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Business-family in Germany versus Family-business in Italy

& Italy

Italian family-owned companies are both famous and notorious. Because there are so many family members involved in the company it’s known for the risk of being prone to conflicts. In Germany in general, family-owned companies are led more managerial, structured, and not all family members are automatically part of the management team or even involved in the company. So, what if you as a German family-owned company are searching for a new General Manager for your location in Italy? And all of this in the middle of Covid, which struck Italy hard. This dynamic distinguished this search from the many cross-border assignments between IESF partners. In an interview with Alessandra Conte from IESF Italy, we explain this case study in detail.

KNF – the Swiss family-owned company originating from Germany, client of Topos Personalberatung contacted Achim Moraw, Managing Partner and he directly referred them to IESF Italy: Alessandra Conte, Managing Partner of Alexander & Duke successfully started to execute the search. Which challenges did KNF face at the time? And how did IESF Italy succeed to find, select, and match a qualified candidate in the middle of the pandemic crises?

The client

KNF was founded in 1946 by Kurt Neuberger in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany. The company has established itself globally as a solution provider specializing in the development, design, production and distribution of diaphragm pumps and systems for handling gases and liquids. With 24 locations worldwide, the company is constantly expanding its multi-industry expertise and wide range of applications. The main aspects within KNF are transparency, commitment, and an open mind. There is a strong business family culture. Alessandra: “In Italy most of the mid-sized companies are family owned. Once you are part of the company, you really are part of a family. We needed to explain to our candidates, that in Germany that’s a bit different. In this company not everyone of the family is involved operationally in the company, like it is the case in traditional Italian companies, and the company culture is totally different.”

The differences in family business

A family business, like in Italy, is mainly driven by family loyalty and harmony as a primary goal, causing choices that often trump profitability and performance, even to the detriment of the business’s long-term viability. A family business, like in Germany on the other hand, recognizes performance and competitive profitability as the main objectives that will provide long-term sustainability, outweighing short-term family considerations, thus becoming the primary criteria for decision making—even if it is difficult. A business family understands that family harmony is not a goal; it is a byproduct. When the focus is on performance, the business stays healthy, which minimizes the likelihood of conflict.

Commercial shift

Alessandra first met the Chief Operating Officer of the KNF Group and set-up the local business. Later in the search, the project was managed by the Chief Sales & Marketing Officer of the KNF Group. Alessandra: “We first met in February 2020, but then Covid-19 came, and Italy was totally shut down. We signed the contract in June 2020, but together with the client didn’t start the search until September 2020.” The former General Manager had been in the position for eight years, but had a more financial background. Alessandra: “In Italy, KNF operates a Sales Center focused on sales and services. There are no manufacturing facilities of assembly lines. Therefore, KNF needed a candidate with a background in Sales for this position. The perfect candidate had to further develop the client database. KNF is the technological leader in diaphragm pump technology but is not that well-known in Italy. To grow, KNF searched for a General Manager who really knows the sector and can translate this for new prospects.” The shortlist was created within three weeks. The first interviews took place in Italy and the second selection interviews were held in Switzerland. IESF Italy accompanied all interviews and managed expectations.

The project was completed in the beginning of December 2020 and the candidate started in April 2021. Alessandra: “They choose the candidate who’s most authentic. He was a sales director in a OEM manufacturing company and knows the market and developments very well. KNF Italy is growing in number of employees and revenue.”

who can help you?


Stephan Löw


Alessandra Conte

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