In late November 2013, VEI students from NYC, Long Island, and New Jersey traveled overseas to attend the German Practice Firm Trade Fair in Ulm, Germany. During the trip, the students were invited to tour the headquarters and manufacturing facility of Gütermann, a Mittelstand firm in Gutach-Breisgau, Germany.
As cited on Wikipedia, Mittelstand companies are small to medium-sized enterprises that are “highly focused, achieving unprecedented efficiencies by designing a business model with a razor-thin focus and learning to do the one thing really well” then to “compensate for their razor-thin focus… they diversify internationally and enjoy great economies of scale.” Mittelstand companies benefit from Germany’s apprentice system, which provides highly-skilled workers, and there is a “collaborative spirit that generally exists between employer and employees…”
According to the Harvard Business Review, “The amazing resilience of the German economy is often attributed to its reliance on Mittelstand companies, small to medium sized enterprises. These typically family-run businesses employ more than 70% of all German employees in the private sector, and are export-oriented, making Germany the second-largest exporter in the world.” Many of the successful Mittelstand companies combine a cautious and long-term oriented approach to business with the adoption of modern management practices, like employing outside professional management and the implementation of lean manufacturing practices and total quality management. The Mittelstand emphasis on long-term profitability stands in contrast to the public corporations of many countries (including German public corporations) which face quarterly or annual pressure to meet expectations.
Gütermann mentors and partners with the Practice Firm at Berufliches Schulzentrum Waldkirch (BSW), a German Vocational school that has been sending students to the NYC Virtual Enterprise International Trade Fair for years. This year, students and teachers from BSW provided home stays to American students who spent a week in Germany learning about international business, Mittelstand companies, and the German System for Vocational Education.
Follow the links for additional information and enjoy the photos of a trip that students will remember for a lifetime.
- Harvard Business Review article about Mittelstands
- Gütermann’s official website
- Wikipedia description of Mittelstand model
- News 12 Long Island’s video coverage of the trip