3 questions to smart minds

Today, specialization in consulting for small and medium-sized enterprises only works to a limited extent

For this 3 questions to Ralf Jourdan

Photo: Ralf Jourdan
29. August 2023

The most important trend in consul­ting is clearly digi­tiza­tion. A second mega­trend is that consul­tants no longer just work out stra­te­gies, but also accom­pany process chan­ges in the company. Consul­tants are no longer just the stra­tegy advi­sors for the manage­ment. Exter­nal consul­tants now work closely with client staff on many opera­tio­nal projects.

For this 3 ques­ti­ons to Ralf Jour­dan, foun­der of PEBCO AG

1. In contrast to pre-Covid, what needs to be approa­ched differ­ently in mid-size­d/­fa­mily busi­nesses today, inclu­ding from a manage­ment consul­ting perspective?

COVID has basi­cally acce­le­ra­ted, some­ti­mes drama­ti­cally, all the issues that were clear before COVID that they were coming at us or the compa­nies. The most obvious exam­ple is “teams” or “early video tele­phony”. As a result, travel times were cut, costs were elimi­na­ted, mobile working — home office etc. etc. was estab­lished with a “snap of the fingers”. This at least in the minds of employees and custo­mers — far from in the company, proces­ses, quality assu­rance, product deve­lo­p­ment, manage­ment team, HR, sales and Co.

This basi­cally means that the speed of change has once again increased signi­fi­cantly, which also applies to indus­try deve­lo­p­ments, tech­no­lo­gies, skills for employees, etc. in general.

In sum, this means that all areas of the company are affec­ted and must be adapted. It is no longer enough to “only” treat special areas, it is neces­sary to estab­lish a holi­stic view of the inter­ac­tion of the segments. It takes a lot of expe­ri­ence, fore­sight and plan­ning, combi­ned with a clear idea of how the company should func­tion in the future, so that all the wheels mesh smoothly again. These are real chal­lenges, espe­ci­ally when there are still tech­no­logy breakth­roughs like e.g. to be added in the auto­mo­tive sector.

Also, the entre­pre­neur hims­elf thinks “about hims­elf” earlier. Gone are the days when the captain stood on the bridge until the middle of his seventh decade. Today’s gene­ra­tion is (rightly) alre­ady thin­king about succes­sion in their mid-fifties and also very openly about whether this should/could be solved within the family. From our point of view, ther­e­fore, a consul­ting service for small and medium-sized busi­nesses must have a gene­ra­list approach. It must be a very expe­ri­en­ced consul­ting team, equip­ped with indus­try — but also finan­cial back­ground, which is able to play the above topics toge­ther with the entrepreneur.

2. Why don’t banks work toge­ther with medium-sized compa­nies like they used to?

In the after­math of the 2007 finan­cial crisis, Europe “let” itself be over-regu­la­ted. Banks today are stuck in a corset that is basi­cally suppo­sed to comple­tely avoid entre­pre­neu­rial risk. The resul­ting stan­dar­diza­tion is unfort­u­na­tely not really suita­ble for the German market and in many places has little to do with German (entre­pre­neu­rial) reality. The repo­si­tio­ning of banks (through regu­la­tion) brings with it struc­tu­ral problems that were previously shared by banks as part of (credit) risk manage­ment. Unfort­u­na­tely, with the “new world of stan­dar­diza­tion”, there is a certain loss of compe­tence at the banks, which signi­fi­cantly slows down decis­i­ons, espe­ci­ally in diffi­cult corpo­rate situa­tions or econo­mic situa­tions. In summary, it can be said that the German entre­pre­neur has lost his risk part­ner “bank”; today he is “only” assis­ted by a lender with high formal hurd­les. Conse­quently, the market has sought — and will conti­nue to seek — new ways forward.

Today, corpo­rate equity, debt funds; PE’s, alter­na­tive forms of finan­cing account for a signi­fi­cant share of the balance sheets of the broad German SME sector, and the trend is still growing. This will make it possi­ble to close large parts of the funding gap that has arisen. Howe­ver, it will not be without conse­quen­ces. In our opinion, this will further acce­le­rate the struc­tu­ral change in our coun­try — away from medium-sized family busi­nesses — towards larger corpo­rate groups, and thus signi­fi­cantly change the SME sector as the “largest employer” in Germany.

3. Where do you see a need for action or improvement?

We must not over­re­gu­late the market at every point We should not comple­tely “disen­fran­chise” the entre­pre­neurs in our coun­try who provide jobs, take considera­ble risks, even perso­nally. An entre­pre­neur under­ta­kes, let him do so.

We should stop trying to regu­late any problem and then “finance it away” through subsi­dies. — Is it really right to assume that it is better for poli­tics, the market, the company, to take tech­no­logy decis­i­ons away? Keywords: elec­tric — hydro­gen — nuclear — wind — solar? Do decis­i­ons get better if, in order to make them “market-ready,” we then subsi­dize them into the market with tax dollars?

I think not!

In this respect, we need to allow more compe­ti­tion and take more risks in order to produce inno­va­tions that we can then deve­lop, produce and estab­lish in our coun­try, in Europe, ready for the market. This will lead to growth and stability.

About Ralf Jour­dan, [email protected]

Ralf Jour­dan, busi­ness econo­mist, has been respon­si­ble in rele­vant manage­ment func­tions for large compa­nies and medium-sized busi­nesses for more than 25 years. The result: a high level of expe­ri­ence and a distinct under­stan­ding of stra­te­gic and busi­ness contexts.

He uses his tech­ni­cal and leader­ship skills analy­ti­cally and stra­te­gi­cally to control and guide manage­ment proces­ses. Over the years, he has become a valuable spar­ring part­ner for entre­pre­neurs and managers.

10 years ago he foun­ded PEBCO AG for medium-sized compa­nies. Before that he was CEO of a family-owned company in the consu­mer goods indus­try for 5 years, and before that he was a member of the execu­tive board and divi­sio­nal board for corpo­ra­tes of a large Euro­pean banking group for 10 years. He has 15 years of expe­ri­ence in change manage­ment and restruc­tu­ring as well as in leading growth scena­rios.

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