An interview with Robert Reisch, Chief Executive Officer of Gentner Verlag

What do our members think about the German Mittelstand? What problems do they see? Where can the Maschinenraum help and which projects do they implement together with us? An interview with Robert Reisch, CEO of the Gentner publishing house.

Interview | 19.05.2020

Dear Robert, please tell us a little bit about yourself and the Gentner publishing house?

The Gentner publishing house has been in existence since 1927 - almost 100 years - and is now in its fourth generation. Originally the publishing house was once a classical bookbindery, but after the Second World War we took up regular publishing activities and published everything from trade magazines to books and tabloid magazines. Today, the focus is on two main areas of publishing: building services and medical technology, with building services accounting for around three quarters of our work and (digital) publications. I myself am actually a lawyer, but I have been working for the publishing house since 2008. At the beginning, I mainly built up the digital division and pushed ahead the digitisation within the company. Most recently I was CDO of the publishing house, and since May this year I have been CEO and taken over my father's position.

Why is the German Mittelstand so important for Germany?

I believe that the German Mittelstand is particularly important for Germany for two reasons: Firstly, there is the set of figures, their statistically large influence. The sheer mass of the German Mittelstand and the countless jobs it provides are unprecedented in Germany. Secondly, however, there is the emotional aspect, which is particularly noticeable in the current corona crisis: a family entrepreneur leads better through crises because he looks only secondarily at the economic factors. In the short term, he tends to undertake preliminary work because he has a more sustainable view of the economy due to the tie-up of capital and property. Family entrepreneurs also have a much more emotional bond to their employees because of their history, the structures that have grown over decades or centuries and the careful way they deal with each other. As a result, the red pencil is used much less frequently and jobs are cut less frequently. I would argue that their commitment to their employees is greater than in other companies, which also has a productive effect on work performance and cohesion.

Where do medium-sized companies stand when it comes to innovation and digitisation? What are the biggest challenges?

This should be considered in a differentiated way. My impression is that medium-sized companies from the service and media sectors are already quite far advanced in terms of digitalization. Manufacturers of goods, the handcraft and the manufacturing industry are finding it much more difficult to do so. One of the reasons for this are the existing, in some cases heavily encrusted structures in family businesses, which is why digitisation often goes hand in hand with a generation change, which then breaks up these encrusted structures. An entrepreneur always tries to set his scent mark at the beginning. The new generation must distinguish itself. This is accompanied by the recruitment of employees. This is where medium-sized companies are currently still facing a major challenge, because the locations are usually not attractive enough for the talents that are so urgently needed. The typical medium-sized company is simply not located in Berlin. And the necessary disruptive mindset is not yet available in the breadth that is needed to enable real innovation and transformation. The German Mittelstand takes much longer to make decisions and is not good at communicating what they are particularly good at. At the same time, I do not believe that we are always trying to catch up with the United States. In fact, we are far more progressive than our neighbours on the other side of the Atlantic in the field of medical- and biotechnology. And of course there are always lighthouses, small islands of hope, which should encourage us entrepreneurs.

How can the Maschinenraum help? Why is it so important?

For me, the Maschinenraum is exactly the platform that medium-sized companies currently need. Corona is like a burning glass here. What we are seeing in the light of the Corona crisis is that the willingness to exchange information is increasing noticeably, both on issues close to business and on such far removed from business. With its concept, the Maschinenraum carries this spirit further by building a safe ecosystem where medium-sized companies can exchange ideas, share their worries and fears and learn from the mistakes of others without the time clock running permanently and high hourly rates being charged. The challenges the German Mittelstand is facing are also different from those faced by DAX companies for example. The Maschinenraum takes all this into account with its network, which has been specially designed for medium-sized companies.

Which project do you implement in the Maschinenraum? How do you use the Maschinenraum?

I usually use the Maschinenraum as a workplace two days a month to work in a different environment and surround myself with people who take a different look at things. We also use the Maschinenraum as a platform for our own events, such as the B2B Summit. Our core business area at the publishing house is (digital) publications relating to building services engineering. The Maschinenraum with its good connections serves us here as a port and network node for our own community, which also needs inspiration when it comes to digitalisation.

The best thing about the Maschinenraum in one sentence?

The Maschinenraum offers space for exchange and brings together people with different skills who would otherwise probably never come together.

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