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Professor Nadine Kammerlander at WHU Campus for Family Business

Family Businesses to Help Shape the Future

Professionals gather at Campus for Family Business to discuss how to prepare for the future

“It’s only when companies actively contribute and when family businesses—which are not subject to the whims of the stocks to the same extent—progress that we will be in a position to accomplish the ecological and social changes necessary for the viability of our planet and our society.” This was Per Ledermann, CEO of edding AG, at this year’s Campus for Family Business, hosted by WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management. Making clear his feelings on sustainability and climate protection, Ledermann, patron of the event and one of the day’s many prominent speakers, kicked things off with a keynote speech on the responsibility that family businesses have in this day and age. He spoke of how edding AG, right from the get-go, drove sustainability forward, his words putting the primary topic of this year’s event squarely into focus: an intensive discussion about the tug of war between the purpose economy and preserving corporate value—and preserving the world.

Held on September 15 at Vallendar’s town hall, and with the theme Familienunternehmen der Zukunft – aktive Gestalter?! [Family Businesses of the Future – Active Participants?!], the conference greeted some 140 entrepreneurs to ask one question: How can family businesses prepare themselves for the future in the face of the many urgent challenges of the day? A comprehensive agenda invited guests to tackle the issue from all sides.

Apart from attending exciting keynote speeches from a wide array of speakers, such as Johanna Brenninkmeijer (Managing Director Multi-Asset Impact at Anthos Fund & Asset Management and herself a patron of the event), conference-goers had a chance to choose between six different workshops led by experts in their own fields. These workshops all revolved around ways to actively shape the future: How Sustainable Transformation Can Work; Moving Together into the Future – The Family Office as a Partner in Cross-Generational and Trust-Based Asset Management; Communicating Value: Increasing the Effects Our Corporate Values Have on Society and the Community; The Bureaucracy Trap: Are Family Businesses Still Competitive?; Successful and Sustainable Successions with a Financial Investor – Who’s the Right Partner for My Family Business?; and If Not Now, When!? – The Abolishment of Inheritance Tax Exemption Rules and How I’m Preparing My Parents for Corporate Succession.

Dr. Felix Kroschke, Managing Partner at Kroschke Group since 2017, Christian Weber, CEO of Karlsberg Group, Carolin Höll, Managing Director at office furnishing company HÖLL in Baden-Baden, and Dr. Alexandra Kohlmann, Managing Director at ROWE MINERALÖLWERK GmbH and ROWE Holding GmbH, looked at the role the next generation at their panel discussion “Active Participation, But How? – What the NextGen of CEOs Do Differently.” Later, Paul Niederstein, Managing Partner at The Coatinc Company Holding GmbH (the oldest family business in Germany, in its 17th generation), Kim Höhne, Managing Director at uventures (a Lobbe Group company), and Per Ledermann discussed the unique value orientation that family businesses have. They noted how it could come at the cost of sales, as certain industries, intentionally and due to moral and ethical concerns, are no longer targeted.

Professor Nadine Kammerlander, Chairholder at WHU’s Chair of Family Business and Associate Dean DEI & Sustainability since May, spoke at a fireside chat about the decarbonization of family businesses that use high amounts of energy. This came following a motivational speech from Dr. Marina Palm, Managing Director at Palm, the largest family-owned paper company in Germany. Before the gala dinner, Fridtjof Detzner, co-founder and Managing Partner at Planet A Ventures, gave insights into what is needed for sustainable transformation.

The Campus for Family Business, held annually, is the largest conference hosted at WHU by the Institute for Family Business and Mittelstand. The event kicked-off the day before with the conclusion of the WHU Family Business Summit and early remarks from Professor Michael Frenkel, Deputy Dean for International Relations and Diversity and Professor of Macroeconomics and International Economics, and Dr. Annika von Mutius, co-founder and co-CEO of EMPiON, during their joint speech “Forming the Future: How Family Businesses Find New Opportunities Through Artificial Intelligence.”

Professor Kammerlander expressed her excitement over the results of the event: “It’s great to see how the youngest generation in particular are advancing topics like ‘responsibility’ and ‘entrepreneurship.’ That’s exactly what we need to meet the challenges that next few years will bring.”

Katrin Schwarz, Managing Director of the Institute and one of the conference’s hosts, noted, “We, as an institute, want to be thought leaders and do our part to shape the future and highlight certain examples that can act as a source of inspiration. Our guests are courageous and optimistic, and they will actively contribute to making the future one worth living. And that gives me a lot of hope.” As she said to her audience, “The future is what we make of it,” just one of the many truths that participants took away from the experience.

Next year’s Campus for Family Business will take place on September 20, 2024, at WHU’s campus in Düsseldorf.

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