Experience and Tradition - a column by Irene Reifenhäuser
Family-run businesses are booming. This is reflected in the media, in the appreciation of the political class and nowadays even in specific curricula in university.
What was once considered old-fashioned is viewed as modern today. Some traditional values can be interpreted and developed in a very progressive way. From my experience: I was born into a family of entrepreneurs, I am running the advisory board of a machine factory, which carries my last name, and I have founded my own family-run company: the CONTRACT!
Three aspects of these “traditional values” are most noticeable for me:
(1) Family-run businesses have their own value for the family. They are (technically) not for sale. The sale of a family run business would actually be a defeat. Thus, the company is not an object of speculation. For us in CONTRACT, the shares are based on par, and this is how we will pass them on to the next generation of entrepreneurs.
(2) Family-run businesses think in long-term relationships. This applies to both its employees and its customers and last but not least to the partners. If it is done well, a sustainable business model arises. This does affect companies internally, in positive as well as negative ways. Positions are tailored more toward the individual filling the position and tasks can be further added with the growth of a person. So far so good! And likewise, this also applies to my boss. If I don’t click with my boss, I would actually have to change companies. Talented people do move on for many reasons.
The network of relationships and the internal culture does not work on its own. These relationships need to be nurtured and cared for. Of course this applies to us and our company as well, even more so since we do this job for our clients as a service.
(3) In family-run businesses decisions can be made quickly and require a climate of courage. This applies to the employees as well as to the executives. To keep the proverbial “open door” and to let yourself be challenged by your own team requires courage, especially for uncomfortable decisions. This courage is required from the executive team as well as from the employees having to go through this door. Without a culture of courage, a family-run business declines and becomes a museum of prior success!
Modern family businesses for me are those who see themselves as a system, which includes the shareholders, the employees as well as the economic and social environment as part of their system. I believe that responsibility, dynamics and philanthropy are essential characteristics of such companies.
The thoughts and living realities which used to be patriarchal, traditional and often authoritarian are now up to be redefined in new ways for our contemporary times. Especially for someone who has studied in the 1970s, for whom emancipation has become reality in many ways and who rebelled against old ways of thinking, I was surprised with how much of this patrimonial heritage can be combined with the guiding principles of our generation.
This helps me today to lead the Advisory Board of the machine factory with the same confidence and serenity as I use my influence in the CONTRACT or engage in Neuguss, an anthroposophic association of enterprises.