At a recent presentation at the International Business Initiative a discussion on Germany and Business was led by Ralf Dietmar Wiedemann, Honorary Consul of Germany in Philadelphia, Ralf Weiser, a native German employed as Manager/Engineering Technical by Aerzen USA Corp., a Coatesville subsidiary of a German Corporation in the Blowers-Compressor-Vacuum Pumps Industry, and Rob Gilfillan, of Cenero, LLC, a Malvern Videoconferencing and Audiovisual firm which does business in Germany. The Consul can assist with notarization of documents required in Germany and help companies with German business. Germany Trade and Invest is a trade organization affiliated with the German embassies and consulates that has offices around the world to help with questions about business with Germany. Germany has offices to help companies find employees. The state may help with salary credits and training.
Germans don’t want bullet-point presentations but details and specifics. Germans are pragmatic. Weiser recommends reading Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands (The Bestselling Guide to Doing Business in More than 60 Countries). Personal contact is important. In-person contact is best; phone calls second; e-mails less vital. E-mails may not be acknowledged.
Gilfillan says his business adapts to company and country cultures. German companies ask for more features. They work incrementally. If a company does a good job, a German customer will often increase its business based on a ROI that may even only have a long term benefit. Their culture is driven by making the endeavor more sustainable. The culture prizes efficiency, embracing videoconferencing as a substitute for flying to meetings, yet face-to-face meetings sometimes are worth the expense, especially for a first meeting.
Germany has stricter product liability law so some German companies limit exposure to the U.S. due to strict liability. Civil law is non-precedential which focuses on the body of civil law, Contracts are shorter. Purchase agreements incorporate the law of the civil code. Employees usually have employment contracts. The scope of work and hours are usually stated.
Germany is the great economic success story of Europe. Why is this so? Germans are driven to continual improvement. Germany is known for high quality products. Germans are precise and value rigorous adherence to standards and attention to detail. Most jobs require a 3-year apprenticeship. Termination of workers requires a plan and is not as easy as in the U.S. When a recession hits, German companies minimize layoffs by reducing work schedules but retaining workers who are given some financial assistance by the government. Experienced workers are more loyal to the company and are ready and trained when demand for products increase. German companies respond more quickly to increases in demand for their products. Unions have influence and can be on the Board of Directors, yet the Workers’ Counsel can have more influence than unions. Workers usually do not get paid more for overtime but receive credit for time off. Employees get 4 weeks of vacation. Management and workers strive to have a better relationship and cooperate more than in the U.S.A. They strive to get along out of a patriotic concern for what’s best for the country, the company, the individual, and the environment. People and unions invest more for the future. They feel they have a moral obligation towards those who come after them. Corruption is not high.
The ratio of export to Gross Domestic Product is highest in the world. German companies are export-minded. In Europe so many countries are nearby and having markets outside Germany is necessary to survive. Opportunities for investment in Germany are highest for companies involved in innovation and high technology. Germany competes not always on the lowest price but a reputation for quality and good service. Germany entered the China market early, built relationships, marketed on the theme of quality and thrives there.
J. Michael Considine, Jr. is co-Chairman of the International Business Section and Chairman of the International Business Initiative.