The Haniel family – behind the scenes

Autor: Sonja Hausmanns |
Foto: Max Brunnert
For more than 260 years, the Haniel company has been wholly owned by the Haniel family, which now has about 1.400 members. Here, three of them take a look at the family and the company

[KATHARINA FREIFRAU VON EYB-VONCKE]: Using the list of birthdays, I once counted up the family members. There are over 1,000, and I think I know about one third of them. This big Haniel family is something special, not least because it has a long history and is so professionally managed today. I became a shareholder at the age of 24. Back then I had a little bit left over from my monthly salary and my father advised me to invest in the company. Until I was 18 years old, Haniel did not come up much in conversations I had with my parents. And that’s how I do things at home: my children are now 11 and 13 years old, and they know that the company exists, but not much more than that.

[PROFESSOR DR. KAY WINDTHORST]: For me, the Haniel family is clearly divided into three separate circles: first, there’s the shareholders. Then, second, the family members who do not yet own any shares, but who could acquire them. The third circle comprises family members without shares. But that’s a purely organisational way of looking at it. When it comes to personal interactions, who owns how many shares ¬plays no role at all. And I’m sure that’s because we don’t think in terms of clans or hereditary lines. That’s very unusual for dynastic family businesses such as Haniel – and it’s a big advantage. I mean, there’s a reason why people talk about family feuds. Fortunately, those don’t happen in our family.

[DANIEL GRISAR]: My earliest memory with regards to family and the company is that my parents were gone for one weekend a year. They returned with a big Haniel bag that contained, among other things, the annual report. I read this now regularly and also take part in the family calls with the management board, which the company offers – for example, after the yearly balance-sheet press conference.

The separation of capital and management

[VON EYB-VONCKE]: I never heard anyone in the family seriously question this principle. We are all very thankful for the peace that comes with this separation. Still, there are family members who would like to contribute more. On the one hand, there are plenty of good impulses and ideas there; on the other hand, we’re limited in how much we can participate in shaping the company. As a member of the advisory board, I would describe my role as that of a passive entrepreneur. I would like to see to it that the family sticks together and that the company can grow and thrive – just as it already has for generations before us.

[WINDTHORST]: In Germany ten or 15 years ago, it was the rare exception when owners of a company handed over the business of managing to external employees. But I am seeing how more and more family businesses are adopting this principle, and for one simple reason: family is affection, emotion, love, and it lasts a lifetime. Companies, on the other hand, stand for profit and rationality. Because of this conflict of goals, the separating of capital and management makes absolute sense. Nevertheless, I consider the family to have a significant responsibility in shaping the company. By means of committees such as the “Inner Circle” and the supervisory board, we set – in co-operation with the management board – a clear vision and strategy for the company. How important is values development to us, versus cash development? How much risk are we willing to take? How do we want to diversify the company? These are all questions that we, as shareholders, have to answer.

[GRISAR]: Of course, it’s a shame that we can’t accrue any career experience at Haniel. The network “Elective Affinities” – which makes it possible for young shareholders to do internships in other family businesses – makes up for this to some degree. What I find important is that we don’t lose our emotional connection to the company. We try to counteract this with young-people’s meetings and special seminars for shareholders. But it’s a constant challenge. What helps is that many of us still carry something like an “entrepreneurial gene” within us. I, for my part, have a lot of fun focussing on topics like this. And I can easily imagine joining the advisory board. Although, at the same time, I think that the committees have to change with the times. When there were only 200 members, the advisory board was an effective tool for disseminating information to the shareholders. To manage the growing family, we need to adjust the structures.


Video: About cohesion and the future


Ambition and networks

[VON EYB-VONCKE]: I can still recall, quite clearly, my first young-people’s meeting: one of my uncles stood on the stage and gave a speech to the young women. “You are the future, you have every opportunity, and the support of the family. Do something with it.” In this respect, the family contributes extensively to one’s own self-confidence. You’re always encouraged to broaden your horizons, to go your own way. That is an enormous source of strength.

[WINDTHORST]: Ambition is helpful, in moderation. But for me, it was always more important to stay true to yourself, to be genuine. Of course the family is a huge network, but at least I can say, for myself, that I never used it to further my career. I look at it this way: a person should work towards professional success on his or her own. And if you’ve performed and made a contribution, then you’re a real candidate for the committees at Haniel and you can then develop yourself further there.

[GRISAR]: It’s a good feeling to know that I have a family connection in many cities. In a professional context, it’s advantageous to be able to ask questions – after all, we have experts in almost every area. Generally, it’s welcomed if we accomplish something, rather than spending our life – to use an exaggerated expression – on a beach somewhere. I think that’s a very positive thing, because it’s fun for me to develop and organise things. But I can imagine that for a few people that would just feel like a lot of pressure.

The development of the business

[VON EYB-VONCKE]: The newest changes to the Haniel portfolio? We discussed those within the family in a thoroughly critical fashion. Especially the departure from purely commercial business – some people needed to hear an explanation, a justification, for that. What is generally viewed positively is the clear positioning of the company as a family-equity company. Not being a predatory investor, but rather taking a sustainable approach – that’s exactly the right path, and it fits with our history. Now we have to see whether the delicate portfolio plants that we’re raising here, whether they can, in the time that we give them, become more innovative. In addition to that, we’re also looking very carefully at how the holding is adapting to the changing leadership requirements. We’re seeing that the management has a very clear vision, which gives us confidence.

[WINDTHORST]: I hope that we’ll experience a certain change in the holding – away from a culture of perfection and administration, and towards a culture of discourse and error tolerance. Concerning digitalisation – it has to be possible to at least weather-proof the ship, so to speak. Even better would be to use the opportunities that this development presents. I think the company is on the right path here. The important thing is to convey this to the shareholders as well and to strengthen their trust in the strategy, and also their trust in the committees. To ensure a successful future for the company, we need the strong support and solidarity of the family. And this trust has to be established again and again.

[GRISAR]: We’re looking back on ten relatively difficult years, years in which the decisions that were made were certainly not always the right decisions. But now the change process is taking hold, and I’m happy to see that the old pioneering spirit is returning. The family should not impede that. That’s why lately I ask myself more and more often, What can the family still do for the company? After all, we have a great wealth of contacts, knowledge and experience. For example, I can easily imagine that it would pay to involve the family more intensely when it comes to looking for new investments.

Daniel Grisar (29) works as a lawyer at a corporate law firm. In addition, in 2016 he and a friend started a company that uses specialised software to help applicants increase their chances of being accepted at a medical university in Germany. Grisar studied in Dublin, Munich and Oxford and now lives in Berlin. He works on a voluntary basis for a student legal consultancy.

Kathalyn Freifrau von Eyb-Voncke (43) was born in Munich. She is an investment advisor and, since 2016, a self-employed financial coach for women. A year earlier, von Eyb-Voncke was elected to the advisory board of Haniel. After completing her studies in business administration in Reutlingen and Madrid, von Eyb-Voncke worked initially in the area of business consulting and communication consulting, including numerous international posts outside of Germany. Today, she lives in Switzerland with her husband and their two children (eleven and 13 years old).

Professor Dr. Kay Windthorst (57) holds the chair of Public Law, Legal Doctrines and Legal Education at the University of Bayreuth. In addition, he heads the Research Centre for Family Businesses at the University of Bayreuth, and is the co-editor of the “Bayreuth Studies on Family Businesses”. Since 2003, Windthorst has been a member of the Haniel advisory board. In 2013, he was elected to the Haniel supervisory board. He is married and has three children, ages four, seven and nine.