Stefan Klemm, founder and owner of der Entrepreneurs Club.
Foto: Der Entrepreneurs Club

Entrepreneurs Club: “Family-Run Companies Define Germany’s Economy”

Der Entrepreneurs Club networks family-run companies with startups and provides assistance with business succession and recruiting professionals. We spoke with Stefan Klemm, founder and owner of der Entrepreneurs Club.

Munich Startup: What does der Entrepreneurs Club do and who is behind the organization?

Stefan Klemm: Der Entrepreneurs Club is considered one of the most relevant points of contact for family-run companies and entrepreneurs when it comes to issues such as recruiting professionals and executives, succession or corporate transactions. Our long-standing customers are approximately 250 of the 500 largest German family-run companies. We’re also a proper entrepreneurs’ club with members who are dealing with their own succession, be it in their own family-run company or as an external management buy-in (MBI). One of the declared missions of der Entrepreneurs Club is to strengthen entrepreneurship in the public eye and to safeguard it over the long term in order to contribute to society. We offer leading entrepreneurs and business talents the opportunity to join us and become part of our “ECosystem” with their business ideas or existing, related businesses. I founded der Entrepreneurs Club in 2005 together with approximately 20 founding members who were all solely focused on business succession. Many of the founding members from that time have now taken over their own family-run companies or have executed one or more MBIs.

“The work environment in family-run companies speaks more to today’s talent than that of a large corporation”

Munich Startup: Why did you launch the “Karriere im Familienunternehmen” (careers in family-run companies) portal?

Stefan Klemm: In Germany, it’s predominantly the large DAX companies that are noticed by the general public and that are considered to play a formative role in the economy. Despite demonstrating comparable performance, the economic significance of family-run companies is often underestimated by graduates and young professionals in particular, who are focused on the well-known brands. As a result, hardly anyone knows that it’s actually family-run companies that define Germany’s economy to a large extent.

Stefan Klemm, founder and owner of der Entrepreneurs Club. (Photo: Der Entrepreneurs Club)

If you ask established entrepreneurs about the biggest bottleneck in growth, you will presumably most often hear “finding good employees.” That means recruiting good people is a top executive issue and of the highest strategic importance. Which is why we have made it our goal with “Karriere im Familienunternehmen” to let professionals and executives know about the excellent work atmosphere and sustainability that defines the work environment in the business class of family-run companies. As demonstrated by joint studies conducted by Stiftung Familienunternehmen and TU Munich, the work environment in family-run companies – here the key words are work atmosphere, sustainability and purpose-driven jobs – speaks much more to today’s talent than an anonymous large corporation.

Munich Startup: Is it particularly difficult to find professionals as a family-run company?

Stefan Klemm: For the reasons just mentioned, employer branding is the key instrument for family-run companies right now. The career environment they offer is unique. Family-run companies offer professionals and executives outstanding development opportunities. The hierarchies are flat, accountability is of great importance and, because the career paths aren’t so strictly defined, you can really get ahead if you are committed, both in Germany and in branches abroad. Moreover, family-run companies can be found across all industries, which offers attractive professional opportunities to many different interest groups. This information just needs to become better known. Family-run companies need to play a bigger role in the public eye again, they need to be seen.

This is where our recently launched online portal comes in. It not only offers information about the advantages family-run companies have to offer, but also has a great message to share: Open positions are available. Some right at this moment. With 50 affiliated partner companies so far, we have nearly 3,000 job postings. It’s worth taking a look at the site not only for job hunters, but also for any one who would like to learn more and who has perhaps founded or plans to found their own company. In this context, family-run companies can serve as an example because they span generations, are designed for the long-term and have withstood the test of time.

“Every family-run company was once a startup”

Munich Startup: How are startups important for family-run companies?

Stefan Klemm: When you combine entrepreneurship with hard work, a company emerges. In that sense, every family-run company was once a startup and probably looks back fondly on the history of its own beginnings. The fact that family-run companies often have a very long history means they have experienced a great deal of change and have had to adapt to each new situation. Every era presents its own challenges. Currently, that might be digitization or brand new sales channels, such as direct marketing. That definitely makes it worthwhile to look at startups, which might be ahead in the game most particularly due to their flexibility. An opportunity for family-run companies certainly lies in adopting new structures by acquiring a startup. An example is the tradition-conscious Westphalian company Oetker, which purchased the startup “Flaschenpost” for the impressive price of one billion euros.

Munich Startup: What does the “Old Economy” have to offer startups?

Stefan Klemm: On the other hand, family-run companies can serve as a launching pad for startups. As incubators, corporate divisions found and build startups, for example to advance the development of new digital products and services. They interlink and use the existing infrastructure, wealth of knowledge and established networks, which gives them access to a complete “startup ecosystem” that has immediate benefits to offer. The “brightest and most competent minds” of the company are often placed in these new areas, which gives them the opportunity to work in a high-techenvironment that is distinguished by a sustainable approach but that is also agile and innovative. Collaboration can also pay off for both company forms – when both sides benefit from the others’ strengths, they mutually strengthen one another. There’s an article on this subject on our portal: “Jedes Familienunternehmen war einmal ein Startup,” (Every Family-Run Company Was Once a Startup) for those interested in learning more.

Entrepreneurs Club provides access to entrepreneurs

Munich Startup: Do you actively bring startups and SMEs together?

Stefan Klemm: Of course. That’s part of the service offered by der Entrepreneurs Club. The “EC Target Börse” shares hand-picked targets from a deal flow of 2,000 companies that are currently for sale each year. While it usually lists established SMEs that are for sale, for example due to succession not being cleared up yet, we are also often approached by startups who are looking for investors. For some, in addition to the capital itself that’s needed, it is much more expedient to work together with an established player in the market, for example from the field of family-run companies. They not only have access to the market, but some are also world market leaders and occupy an entire niche with internationally active and coordinated structures, which means they have procurement and production chains that are already up and running. The good thing about family-run companies in particular is that the decision-makers are entrepreneurs themselves. That means they can directly decide what to do with their funds and other resources. When a startup has access to these types of companies, for example through the ECosystem of der Entrepreneurs Club, it won’t end up being just one pitch deck in a pile of hundreds of others that a professional VC might otherwise have on their desk each month. You would ideally have the opportunity to win over a senior entrepreneur, who often has many thousands of employees and a few billion euros of their own operational turnover at their disposal, in a one-on-one meeting.