In the past, many businesspeople looked to their offspring as future leaders of their companies. But, according to Die Welt newspaper, by 2014 around 18,000 owners will not have anyone to take over the family business, and some will have problems selling it to an outsider.
Many youngsters are moving out of relatively poor states like Saxony to more prosperous parts of Germany – or leaving the country completely. To make matters worse, birth rates are falling precipitously. Saxony’s government estimates that by 2020 the number of people in the state aged between 26 and 46 – prime ages to take over small businesses – will have decreased by a quarter.
Experts say it is important to develop succession plans early, even if it looks as if it might be many years before they are put into place.
But the reality is that although 58 percent of owners would like to pass on their business to family members, only 44 percent will be able to, according to the Bonn-based IfM, which studies small and medium-sized businesses.
That means owners need to ensure their companies remain attractive to potential outside buyers by, for instance, ensuring workers stay well-trained and technology remains up-to-date.
“Many businesspeople concern themselves with the succession question far too late,” Andreas Lehmann of the Potsdam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IHK) told Die Welt.
Groups like IHK offer special services to try to attract buyers for businesses on the market, but it can be difficult to do in some of East Germany’s most unappealing and worst-off areas.
And even when there is interest, some business owners, like Martin Musick, struggle to find a buyer who will protect what they’ve built up over the years.
Musick, who runs Elektrocom, a technology firm in Brandenburg, not far from Berlin, has had several offers for his business.
But, he told Die Welt, he feels responsible for his employees and is still searching for the perfect buyer.
What really pains him, however, is that his children do not want to take over the business.
“One wants the best for his children,” he told the newspaper, describing how he had sent his offspring abroad to America for a year.
Now, they’re more interested in international careers than playing a part in Elektrocom’s future.
So the 61-year-old is once more searching for buyers for his 17-employee firm.
He’s currently negotiating with two people, both of who he says are “Easterners” and know the region.