten gäbe. Dies scheint keine allzu große Sorge zu sein, da die auf das Thema Nachfolge verwandte Zeit im Durchschnitt gerade einmal zwei Stunden im Jahr beträgt. Dabei ist es eine der wichtigsten Aufgaben des Aufsichtsorgans (sei es Aufsichtsrat oder aufsichtsführender, also nicht bloß beratender Beirat) sicher zu stellen, dass das Unternehmen bestmöglich geführt wird, d.h. dass die Person an der Spitze den gegenwärtigen – und insbesondere den zukünftigen – Anforderungen an die Führung des Unternehmens maximal gerecht wird.

Dies bedeutet, dass das Aufsichtsorgan nicht nur den Mann oder die Frau an der Spitze des Unternehmens begleiten und beaufsichtigen und wissen muss, wann es Zeit für einen Wechsel an der Spitze ist. Sondern auch, dass das Aufsichtsorgan insbesondere dafür Sorge tragen und Vorkehrungen treffen muss, dass jedweder Wechsel an der Spitze, sei er nun turnusmäßig oder unvorhergesehen, zu der für die Zukunft des Unternehmens optimalen Besetzung führt. Diese Verantwortung für die Nachhaltigkeit des Unternehmens ist vielleicht die wichtigste Aufgabe des Aufsichtsorgans überhaupt. Insbesondere der Vorsitzende des Aufsichtsgremiums hat hier eine besondere Rolle und Verantwortung. Die Realität sieht leider allzu oft anders aus, denn gerade bei der Bewältigung von Nachfolgesituationen kann man immer wieder schwerwiegende Fehler beobachten – mit manchmal fatalen Folgen für das Unternehmen.

Wir kennen aus unserer Praxis natürlich auch positive Bespiele. So wurden wir vom Verwaltungsratsvorsitzenden eines größeren, börsennotierten Unternehmens bereits mehr als ein Jahr vor dem frühestmöglichen Ausscheiden des CEOs um ein Angebot zur Begleitung der Nachfolge gebeten. Insbesondere aus dem Mittelstand sind uns allerdings auch viele Fälle bekannt, wo CEO-Nachfolgen schlicht gar nicht vorbereitet und organisiert wurden. Ganz häufig haben ja selbst durchaus signifikante Mittelständler überhaupt kein Aufsichtsgremium und damit auch niemanden, der dem langgedienten Vorsitzenden zu der Einsicht verhilft, dass eine echte „Unternehmerleistung“ erst mit einer erfolgreichen Übergabe vollendet ist.

Um diesem Thema gerecht zu werden, sollte man bedenken, dass es hier nicht um ein punktuelles Ereignis geht, sondern um einen kontinuierlichen Prozess, der einerseits strategischen Charakter hat und andererseits ein wichtiger Eckstein der dem Aufsichtsorgan obliegenden Risiko-Management-Funktion ist. Es wird überwiegend angenommen, dass, ceteris paribus und insbesondere in größeren Organisationen, eine interne Nachfolge externen Lösungen überlegen ist, unter anderem weil ein interner Nachfolger das Unternehmen (und seinen Markt, seine Wettbewerber etc.) besser kennt und auf die Spitzenaufgabe systematisch vorbereitet werden kann. Und tatsächlich wird, jedenfalls bei größeren Unternehmen, die Nachfolge häufig intern gelöst.

Die erhofften Vorteile einer geordneten Übergabe können einigermaßen verlässlich nur realisiert werden, wenn über Jahre kontinuierlich daran gearbeitet wird, dass möglichst eine Mehrzahl grundsätzlich geeigneter Kandidaten zur Verfügung steht. Ein wirklich geeigneter Kandidat für die Spitzenposition wächst nicht von selbst heran, zumal in der neuen Aufgabe ganz andere Fähigkeiten und Persönlichkeitsmerkmale gefordert sein werden, als in den Aufgaben, die die internen Leistungsträger bislang zu bewältigen hatten.

Im Mittelstand sind allerdings viele Unternehmen aufgrund ihrer Unternehmensgröße und den zur Verfügung stehenden organisatorischen und finanziellen Ressourcen schlechterdings außer Stande, Nachfolgekandidaten im Unternehmen vorzuhalten. Das gilt nicht nur für CEO-Kandidaten, sondern häufig für sämtliche Führungsfunktionen.

Ein Aufsichtsorgan wird seiner Aufgabe nur gerecht, wenn es das Thema „Nachfolge“ aktiv managt und einen wesentlichen, idealerweise den überwiegenden Teil seiner Zeit und Aufmerksamkeit der Zukunft widmet, anstatt in der Beschäftigung mit dem Status Quo und vertrauten Gesichtern zu verharren. Auch kann das Aufsichtsorgan diese Aufgabe nicht dem aktuellen Stelleninhaber überlassen. Wenn sich der langjährige CEO einen „Kronprinzen“ nach eigenem Geschmack heranzieht, und womöglich auch noch nach der Stabübergabe an die Spitze des Aufsichtsorgans wechselt (was auch heute noch häufig zu beobachten ist), dann darf es nicht verwundern, wenn das Unternehmen den sich wandelnden Anforderungen irgendwann nicht mehr gewachsen ist. Dazu kommt die Gefahr, dass der frühere Vorsitzende dann gerne zum „back-seat-driver“ mutiert und aus dem Aufsichtsgremium die Geschicke lenkt. Unsere Erfahrung ist hier: Wenn ein starker CEO-Nachfolgekandidat solch eine Konstellation wittert, dann kommt er meistens gar nicht erst. Die andere Gefahr: Ein eben nicht so starker Vorgänger (bei Familienunternehmen gelegentlich zu besichtigen) sucht sich gleich jemand Handzahmes – oder jemanden, der noch schwächer ist, als er selbst.

Einige praktische Empfehlungen an Inhaber und Aufsichtsorgane:

  • Es empfiehlt sich, die Anforderungskriterien, den Prozess für die Regelung der Nachfolge, sowie den „Pool“ an kurz- und mittelfristigen Kandidaten ausführlich zu diskutieren, zu dokumentieren und in regelmäßigen Abständen zu aktualisieren. Insbesondere im Hinblick auf die für die Spitzenposition zu fordernden Kompetenzen sollte die Messlatte hoch gelegt werden. Das Erarbeiten dieser Eignungs- und Erfahrungskriterien ist eine ebenso wichtige wie anspruchsvolle Aufgabe.
  • Der aktuelle CEO spielt insbesondere beim Aufbau eines Kandidaten-Pools eine wichtige Rolle, darf den Prozess aber nicht monopolisieren. Und die Mitglieder des Aufsichtsgremiums müssen diese Menschen auch kennenlernen und einen eigenen „Draht“ zu ihnen entwickeln.
  • Auch wenn die Unternehmensgröße es erlaubt, systematisch an einer internen Nachfolgeplanung zu arbeiten, ist es häufig von Vorteil, auch externe Kandidaten in den Besetzungsprozess mit einzubeziehen, da man damit nicht nur die Auswahl erweitert und die Aussichten auf „frisches Blut“ erhöht, sondern auch, weil ein interner Nachfolger, der sich gegen externe Kandidaten durchgesetzt hat, ein besseres „Standing“ haben wird, wenn er die neue Aufgabe in Angriff nimmt. Darin steckt aber auch eine Gefahr – dass nämlich interne Kandidaten „verbrannt“ oder demotiviert werden. Ein solches, zweigleisiges Vorgehen muss daher sorgfältig gemanagt und moderiert werden und erfordert ein großes Maß an Erfahrung und Fingerspitzengefühl.
  • Selbstverständlich erfordert ein gutes Nachfolge-Management ein Höchstmaß an Vertraulichkeit. Diese wird in der Praxis häufiger außer Acht gelassen, als man meinen würde. Hier ist eine erhöhte Wachsamkeit insbesondere von Seiten des Vorsitzenden des Aufsichtsgremiums unerlässlich.
  • Insbesondere bei einer externen Besetzung muss dafür Sorge getragen werden, dass der neue Mann (oder die Frau!) an der Spitze reibungslos in die neue Position (und ggf. die Organisation) integriert wird.
  • Last but not least muss es einen (konkreten!) Notfall- und Interimsplan geben, falls der CEO kurzfristig und unerwartet (aus welchem Grund auch immer) „ausfällt“.

Wenn diese Empfehlungen beherzigt werden, dann besteht durchaus die Möglichkeit, dass aus Krisen Chancen werden, denn eines ist klar: Das einzig Beständige im Leben – auch im Leben von Unternehmen – ist der Wandel.

Ein bisschen mehr als nur Bauchgefühl…

avspecht_middleEin bisschen mehr als nur Bauchgefühl…

Kompetenzbasierte Einschätzung und Beurteilung von Nachfolgern und Führungskräften
von Andreas von Specht

Viele Entscheider gehen mit ihrer langjährigen Erfahrung, einer ordentlichen Portion gesundem Menschenverstand und einem ausgeprägten Bauchgefühl in wichtige Personalgespräche. Allerdings sind rein intuitive Beurteilungen häufig stark verzerrt und der Beurteiler droht in gleich mehrere Fallen hineinzutappen.Ein mittelständischer Unternehmer saß uns gegenüber und war einigermaßen ratlos. Fast drei Stunden habe er neulich wieder mit einem Kandidaten für die Leitung seines Hauptwerkes verbracht. Es sei ein sehr nettes, angenehmes Gespräch gewesen – und der Mann habe durchgehend einen grundsoliden und auch dynamischen Eindruck hinterlassen. Der Unternehmer habe das Gespräch dann schließlich beendet und sich gedacht: „Im Grunde bin ich doch jetzt genauso schlau wie vorher. Ist das wirklich der Mann, dem ich die zweitwichtigste Funktion in meinem Unternehmen anvertrauen möchte? Woran genau soll ich eigentlich festmachen, ob er das wirklich kann, oder ob er nur ein gut geübter Bewerber ist?“ Nett und umgänglich war der Kandidat ja – aber er wisse natürlich selbst, dass das alleine nicht reicht. Was aber sind dann die objektivierten Kriterien, nach denen er eine herausragende Führungskraft beurteilen sollte? Welche zentralen Fragen müsste er im nächsten Gespräch noch stellen, um zu einer tiefergehenden Beurteilung zu gelangen? Und woran erkenne er eigentlich, ob der Kandidat zusätzlich auch das Potenzial habe, eines Tages vielleicht sogar sein eigener Nachfolger als Chef des ganzen Unternehmens zu werden?

Diese Fragen begegnen uns häufiger. In ehrlichen Momenten werden sie auch so offen gestellt – und manchmal merkt man eher intuitiv, dass sie selbst erfahrene Unternehmensführer stark beschäftigen. Gerade auch Unternehmer, die zwar häufig interne Personalentscheidungen treffen, aber relativ selten Führungskräfte am Markt rekrutieren.

Sehr viele Entscheider gehen mit ihrer langjährigen Erfahrung, einer ordentlichen Portion gesundem Menschenverstand und einem ausgeprägten Bauchgefühl in solche Gespräche. Das ist auch gut und richtig so, schließlich muss ja u.a. auch herausgefunden werden, ob bspw. ein Nachfolgekandidat in das besondere kulturelle Geflecht des eigenen Unternehmens hineinpasst. Allerdings sind rein intuitive Beurteilungen häufig stark verzerrt und der Beurteiler droht in gleich mehrere Fallen hineinzutappen. Beispielhaft seien an dieser Stelle nur ein paar wenige Wahrnehmungsverzerrungen erwähnt: Der sogenannte „Halo-Effekt“ beschreibt, wie die Beurteilung eines Kandidaten auf Basis eines sehr positiven Eindrucks in einer spezifischen Situation im Anschluss verallgemeinert wird. Das Ganze funktioniert auch genau umgekehrt, wenn ein kritischer Ersteindruck die gesamte Beurteilung nach unten zieht („Horn-Effekt“). Oder es kommt im Kopf des Beurteilers zu einem „Hierarchie-Effekt“, bei dem hierarchisch höher angesiedelte Kandidaten quasi automatisch besser beurteilt werden – nach dem Motto: „Einmal Vorstand, immer Vorstand.“ Sehr viele Beurteiler lassen sich auch gerne vom allerersten Eindruck leiten, der dann die gesamte Beurteilung überdeckt. Die Liste möglicher Wahrnehmungsverzerrungen ist noch sehr viel länger. Man stelle sich einen Aspiranten für eine Partnerposition in einer konservativen Privatbank vor, der mit weißen Tennissocken unter der zu kurzen Anzugshose den Raum betritt. Kommt ein Beurteiler über diese optische Erstwahrnehmung später im Gespräch wohl noch hinweg?

Beurteilungen sind also außerordentlich fehleranfällig. Insofern lautet auch eine erste Empfehlung, sich bei sehr wichtigen Einschätzungen von anderen Menschen ausreichend Zeit zu nehmen. Es passiert häufig, dass Entscheider eigentlich schon nach zehn Minuten zu wissen glauben, dass eine Führungskraft „leider nicht passt“. Noch erstaunlicher aber ist die vermeintliche Befähigung, nach einer halben Stunde Gespräch bereits sicher zu sein: „Jawohl, das passt!“. Wir, als auf die Einschätzung und Beurteilung von Führungskräften und Unternehmer-Nachfolgern spezialisierte Berater, können das jedenfalls nicht.

Wir empfehlen unseren Klienten gerne, die Messlatte für die angestrebte „Passform“ möglichst hoch zu legen. Das bedeutet keineswegs nun möglichst nach der berühmten Nadel im Heuhaufen oder der „eierlegenden Wollmichsau“ zu fahnden. Aber ein Entscheider sollte sich sowohl bei der Leistungsbewertung des eigenen Führungspersonals, als auch bei der externen Rekrutierung schon vorher klarmachen, nach welchen Kriterien er später beurteilen möchte. Als wir einen Hamburger Rohstoffhändler einmal fragten, was denn für ihn die wichtigsten Kriterien für die externe Suche nach seinem Nachfolger seien, sagte er uns: „Der muss natürlich schon ein bisschen was herzeigen können – aber vor allem soll er möglichst nicht stehlen.“ Aus unserer Sicht geht das durchaus noch etwas differenzierter. Vor allem brauchen Beurteiler Methoden, die die vorher aufgezeigte Fehleranfälligkeit reduzieren. Kompetenzbasierte Interviews sind eine solche Methode, und zwar unserer Überzeugung nach die beste, die in den letzten 20 Jahren entwickelt wurde.

Kompetenzen sind für den geschulten Beurteiler zuverlässig messbar und stellen einen guten Indikator gegenwärtiger und zukünftiger Arbeitsleistung dar. Es gibt Unternehmen, die sehr komplexe Kompetenzmodelle mit 30 oder 50 Einzelkompetenzen entwickelt haben. Tatsächlich kann man aber bereits mit etwa 8-10 Kernkompetenzen seniore Führungskräfte sehr genau erfassen und beurteilen. Diese Kernkompetenzen können zusammenfassend in Unternehmer- und Sozialkompetenzen unterteilt werden.

Es gibt kaum einen Auswahlprozess für eine Unternehmer-Nachfolge, bei dem der Anspruch an Kandidaten, vor allem sehr „unternehmerisch“ zu sein, nicht ausdrücklich formuliert wird. Aber was heißt das eigentlich genau? Wann ist jemand unternehmerisch? Und wann eher nicht? Die wichtigsten Unternehmerkompetenzen sind sicherlich konsequente Ergebnisorientierung, strategisches Denken und Veränderungsmanagement, wozu auch die Fähigkeit gehört, vertretbare Risiken einzugehen. Natürlich braucht es auch Fachkompetenz und Marktkenntnisse, aber ohne hohe Ausprägungen bei den drei erstgenannten Kernkompetenzen kommt ein Unternehmer sicher nicht aus. Wenn das die „harte Seite“ der Medaille ist, müssen zusätzlich Sozialkompetenzen untersucht werden, also die vermeintlich „weiche Seite“. Wichtige Sozialkompetenzen sind insbesondere Führungsbefähigung, Mitarbeiterentwicklung und Teamorientierung, aber beispielsweise auch das wichtige Thema Kundenorientierung. Und stellen Sie sich einmal einen global in vielen Märkten agierenden Manager vor, der leider aber interkulturell nicht „geländegängig“ ist – und bspw. in Asien „wie ein deutscher Panzer“ alles platt walzt. Da wird dann strategische Weitsicht oder die Befähigung zur Veränderung schnell neutralisiert.

Bei der endgültigen Auswahl, vor allem aber der Gewichtung der Einzelkompetenzen, kommt es auch auf die spezifische Unternehmenssituation und die Position an. Die Kompetenzen werden in ihrer Einschätzung nicht absolut eingestuft („die ist ergebnisorientiert; der ist es nicht“), sondern skaliert. Jede einzelne Kompetenz kann in unterschiedliche „Aktivierungsstufen“ aufgeteilt werden. Ist eine Kompetenz nicht besonders stark ausgeprägt (d.h. die Ausprägung liegt im unteren Bereich), verhält sich eine Führungskraft eher reaktiv. Dann kommen bei der Einschätzung häufiger Begriffe vor wie „er versteht“, „er versucht“ oder „er bemüht sich, Fehler zu vermeiden“. Führungskräfte, die sehr hohe Ausprägungen bei einer Kompetenz zeigen, sind in diesem Bereich „pro-aktiv“. Dann wird nicht nur „verstanden“ und auch nicht mehr nur „angewendet“, sondern „entwickelt“. Nicht nur „versucht“, auch nicht mehr nur tatsächlich „erreicht“, sondern „übertroffen“. Manager mit derart hohen Kompetenzausprägungen können meistens auch begeistern, mitreißen und andere zu Höchstleistungen bewegen. Bei einem kompetenzbasierten Interview wird Verhalten in der Vergangenheit untersucht, um einen Indikator für zukünftiges Verhalten zu erhalten. Dabei spielt weniger das „Was“ eine entscheidende Rolle, als das „Wie“. Also nicht nur das „Was haben Sie gemacht?“ hinterfragt, sondern möglichst tiefergehend in Richtung „Wie sind Sie vorgegangen?“, „Wie haben Sie das Ergebnis erzielt?“ oder „Wie genau sah das Ergebnis aus?“.

Am Ende einer kompetenzbasierten Einschätzung sollte ergänzend ein umfassender Referenzprozess stehen. Es kann wohl niemand so authentisch über das Teamverhalten eines Kandidaten Auskunft geben, wie frühere Team-Mitglieder; oder einschätzen, wie sich direkte Führung anfühlte, wie ehemalige Mitarbeiter. Vor allem aber sollten frühere Vorgesetzte oder Beiratsvorsitzende zu Wort kommen, wenn es um die Frage geht, ob ein Kandidat bspw. ein Tochterunternehmen wirklich nachhaltig entwickelt hat. Aber Vorsicht: Auch das Einholen von Referenzen will geübt sein. 90% aller Referenzgeber, so sagen Erhebungen, nehmen sich vor einem Referenzgespräch vor, eine tendenziell positive Einschätzung abgeben zu wollen.

Kann also dem mittelständischen Unternehmer, der sich bei der Einschätzung seines potentiellen Nachfolgers so schwer tut, doch geholfen werden? Wir glauben schon. Wie in anderen Lebenssituationen kommt es auf eine gute Mischung an: Ein handwerklich sauberer, kompetenzbasierter Interviewprozess, abgesichert durch umfassende Referenzaussagen – und am Ende ruhig auch etwas Intuition und Bauchgefühl.