In 1911, Anton Reifenhäuser opened a small forge in Troisdorf, Germany. Later his son Hans developed it further to a machine-building company. By 1948, together with his brother Fritz, Hans had sold his first extruder for the processing of thermoplastic materials, which sparked the start of the Reifenhäuser Group’s success story. Over the decades that followed, the family-run business gained global importance and today it is the largest manufacturer of its kind in the world.

Reifenhäuser consists of seven business units. Its operations are led by the third-generation Reifenhäuser family with Bernd Reifenhäuser sitting at the helm as CEO. He is supported by his two brothers, Klaus and Ulrich. Bernd came into the role seven years ago and set about implementing some strategies to ensure the success of his grandfather’s legacy for many years to come.

The CEO Magazine spoke to Bernd about the family dynamic at Reifenhäuser, the changes he brought about, and his commitment to ensuring the future remains bright.

The CEO Magazine: What is your career experience before you joined Reifenhäuser, and did you always know that you would end up in the family business?

Bernd: I started my career in the automotive industry with a big American automotive supplier. I stayed with them for more than 14 years. I was with this big corporation working on the operational side and I have been in leading positions running plants and running divisions in different sizes up to the biggest unit they had. After that, I joined a private equity firm that specialised in turnaround businesses. While working there I gained extensive experience in restructuring and setting up new business plans and then really executing them. I hold that as a very valuable educational period of my life. I have always been very much hands-on with management, and the operational and strategic set-up of businesses.

During that period, I did not know that I would be part of the family business, at least not in the operational business. But in about the late 90s I was called by my father to be a member of the supervisory board. After his death, I took over as president of the board. So first I got insights from the outside and afterwards the family decided that I join the operational family business to transfer the experience to it that I gained in the outside world.

What are the pros and cons of being a family business?

There are three ways of organising shareholdership in a company—the stock market, the investor-based shareholdership, and the third one is family. There’s not much more, although there are some hybrid forms.

The family can be a superior form of shareholdership for several reasons. You get faster decisions, you think more long term and you enrich the vision and targets of a company by more than just profit maximisation. I know that corporations also have core values and carry them forward, but the CEO generally changes on average every three years at the big corporations. It can be hard to follow up on strategy when the leadership is changing regularly. At Reifenhäuser we believe in the advantages of a more consistent leadership. The key is to marry the advantages of corporations and private equities with that of a family business.