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Hannelore Mayr on working for the family business

Hannelore Mayr on working for the family business

Family-run software company CIM GmbH in Fürstenfeldbruck is currently preparing to hand over to the next generation. Hannelore Mayr is set to lead her parents’ company into the future along with her sister Friederike Kammann. With a background in geoecology and agricultural sciences, Hannelore is convinced that new forms of organisation will enable the company to do away with hierarchies in future. We met her to talk about working for the family business, the handover to the next generation and the benefits of logistics software. CIM GmbH is a provider of warehouse management software and is one the sector’s leading innovators with its state-of-the-art system, PROLAG®World.

Working in the family business is a matter of course for many second generation family members. Why did you choose to come and work for your parents’ company?

I kind of ended up here by accident – it wasn’t really what I had planned. I was living in Stuttgart a few years ago, working in IT, and looking to move to Munich. It seemed to make sense to start at CIM. It is my parents’ company after all, and I felt it would be a shame not to try it out. It wasn’t clear at that point what would happen in the future when my parents stepped down. Friederike had already joined CIM, but I had had no plans of getting involved up until that point. So I decided to give it a try and look for something else if things didn’t work out. I can't really say it was a matter of course for me at all. There was a time when I had practically nothing to do with CIM.

You originally studied geoecology in Bayreuth and then agricultural sciences in Stuttgart. Where’s the link to logistics and IT?

It's true that I come from a very different background in terms of subject matter. It would definitely have helped me to study logistics or something along those lines. Having said that, I think what you learn when you study is how to organise yourself and take responsibility for things. I learned how to study independently and also that it's always possible to continue learning ever after you’ve graduated – with books, from colleagues, parents, or by signing up for courses.

You've been working in quality assurance since you joined CIM. What exactly has that involved up till now?

I’ve been at CIM for five years so far. When I first started, I spent the whole time writing specifications and testing. I don't test at all anymore, which is a shame, but as part of quality assurance I’m very much involved in the specification process. In other words, I work on the requirements submitted by customers or by our project managers. The problem with new functions is always how to integrate them into the software without compromising the existing system. We didn't have a specification process at all in the past; we just did our programming in a copy of the system and then tried it out on the customer. But the procedure has changed now that we only work on a standard software version. The specification process is all the more important – there’s an awful lot you can mess up if you're working without specifications or if the specifications are incorrect. It’s an extremely complex and problematic process and very prone to mistakes. Especially when you’re under a lot of time pressure to get a project completed.

What are the main things that have changed for you since you started working at CIM?

About three years ago, we held an ‘autumn conference’. That was around the time I was approached by the other family members at CIM – my parents Franziska and Fritz Mayr and my sister Friederike Kammann – regarding a succession plan for the company. We then embarked on a process with the help of an external consulting firm, initially just by talking things through. The initial aim was to find a viable way of continuing with the company. It had always clear to me that a classic hierarchical structure wasn't my thing. I’m not your typical authority figure, and I don’t see myself as a 'boss' in the conventional sense. I’m on the same wavelength as Friederike in that respect. The question was how to take over the running of the company and manage it on our own terms.

You obviously succeeded in finding a way. How did that come about? Have you become an authority figure after all?

I'd say it was down to our autumn conference which all the ISO representatives at CIM took part in. Beforehand, we conducted fifteen in-depth interviews across the company which helped to point the way forward. At the conference, we formulated a vision for our product and for the company. That was a key point. I’ve always been convinced that logistics has an important role, even more so nowadays. Our product gives us an incredible opportunity to influence the logistics world. PROLAG®World puts us at the very root of the critical logistics infrastructure. We’re responsible for making sure not only that material flows, goods flows and logistics function smoothly, but that they become more efficient and economical for our customers. CIM has customers who operate worldwide, as well as numerous customers in Germany and Europe with incredibly complex and dynamic logistics networks. This is one of the most motivating factors for me personally. Our current standard of living would be inconceivable without logistics. We’ve all become aware of this at the latest thanks to the coronavirus pandemic with global supply chains no longer functioning smoothly. At the same time, logistics networks in modern industrialised nations like Germany are a significant factor in terms of the climate balance sheet and are responsible for a large portion of CO2 emissions.We have a great deal of creative power here, in my opinion. Intralogistics is at the heart of all goods flows for production and transportation companies. If we succeed in creating the conditions for efficient, and more importantly, sustainable logistics, then we as a company can make a considerable positive contribution to the future of our society.


You haven’t actually answered my question…
Maybe not, but it’s all connected. We developed and formulated this vision together with our colleagues from CIM and the participants at the autumn conference. There was a very unique atmosphere at the conference. The level of commitment and dedication was incredible, and a number of attendees made it clear that they believed in the company and would like to take on more responsibility. We have a lot of employees who really put their heart and soul into their work at CIM. That’s a great source of motivation for me. I realised at the conference that there was a viable way to lead my parents’ business into the future together with the people who make the company what it is. If we can succeed in creating a structure that allows more people to take on responsibility without a classical hierarchy and without a dog-eat-dog mentality, then I can actually see myself as the 'boss' of the company, if that’s the right word.
And now back to the question of what’s changed since I started at CIM. Since the autumn conference, we’ve been actively working to create the kind of conditions that support self-organisation. With regard to my specific tasks, I’m currently trying to lighten the load on my parents by taking on more responsibility in certain areas. That takes up a lot of time. I have an incredible number of meetings to attend at the moment and notice how I’m becoming more and more involved in the company. That’s partly down to the kind of person I am – I like just to get on with things and act straight away when I see that something needs done.

What do you see as the pros and cons of working with family?

I’ll start with the positives. One definite advantage is that I can call on my parents any time and they’re always willing to listen and give me advice on problems or anything I’m unsure about or don’t know how to handle. They'll tell me what they would do in that particular situation. Working with my parents and my sister has brought us closer – we see each other nearly every day, or at least speak on the phone. We discuss everything and try to come up with the best solution. The relationship has definitely benefited in this respect. We’re all committed to acting in the best interests of CIM, after all, and taking the company successfully into the future. There are arguments now and again if we don’t agree about something – that goes without saying. But we usually find a way. The issue of corporate management and self-organisation is paradigmatic in this respect. It‘s quite a significant change for CIM since my parents’ management style meant a lot more responsibility for them. The pressure was definitely very high at times. It was obvious to Friederike and me that self-organisation was the way forward for us, so a certain amount of conflict was inevitable.


So you were able to agree on a concept for the future?

Yes, after lots of talks and discussions we finally managed to come to an agreement. It's worked out very well, because we’re now very much working together with our parents to shape the future.
And now for the disadvantages: When we have family get-togethers or whenever I spend time with my parents out of work, the subject of the company is always present. I suppose that’s obvious, since it’s something that’s very important to us all. But you often have to remind yourself that there are other important aspects to family life, otherwise the company can easily take over. Another disadvantage, I think, is the parent-child role reversal when it comes to handing over tasks and responsibilities. That’s definitely an obstacle. I get the impression that my parents try to protect us daughters if they think something might be too stressful or demanding. And life in a medium-sized company certainly can be very stressful and demanding at times!

What do you like best about CIM?

The commitment and dedication I see among my colleagues and their tremendous team spirit. The sense of togetherness in the company is clear from the way we work with our product. It really is something special – I'd say that  every single person who works on PROLAG®World is passionate about it. That says a lot for PROLAG®World. The great thing is that it creates a real sense of cooperation among colleagues. Everyone has a different view or different focus, and we can all help each other understand the product as a whole. In the pre go-live phase, you can always feel the sense of pride and achievement across the company as the customer embarks on their journey with PROLAG®World. There's a great sense of cohesion within the team. We have over twenty different working groups at CIM, and employees from any area are welcome to join in and contribute.

 

Author:

Korbinian Mayr-Kennerknecht is an author and freelance journalist. He has been observing the latest developments in the logistics software market for some years now. He regularly researches and writes about specialists in the software sector, following a deeper interest that goes back to his student days.

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