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“The family has to play an active role”

A generational change lies ahead for the Endress family. How does this growing circle of shareholders plan to shape the company in future? And how can the younger generation grow into its responsibilities? Sandra Genge, the latest addition to the Supervisory Board, and CEO Matthias Altendorf discuss the issue.

Questions: Martin Raab
Photography: Andreas Mader
Genge und Altendorf

The coronavirus pandemic is not yet over, and already the war in Ukraine is generating the next crisis. Has this overshadowed your start as a member of the Supervisory Board, Ms Genge?

Genge: Personally speaking, both events are giving me major pause for thought. They show us just how fragile our world is. Which is something we, the post-war generations, are unaccustomed to: we enjoyed a very sheltered upbringing. However, the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine are not overshadowing my start. On the contrary: the Supervisory Board has debated difficult and important questions. We are demonstrating what we, as a family business, are capable of doing differently compared
to other companies.

 

Namely?

Genge: As a family business, our focus is not on short-term economic success. We value sustainable, long-term success that serves all stakeholders – including our employees, customers and business partners. We face up to our responsibilities, even through difficult times.

Altendorf: Because we maintain solid finances in good times as well, Endress+Hauser has a sound foundation. Our business is widely diversified among regions and industries; we are not dependent on any one market.
We pursue long-term goals and share strong values. We have customers who rely on our support and employees who are dedicated to our common
goals. And we have shareholders who trust in us to achieve the best results for Endress+Hauser even in difficult situations.

Representing the younger generation

Sandra Genge has been a member of the Endress+Hauser Group Supervisory Board since 2022. Beginning in 2006 she represented the younger generation on the Family Council, which serves as a link between the shareholder family and the company. Genge studied communications sciences and is a federally certified marketing and communications manager in Switzerland. She currently works freelance as a design and communications consultant. For the company founder’s granddaughter, hosting the Endress+Hauser 60th anniversary celebration in Basel was a defining experience: “When I looked out and saw the faces of 5,000 employees, I realized just how much of a responsibility we bear as the shareholder family and that we have to do everything in our power to live up to this responsibility.” Genge (born in 1977) is the mother of three children. In her free time she enjoys jogging outdoors. Since her childhood, traveling – at first with her grandfather, today with her own family – has been a source of inspiration and relaxation. “Traveling opens the mind and the heart. It teaches us to respect other people, cultures and religions. To paraphrase Mark Twain: ‘One must travel, to learn.’ ”

Interview

Sandra Genge und Matthias Altendorf

Interview Altendorf Genge

Ms Genge, you represent the interests of the shareholder family on the Supervisory Board. What are these interests?

Genge: I can sum it up very succinctly: the Endress family’s primary interest lies in Endress+Hauser continuing as a successful family business. Hence,
the entire family including me places great importance on the company’s values and culture – the Spirit of Endress+Hauser. That Spirit is a differentiating factor and contributes to our success. My task is to ensure that important decisions align with these values.

 

The family is growing, and the second generation is increasingly stepping back. What challenges does this create?

Altendorf: Up until now, the second generation has been a major influence. Four sons and one daughter of Alice and Georg H Endress have worked
for the company. Klaus Endress was the Group CEO for many years. Today, he is president of both the Supervisory Board and the Family Council. Urs Endress continues to serve as an ambassador. Of the third generation, only Steven Endress – who manages our business in the United Kingdom – is actively involved. And Sandra Genge, likewise a granddaughter of our company founder, has recently joined the Supervisory Board. We now have to work toward ensuring that more family members develop long-term involvement with the company.

Genge: The fewer family members who work on an operative level, the more our direct involvement declines. That brings on challenges in communication between the family and the company, and in transferring business expertise.

 

Expertise in the sense of insights, information and understanding?

Genge: Exactly. The company’s professionalism has vastly increased over time. As a growing family of business owners, we too must become more professional. That’s something the family has come to realize. It’s why we created the family charter in 2006, with its principles, rules and institutions. They enable precisely this exchange and flow of information. The charter is a key element for remaining a successful family business.

“The entire family including me places great importance on the company’s values and culture – the Spirit of Endress+Hauser. That Spirit contributes to our success.”

Sandra Genge

Supervisory Board member at the Endress+Hauser Group

Sandra Genge

What is necessary for the continued existence of the family business?

Genge: From the family’s point of view, it is important that members continue playing an active role in the company. By that I mean more than just involvement in the traditional sense, or operative responsibility. We have various committees, institutions and other opportunities for family members to contribute. Such involvement reinforces the family’s identification and connection with the company. Moreover, we as a family have to demonstrate good community spirit, and we need consensus to keep discord and disputes out of the company.

Altendorf: The family contributes values, warmth, knowledge and experience – as well as capital. That is why financial success is the fundamental prerequisite for continued existence of the company. The shareholder family also provides stability. Security, reliability and solidarity are invaluable, especially in a highly creative and innovative environment. These have been important elements of our success over the past 70 years and will remain so going forward. There is more to Endress+Hauser than just assets, buildings and machinery. A company is always a social system.

The family charter states that the shareholder family intends to “continue to shape the company”. How is this done?

Genge: By having family members work for the company, for example.
We formulated that as one of the goals in our family charter. For a number of years now, family members have been able to work at every level within Endress+Hauser, according to their suitability and skills. We have precisely defined how family members must be qualified in order to hold senior positions. Not least to protect the company itself, we want to select only the most suitable people.

Altendorf: Our founder shaped the company through his personality and leadership style – and through his choice of people. The second generation did the same. Today, the family’s involvement is more strongly institutionalized. However, the family and the company are in constant communication, and family members regularly confer among themselves. Besides the Supervisory Board, where Klaus Endress and Sandra Genge represent the family, there is also a Family Council, the General Meeting of the shareholders and the Family General Meeting. The family exercises its influence through the strategic decisions it makes and through selecting the people who manage the company. The family also has a presence at many occasions and celebrations. Thus it demonstrates cohesion, connection with the company and pride in what the company and the family have jointly achieved.

Close connection to the company

Matthias Altendorf has been CEO of the Endress+Hauser Group since 2014. He began his career at the company as an apprentice mechanic before proceeding to earn a degree, spending time abroad and undertaking further training. Even as an apprentice, the family business spirit fascinated him. He found the company’s founder to be an approachable employer: “We apprentices once took a trip by train to Locarno. Georg H Endress came along and enjoyed it with us. He knew that young people are the future. Personal growth was important to him.” Matthias Altendorf (born in 1967) is married and the father of an adult son. In his free time he enjoys sailing, chess, motorcycling and forestry work. His other hobbies include traveling, art and reading.

What are you doing to recruit young family members to work at the company?

Genge: We are specifically working to guide the younger generation into the company. For all family members aged between 16 and 35, we have the Family Camp. The program is a blend of education and an informal atmosphere where they can interact. We tour the production and sales companies, visit customers and see our products in use. Sometimes, we even take a hands-on approach: once, we drove around Switzerland in minibuses and measured the water quality of the river Rhine at various locations.

Altendorf: At the Family Day, we also attempt to gather all of the family members together so that they can grow better acquainted and join in a shared experience. Being a company owner can be a real pleasure. But it is also a responsibility, since ownership brings obligations. We have to reduce the burden of this responsibility somewhat and shift the focus to the benefits and community spirit. By working at the company, we can achieve something that is bigger than ourselves. That goes for employees and family members alike.
If we can awaken this sense of delight, then I am certain that we will be able to inspire subsequent generations as well!

 

And what if that does not succeed?

Genge: That is not an option!

Altendorf: Currently, no family members are represented in the Group’s operative management. Among the third generation, however, we have numerous people with interest or actual involvement in the company. Phases like this will always occur. That is why we have to find people for the Executive Board, Supervisory Board and management who share the
family’s entrepreneurial spirit and values and exemplify all of this in daily life. Furthermore, the family has to play a decisive role at critical junctures.

Genge: I am very optimistic that we will continue being able to do so in
the future. The family remains visible and tangible for people at the company. The fact that we have opened up working opportunities at every level contributes in both respects. Two of my cousins recently completed internships at Endress+Hauser companies. And I can say with considerable certainty that these two young women were not the only ones who found it inspiring!

“We have to find people for the Executive Board, Supervisory Board and management who share the family’s entrepreneurial spirit and values.”

Matthias Altendorf

CEO of the Endress+Hauser Group

Matthias Altendorf

As CEO, how important is the shareholder family to you – and how important is the fact that Endress+Hauser is a family business?

Altendorf: For me personally, it is exceptionally important to work for a company whose values I share. As CEO, I live on the trust that the family grants me. The family entrusts me and the company’s management with all of its employees and assets. We strive to guide this company wisely and continue its successful development. It is important that we also establish a trustful relationship with the younger generation. To this end we must work with each other, learn from each other and listen to each other.

 

How do you experience shareholder and family influence over the company?

Altendorf: Thanks to the family’s trust, I have an insight into all of its institutions and committees. That benefits both sides. We collaborate to develop a consensual direction for the company’s long-term development. This give-and-take is a challenge for every family business. At publicly traded companies, the roles are clearly assigned. A family business requires greater tact and mutual understanding. However, this interplay also makes us more successful than other companies, since constant dialog leads to better, sustainable decisions.

Genge: It is important that we, as the shareholders, allow the management entrepreneurial freedom. Only in this way can Endress+Hauser stay successful.

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