A change of owners and managers constitutes a critical phase for each firm. The lack of timely and thorough arrangements of the company succession leads in the practise to firm crises and closures. Company successions which occur due to the age of the entrepreneur can be planned. The situation is much more critical in the case of company successions which become necessary unexpectedly and in the short term. Not least, in the case of unsuccessful succession, workplaces threaten to be lost. In the past, the successors in the case of handover used to be one half from the family and other half from the firm or outside, in respect.
Given the abundance of problem areas and the structuring possibilities, a need for consulting and information as well as, not infrequently, for financing exists for the persons involved in the company succession. While the focus of the person handing over his business is placed on the field of the law of succession and the choice of the suitable handover form including its financing, the central question that arises for the successor (or the successors) is whether it is worth to continue the business at all. In the first place he must check whether the firm fulfils the requirements of the current and future economic situation, whether his professional and financing existence can be secured with the continuation of the business and whether the conditions of entry, such as the purchase price, are right.
The successor faces thorough challenges. Frequently the succession is not less complicated than the development of a new firm. Existing studies observe the challenges mostly from the perspective of the person handing over his business and focus attention, among other things, on the possibilities of the preparation of the succession, the finding of successors and the financing of the succession. In contrast, this study wants to highlight the generation change in medium-sized firms from the successors’ perspective.
The key aspects of the study can be illustrated with the following research questions: First, we consider the personality of the successor. Does he have the specialized knowledge necessary for the management of a firm? Was he – in the case of a family-internal handover – prepared for his duties? Furthermore, the focal points of this study are directed to the development of the firms after the handover. In doing so, we focus on the structural changes which are conducted by the new owner or manager, in respect, and the various problem areas the successor finds to be confronted with within the firm and with external business partners. The question must be answered to what extent structural changes influence the company success positively. Moreover, it has to be clarified how the successors handle the problems which the handover entails – be they financing problems or conflicts with employees, customers, suppliers, other business partners or within the firm. Which role does their specialized knowledge play and which their working and sectoral experience? Are there any differences if when the successor comes from the family or from outside the firm?
Also the role of the former owner shall be analysed within the scope of the key topics. Numerous studies on this theme refer to the difficulties which result from the fact that the person handing over his business cannot emotionally separate from his firm. Thus, a successful firm succession depends very decisively from the situation how the former owner acts, i.e. how well he prepares the handover and to what extent he supports or constrains the successor. The dimension of this problem shall be analysed in this study.
In order to answer these research questions, firm surveys are planned. First, in a telephone interview, we address 2.000 to 3.000 firms where a generation change has taken place in order to ask the successor to comment on the above described questions. Although telephone interviews enable us to reach many firms and thus to make representative statements, they nevertheless have the disadvantage that detailed questions cannot be clarified. According to our experience with firm surveys, the personal life of a successor, the motifs for the decision to take over an existing firm, individual difficulties during the takeover and concrete solutions, firm strategies, the various firm goals etc. are hardly detectable during a short conversation. This would exceed the scope of our work where a large scale interview can be conducted. For this reason, additional personal conversations with the owners and managers of selected firms, from which we know that a generation change has taken place, shall be carried out in this study, so-called “case studies”. These conversations will be much longer and more detailed than the telephone interviews.

Selected Publications


Gottschalk, Sandra, Daniel Höwer, Georg Licht, Michaela Niefert, Annegret Hauer, Detlef Keese, Michael Woywode and in Zusammenarbeit mit Verband der Vereine Creditreform e.V. (2010), Generationenwechsel im Mittelstand. Herausforderungen und Erfolgsfaktoren aus der Perspektive der Nachfolger, Baden-Württembergische Bank, Stuttgart. Download