The company? It’s like a sibling!
The current issue of our campus magazine MINDSHIFT is all about the issue of succession in family enterprises. It is often a cause for concern in German family businesses. More and more offspring are striving for self-fulfillment away from the dynasty. But there are counterexamples, not least in our economically strong region. The Noerpel Group, headquartered in Ulm and today one of the most successful logistics companies in southern Germany, is now writing its own history – in the fifth generation.
The company was founded in 1881, and descendants of the family have passed on the baton practically without a break since then. And Stefan Noerpel-Schneider, Managing Director since 1998, should be more pleased than worried about the future: his children Judith and Lucas – two promising young professionals – are already waiting in the wings. For these two, innovative thinking is a tradition, detours are part of the game, and constraint is a foreign concept.
“We just grew into it,” says 29-year-old Judith Noerpel-Schneider, reflecting on her path into the family business. “Our dad always liked to talk enthusiastically about his work, never put pressure on us, encouraged our passions, and rather subtly sparked our interest in the industry.” Close family ties, ambitious goals, and a strong academic résumé eventually brought her to her current position: as corporate marketing manager of the company group, which now has 16 locations and around 2,500 employees. For more than two years now, all marcom decisions have crossed her desk. “My job is strongly driven by the respective project and brings an incredible amount of variety to everyday life. What’s particularly nice is that I can tackle the challenges of succession together with my brother and father. That provides support, even in difficult situations.”
Women at the top: “Outdated role models are no longer an obstacle”
Judith Noerpel-Schneider denies that women still have to battle gender stereotypes in industries heavily dominated by men, such as the logistics sector. “You just have to put in the time and earn your stripes,” she says. “In my experience, outdated role models in executive suites are no longer a real obstacle in 2021. Nevertheless, there are of course demanding settings and the enduring challenge of being able to combine family and career. As the only young woman in executive meetings with 15 men over 50, you think twice about how you want to place things. But the respect for new knowledge is now there.”
Female or male leadership? It’s all about the right combination!
When asked whether there were fundamental differences in leadership behavior between the sexes, the marketing boss also had a clear stance: “In many cases, women lead differently than men do – sometimes more empathetically, sometimes more consistently, and often more self-critically. But in any case, gender diversity at the top levels opens up new perspectives in management.” It is precisely the differences, she says, from which modern companies can draw the greatest potential. That’s another reason why she appeals to young women not to conform too much, even in male-dominated industries: “I believe that we don’t have to act male to be successful. On the contrary, consider your femininity a strength and an asset to the company.”
Innovative strength through networking
In the end, it is all about thinking together toward the future in order to remain competitive in the long term. The Noerpel Group is obviously succeeding in this: last year, the company was selected as one of the 19 finalists for the prestigious “EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Germany” award for commitment, entrepreneurship and innovative strength.
The management also wants to promote such impulses beyond the family’s own succession. As part of its master’s semester projects, the Noerpel Group now works with the Global Center for Family Enterprise at the TUM School of Management at Campus Heilbronn and awards project studies to students at the university. The goal: better networking between science and business. At the same time, the cooperation brings young talent with a lot of technological know-how into the company. An opportunity for early recruiting? Judith Noerpel-Schneider doesn’t rule it out: “Well-trained managers who bring tech expertise, management know-how, and an understanding of working in family businesses are needed today more than ever.”
This interview was published in our new edition of the campus magazine MINDSHIFT. Find out more about the challenges facing owner-managed family businesses in the latest issue: https://www.wi.tum.de/tum-campus-heilbronn/press/
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