“As a CEO, you should hire employees who are better than yourself“
From New York to Lower Bavaria, from founding a start-up to leading the family business: Last year, our alumnus Christoph Krinner took over the family enterprise Krinner, which was founded by his father. We spoke with him about the challenges and opportunities of generational change in a family business and the role the TUM Management Alumni e.V. plays in his visions.
When did you realize that taking over your family business was the right step for you?
Actually, it became clear to me very early on in life. When I was only about six years old, my father asked my brother and me for the first time if we could imagine ourselves leading the company one day. A few years later, I was given the opportunity to get to know different positions. I had to work my way up from the assembly line to project manager. But my father also brought us along to meetings with our innovation department, our clients, and competitors – this got me fascinated. Most importantly, my father never complained about his work. Instead, he enthusiastically talked about his visions – which impressed and motivated me. What I love most about my work is that our products contribute to a more sustainable planet: Our Ground Screw can replace concrete and presents a cheaper, faster, and more sustainable alternative to building foundations. It causes less CO2 emissions than concrete and, in case the foundation is no longer needed, the screws can easily be removed and reused for another project. Ultimately, I decided to enter the family business and take over the role of the CEO in August 2019, after I had stayed in New York City for four years, where I completed my Master’s degree and worked on my own start-up for two years.
Innovation meets tradition: How do you innovate in a family business?
As a successor of a family business you need to have the freedom and flexibility to make the necessary decisions that drive innovation. In many cases, this is one of the biggest challenges, I think. Attending several conferences for family enterprises, I realized that a lot of successors struggle with their parents not wanting to let go, and thereby inhibiting change and innovation. I am very grateful that in my case this has been completely different. My father grants me a lot of freedom to make my own decisions and explore new initiatives. He has worked hard for the company, and he is still involved in strategic decisions, but he allows the next generation to continue his legacy and approach certain things differently. Sure, we talk about the company over dinner and I can ask for his advice anytime, but he does not decide any operational issues anymore. In my opinion, a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities between father and son is essential for a family business to be able to innovate.
In my case, this has helped me to completely revamp our corporate culture. In the past, the structures had been rather strict and traditional. Now, we are capitalizing flat hierarchies and fast decision-making processes. Department leaders are now carrying a lot more responsibility than before, making decisions independently. We encourage all our employees to not be perfect but to “move fast and break things”.
What challenges did you have to overcome?
I would say the biggest challenge was and still is to hire the right team member for a job. It has been one of my most profound learning experiences that a competent team and its development are of the utmost importance for the success of a company. You should not make the mistake to think that as CEO you are primarily responsible for it. Your first priority should actually be to hire employees who are better than you are in a certain field of expertise.
In order to achieve this goal, sometimes you have to overcome certain obstacles. In our case, one such hurdle turned out to be the corporate language. Among all applicants, we hired the most qualified candidate as the COO – and he is Canadian. Hiring a non-German speaker presented a significant challenge for us since many of our employees barely spoke English. To mitigate the language barrier, we began offering English classes for all employees. Now, about eight months later, it is completely normal that many meetings are conducted in English.
What does the TUM Management Alumni e.V. mean to you?
I am a huge fan of the offered events because they present excellent opportunities to meet like-minded people and exchange ideas. For many problems, it helps to have someone take a look from an outside perspective. The network provided by the association is the defining experience of my time at university. I got to know some of my best friends at the TUM School of Management. They are incredibly smart people that you can exchange business ideas with and who you may later work with as business partners. Another milestone in my university career was the Manage and More program, which I would go so far as to almost call a life-changing experience. I acquired so many skills that I can now apply as a manager – most noteworthy were probably the seminars about employee motivation and conflict resolution.
What are your visions for the future?
It is my vision to diversify our group of companies even further based on our values: innovation and sustainability. In my current operational role, I am making some major changes to the way we run our company. I see myself in this “change agent” role for however long these changes will take to be implemented. Once this is done, I want to start new companies that fit within our group of companies and leverage synergies.
What advice do you have for our students?
You should be passionate about the field or product you work on. We spend so much of our time at work. If you are not excited about what you do on a daily basis then dissatisfaction and poor performance are inevitable. During your time as a student you have the opportunity to try different things to figure out what your passion is. Only then, in my opinion, you can be successful and happy in the long run. And my tip for choosing your first job: Do not overemphasize the salary you are making in the beginning. If you have several offers, really think about which job you are most passionate about. Choosing that job will make you more successful in the long run and the money will follow.
TUM Management Alumni e.V. connects alumni, students and partners. At events spread throughout the year, former and current students come together and exchange ideas. Even in times of the coronavirus, the TUM Management Alumni e.V. is hosting a lot interesting come-togethers – virtually, of course. Check the association’s website to sign up.
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