Driving alongside the “romantic highway” between two cities in Baden-Wuerttemberg in southern Germany it is simple to admire the luxurious rolling hillsides, vineyards and picturesque villages.
However peer a bit nearer and also you catch website of a manufacturing unit.
Look more durable and also you uncover that this space between the historic cities of Dangerous Mergentheim and Wertheim is dotted with medium-sized or “Mittelstand” firms.
“You do not look forward to finding firms right here from the center of German world class trade however they’re simply in between these valleys in these hills,” says Winfried Weber, professor of administration at Mannheim College of Utilized Sciences.
His ardour for the privately owned – usually nonetheless household run – Mittelstand firms is private.
His grandfather was a clockmaker who was pressured out of enterprise by Japanese competitors within the 1950s.
Right this moment he says his mission is to inform the story of those firms’ present success.
He travels the world lecturing and hosts enterprise delegations from South Korea and China.
“I inform them do not go to Berlin, come right here to this rural province in southern Germany,” he tells me as he drives alongside the gently winding highway.
“You discover right here a really excessive focus of world class Mittelstand firms in relation to the inhabitants,” he says.
About 99% of German firms are small and medium sized. There are about three.three million of them.
Strictly talking, they might have fewer than 500 staff to be classed as Mittelstand, but it surely’s a time period that goes a lot deeper and has come to outline a enterprise mindset.
“In Germany a variety of these small and medium sized firms are doing exports from the start,” Prof Weber says.
“They attempt to be within the forefront of innovation, and discover and outline a distinct segment, after which promote on a global degree.”
And essentially the most profitable ones are world market leaders of their area of interest sectors, which Prof Weber says are “hidden champions”.
That is the place he believes a lot of Germany’s exporting prowess stems from.
“In Germany we have now solely 28 of the worldwide 500 largest firms however we have now round 48% of these small world market leaders,” Professor Weber says.
We’re on our method to meet Gabriella Koenig, managing director of Koenig & Meyer, a “hidden champion”.
Her firm makes music and microphone stands. If you happen to’re a musician you may have most likely used considered one of them.
Slim with shortly cropped darkish hair, she fizzes with power and enthusiasm.
Within the automotive park she introduces me to her 81-year-old father and each are eager to inform me the historical past of the corporate.
Gabriella’s grandfather began the agency with a enterprise companion within the early 1930s in jap Germany, however after the Second World Battle, they moved to Wertheim within the west.
Gabriella is the third technology to take cost.
She goes into an unlimited noisy manufacturing unit filled with inexperienced metal-bashing machines.
“We’ve got virtually each manufacturing course of in-house to ensure the very best quality in order that we are able to actually management each step,” she says above the roar of the machines.
True to the spirit of the Mittelstand, exporting has lengthy been important to the corporate.
“Already within the 1950s Koenig & Meyer was visiting the primary commerce exhibits in Frankfurt,” she says, “and located the primary worldwide companions.”
Right this moment the corporate employs 280 individuals in three factories and has a turnover of 38m euros (£34m; $44m).
About 60% of gross sales are exports to 80 nations worldwide, with 70% of their turnover in Europe.
Gabriella says prospects, “settle for that the product might be 15-20% dearer than a aggressive cheaper made merchandise.”
However has the weak spot of the euro helped?
“I might say sure undoubtedly. The euro helps us, as all different Germany firms who’re exporting rather a lot,” she says.
Germany has been criticised by its buying and selling companions for exporting way more than it imports.
Final 12 months it had a whopping present account surplus of slightly below $300bn.
Wage restraint within the final fifteen years and labour market and welfare reforms are all credited with making Germany extra aggressive.
One other criticism levelled at Germany is that it is not investing sufficient at dwelling.
The Worldwide Financial Fund is urging the federal government to spend extra on public infrastructure initiatives, which it says would encourage German firms to take a position there too, and assist re-balance its international commerce.
However Prof Weber says that regardless of their exporting success, the Mittelstand does face challenges.
Succession might be a problem. Gabriella does not have kids however says the corporate will keep within the household.
Discovering sufficient expert workers can also be a problem – Koenig & Meyer trains staff on apprenticeship schemes.
Nevertheless, Gabriella says, “it will get an increasing number of troublesome these days to search out younger individuals who will be a part of the corporate.”
Whereas there may be clearly innovation within the Mittelstand, at Koenig & Meyer they provide you with 20 to 30 new merchandise yearly, they aren’t Silicon Valley.
Prof Weber says Germany has, “fewer IT start-ups, we have now much less enterprise capital.”
However he says the outlook is long-term and, “You’ll be able to say that our capitalism is extra affected person capitalism”. He additionally believes that others can study from the Mittelstand.
“I feel that the longer term huge firm will probably be a bit of bit like many Mittelstand firms, with a extra down-to-earth strategy, with flatter hierarchies and extra duty, and extra flexibility for the workforce.”
Hearken to “The Secrets of Germany’s Success“.