New ways to hand on the business

Skills spanning generations of company directors

When a company seeks new management, it’s not just about a change in ownership. It’s a watershed for the people handing over power (the incumbents) and the people taking over (their successors). It also marks a change in direction for the company. So if the handover works, jobs are not threatened. A change in senior management is a sensitive issue: the incumbent and the successor need to have a clear understanding of the financial and legal implications. The entire situation is unique, and can be quite emotional. Lifetime achievements are at stake.

The handover could be to another family member, another manager or somebody from outside the company – but the most important first step in successful company succession is planning who will take over in good time, i.e. early. To find the right successor, you need a detailed profile and may have to use unconventional means but with professional support, you can avoid wasting time and effort.

A further, crucial key to success is “matching”. Matching involves comparing the company to the profile of possible candidates. When someone matches all the right criteria, they definitely come into question, but unfortunately the list of criteria is often too short and only includes the obvious factors such as salary, location, industry experience and qualifications. Yet often it is people or soft skills that the incumbent is most keen to find in a potential successor. Unfortunately matching does not yet operate on a national level in Germany as the chambers of commerce only conduct searches on a regional basis.

Ralph Kuntz, an MBA student at the School of International Business and Entrepreneurship (SIBE) at Steinbeis University Berlin, had already majored in business succession during his studies and struck upon a new idea. The basis of his model: nationwide matching, diagnosing skills in detail and thus, for the first time, thinking about soft skills as a key criteria for comparing profiles. “By introducing skills diagnostic methods, not only does this make selection much more precise, it adds weight to the entire succession process,” says Ralph Kuntz, explaining his model. Incumbents can now check that the person is ideally matched to expectations. Just as importantly, employees, clients and business partners rest assured that established company values will remain a priority in the future and stay in place.

Making it possible to search for successors throughout Germany and assess their skills has established a solid basis for the success of Ralph Kuntz’s model, even though he only considers this the first step: “It’s key to receive professional support at every stage of the process, but in essence this should span all processes to provide coordination and ensure that the agree actions are implemented efficiently as planned.” Ralph Kuntz is currently shifting the focus of the overall process to encompass another core component. Experience has shown how important the first phase is after the handover, for the person involved just as much as the company. Central to the process is therefore professional mentoring, covering the whole spectrum of topics. This continues for 100 days after the handover.

When he set up the Steinbeis Consulting Center Corporate Succession, not only did Ralph Kuntz translate his ideas into practice, he also set up a network of professional partners in different sectors of industry. He now works with people on both sides of the succession equation, before it happens, matching and mentoring managers until successful conclusion. By applying clearly defined criteria, all successfully completed handovers are awarded the Steinbeis Seal of Approval for Business Succession as a proof of the professionalism and quality of the process.

Not long after its launch, Ralph Kuntz’s model was setting new standards: in December 2008 the Ministry of Economics and Technology awarded him the “Einfach gründen” prize for the introduction of skills diagnostics as a matching criterion.

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