Beatrice Rodenstock opens the windows wide and lets air into the small meeting room of the old villa on the Theresienwiese in Munich on this summer's day. The daughter of the former glasses entrepreneur Randolf Rodenstock founded the company for family businesses eleven years ago and has been advising medium-sized companies of all sizes since then, for example in mechanical engineering, services or retail. One focus of the work of the 50-year-old entrepreneur is succession planning in family businesses.
The qualified sociologist makes a living from confidential discussions at work. In her dealings, the mother of a daughter and a son is patiently calm, clear in her views and humorous. In the years before that, she worked for the then car manufacturer Daimler-Chrysler and founded an internet start-up and the management consultancy NaviGet. Today she is still a member of several supervisory bodies and is a shareholder in the Rodenstock family holding company. In an interview, she talks about why she herself did not join the former family business and what is important when it comes to a successor.
WORLD: Ms. Rodenstock, according to the Institute for SME Research, only around a fifth of all family businesses are run by women. Even though this proportion has been increasing for years, it is still low. does this annoy you?
Beatrice Rodenstock: Luckily things are changing. Daughters are much more confident these days. They are no longer the emergency of a succession like they used to be. The principle of primogeniture that the eldest son takes over the company no longer applies exclusively today. The number of companies managed by subsidiaries increased from 20 percent to 43 percent between 2002 and 2017. This is the result of a study by the Witten Institute for Family Businesses. Successions by daughters are often more successful than some cases of succession by sons.
WORLD: Why should daughters be the better successor?
Rodenstock: They are not necessarily better, but things often work out better between the fathers and them. There is less competition between father and daughter than between father and son. The patriarch is reluctant to allow a relationship at eye level, the son should by no means be better. With daughters, on the other hand, fathers are often willing to trust and hand over responsibility right from the start. You no longer have to prove yourself to your daughter. On the other hand, in many cases daughters involve fathers of their own accord. They don't see them as competitors and show them that they are worth something. The reverse is also true: takeovers between mothers and daughters sometimes don't go well. Only there are fewer examples of this. Same sex is more likely to lead to conflicts than diversity in succession.
WORLD: Succession by family members is falling among the approximately 47,500 succession cases per year. Do young women and men no longer want to work and toil in their own family business?
Rodenstock: Unfortunately, this is the trend. The number of internal successors is declining and is now only around 50 percent. According to a survey by the University of St. Gallen, only just under four percent of the students surveyed in the first year wanted to work in their parents' company later. In the course of her studies, the value increased to just five percent. After all, 35 percent were interested in founding a company. I don't think that this reluctance to take on responsibility in the family business has anything to do with a lack of willingness to work. Today's successor generation has significantly more opportunities than their father's generation. Work-life balance is important to them. Being self-employed as an entrepreneur also means taking responsibility yourself and constantly. That can be stressful.
WORLD: Does the family business die out under the leadership of the family?
Rodenstock: I don't think so. But there is often a separation of the role of the shareholder and the task in the management. One's own company does not necessarily have to be managed from the operational responsibility. The successor generation will become more important as shareholders if more companies are managed by external managers. To do this, however, they must be trained accordingly. The work in the supervisory body of family businesses must be upgraded and professionalized. It must be attractive and associated with appreciation and recognition. And it must be adequately remunerated. If a family member is preparing for a top position on the supervisory board, then this is not yet a full-time job. But in the office itself it may very well be the case.
WORLD: Entrepreneurs come to you with problems. What are the triggers?
Rodenstock: The role of fathers is sometimes difficult. 'I'm afraid of my father,' I hear then. Power plays a big role. My work is about recognizing patterns and naming themes. If injuries were a long time ago, personal coaching or a talk with a psychotherapist may be appropriate. In his struggle for recognition, the son has to do something for his self-confidence. He can only change something about himself, not about his father. And I can only initiate the change of perspective. Succession usually fails due to a lack of communication about shared expectations.
WORLD: What should the successor regulate in advance?
Rodenstock: There must be a fixed schedule for handing over responsibility. That really has to mean giving up responsibility. It must also be laid down what happens if the father does not comply. In extreme cases, the takeover then collapses.
WORLD: What can fathers do better?
Rodenstock: In general, fathers have to woo their successors more. I once sat on a podium with Trigema owner Wolfgang Grupp. 'If my children don't become my successors, I've done something wrong,' he said there. If this means self-criticism, the idea is correct. You shouldn't just point the finger at the next generation, but think about the role model you set yourself as a family entrepreneur.
WORLD: Can everyday work at the top of a family business be combined with your own family life?
Rodenstock: It must be possible for a family entrepreneur to be able to combine family and career. Life used to take place in the company, today there are criteria other than working hours. It is important that the employees always feel the overriding responsibility of the family business. The swimming course with the child in the afternoon is also possible for father or mother in the entrepreneurial tour. But the boss also has to live this quality time with the family in the company. It takes a lot of energy and discipline. It helps that we live in a time when many topics are being freed from taboos.
WORLD: Your own family sold the eyeglass lens and spectacles manufacturer Rodenstock to the financial investor Permira in the first step in 2003. Didn't you want to succeed your father Randolf Rodenstock in the family business back then?
Rodenstock: I grew up with the family business and that was our plan for a while. My father had established rules for the succession. This included a university degree and work in the management of an external company. With my training in St. Gallen, for example, or my work at start-ups or at Daimler Chrysler, I had met the criteria. But then Rodenstock needed financing for growth and at that time we could hardly get it through banks and instead through private investors. We couldn't keep the company for the sake of me taking it over. Even though Rodenstock has changed financial investors since then, the company is still in good shape. I then went my own way, I never lacked perspective.