Since unification, entrepreneurship in Germany has risen greatly. However the country still has a ways to go, seeing that as of the mid-2000s, Germany ranked at number 24 in the world in entrepreneurial activity. Despite the fact that 25-30% of the country’s young scientists have a significant chance to create a successful business, only 5% will actually do so, for various reasons.
One of those reasons may be that with one of the highest tax rates in the world, many small business owners find it difficult to stay afloat. There is also a tendency for Germans to open businesses not from a passionate drive to manifest their vision, but as a ‘no other option’ way of making a living. As well, Germans are known to be a cautious people, less inclined to take risks, which may prevent many would-be entrepreneurs from taking that fateful step towards quitting their jobs and opening their own businesses.
However Germany did rank first in the world in regards to how much money the government invests in its entrepreneurs, showing that if the entrepreneurial bug ever hits the nation, it could conceivably spread far, wide and fast. Of special note is the fact that Germany has established several programs targeting women entrepreneurs, including special loans, networks and a learning center. And according to a paper in the International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Small Business, while East Germany may have an overall smaller number of entrepreneurs than their western counterpart, the region does boast a larger number of women entrepreneurs.
One sector that is rising rapidly is that of franchising. Over the last 10 years, it has gone up dramatically in terms of its percentage in the Gross National Product. One reason why franchising may work so well in Germany is that it appeals to the German’s low-risk drive, promising a stable return for one’s investment.
Here are 10 of Germany’s most famous entrepreneurs:
A celebrated businessman, Lars Windhorst has been an entrepreneur since his teenage years. As one of Germany’s most famous and successful young business leaders, he accompanied Dr. Helmut Kohl, former Chancellor of Germany, on some of his official visits, following which he was celebrated at the Davos World Economic Forum as its Global Leader for Tomorrow and the youngest participant it had ever welcomed. After developing his profitable computer company, Windhorst branched out into electronics and capital holding, and the Windhorst Group branched out into different parts of Asia and Europe. Today, despite some recent struggles, Windhorst is making renewed strides in the financial world, with the establishment of the Sapinda Group for investment. There he is currently positioned as the CEO of the subsidiary Sapinda Deutschland GmbH.
One of not only Germany’s but the world’s richest people, Karl Albrecht was born in the 1920s in Essen to parents of limited means, his father a bakery assistant and his mother the owner of a small grocery store. He and his brother Theo later took over their mother’s store and transformed it into Aldi Sud, a mega discount supermarket chain. Albrecht grew his own wealth to upwards of $20 billion, before leaving the company and retreating into private life. Today little is known about him, though rumors say he lives somewhere in Switzerland, where he enjoys playing golf and growing orchids.
Billionaire entrepreneur Reinhold Würth was born in 1935. After inheriting his father’s business at the young age of 19, he grew it into the Adolf Würth Group, a billion dollar corporation. A member of the German Industry’s Hall of Fame and recipient of the Ludwig Erhard medal, the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit and the Diesel Medal, among several other awards and honors, Würth is known not only for his business prowess but for his philanthropic works on behalf of the arts and society. Today he is retired from business, but continues to be an active member of several advisory boards and to maintain his activities on behalf of the community.
The founder and chairman of SolarWorld, Frank Asbeck is a billionaire entrepreneur whose company has proven extremely successful for owner and shareholders alike. SolarWorld, a rapidly growing business, manufactures and produces solar panels. The company’s success is largely due to Asbeck’s aggressive approach and style of leadership, as well as his usage of management techniques such as employee share ownership. Seeking to enter Asian markets, including ventures in South Korea, China and India, Asbeck has also chosen to create a social agenda for SolarWorld, founding an ethics council and endeavoring to introduce solar power to parts of Africa in dire need of new energy sources.
Klaus-Michael Kühne, born in Hamburg in the 1930s, rose to become the major shareholder and executive chairman of Kühne & Nagel, the international transport company that was founded by his grandfather, August Kühne. One of the world’s richest people, Kühne is said to be personally worth nearly $6 billion. In 2008, Kühne won the Individual Contribution Award in recognition of his contribution to both the world of transport and society at large. One example of this is the establishment over 30 years ago of the Kühne Foundation that supports further education, research and training in the field of transport, alongside its many philanthropic activities.
Germany’s richest woman, Susanne Klatten was born in Bad Homburg. She later inherited her father’s stake in Altana, a manufacturer of chemicals and pharmaceuticals, and helped turn it into one of the Germany’s top companies. Klatten holds an MBA in advertising, along with an undergraduate degree in business finance, and she gained significant business experience at firms such as McKinsey and Dresdner Bank. Today, in addition to her work with Altana, she sits as an advisor on the board of BMW, of which she also owns a significant stake.
Hasso Plattner, born in Berlin in 1944, is a German entrepreneur and one of the world’s richest men. A founder of SAP AG, one of the world’s largest software companies, he led the company to prosper amidst a changing market, always seeing ahead of the tide. Previously serving as the company’s chairman of the board, since his retirement he has served as the supervisory board chairman. A well known benefactor, Plattner holds numerous honors and awards for his contributions to society, research and education. These include founding the Hasso Plattner Institute for software systems engineering, the Hasso Plattner Foundation for software systems engineering and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University; as well as providing millions of dollars for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, and sponsoring benefits on behalf of underprivileged children.
A self made billionaire, Karl-Heinz Kipp started small in the world of retail, and after 17 years, opened his first department store called Massa. Growing it into Germany’s largest chain of department stores, he sold it some 20 years later, retaining ownership of the real estate. Other properties owned by Kipp can be found in Manhattan, Switzerland and St. Moritz, in the form of luxury residences, hotels and resorts. Kipp and his wife, Hannelore, still married after nearly 60 years, reside in Kipp’s Tschuggen Grand Hotel.
The founder of Hexal, a generic pharmaceutical company, Andreas Strüngmann and his identical twin brother Thomas grew the company into the second-largest generic drug producer in Germany. While Thomas received a business education, Strüngmann pursued medical studies, following which he practiced medicine in the South African bush. In 1985, the two decided to join forces to respond to a growing market need for generic drugs. Over the next 20 years they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, and sold the company for $7.5 in 2005, following which Strüngmann became an executive at Sandoz, one of Novartis’ divisions. One of his charitable endeavors includes establishing the Ernst Strüngmann Foundation.
A true rags to riches story, Anton Schlecker inherited his parents’ butcher shop, later leaving the world of meat for that of pharmaceuticals. In 1975 he opened a drug store, multiplying it into over 100 stores over the next two years. Some 30 years later there are more than 13,000 stores in the chain, spread throughout Europe, with 6.5 billion Euros in turnover and a market share of 70%.