Business-family in Germany versus Family-business in 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.”

the client

About the author

Stephan Löw


Stephan Löw (1969) is Managing Director of TOPOS Personalberatung GmbH and fills C-level and management positions in industry and commerce.

After graduating from high school, he pursued an officer’s career in the German Air Force and completed his studies in business administration in Hamburg. He then started his career in industry and was most recently Sales & Marketing Manager for an international technology company in the banking sector.

From 2004, the trained business coach had previously proven his expertise in human resources consulting as a Consultant and Site Manager at a leading German HR management consultancy and has been Partner and Managing Director at TOPOS since 2007.

About the author

Alessandra Conte


Alessandra has accumulated comprehensive experience in the Executive Search industry, starting her career in 2005 within the Milan office of Boyden, as a Researcher. She progressed in her career as Senior Researcher and Consultant, operating mainly in the Industrial and Construction sectors.

She worked for Stanton Chase where she led complex Executive Search projects as a Senior Consultant. She later joined Executive Hunters, where she contributed as a Partner with her in-depth expertise on national and international projects across various sectors, with the main focus on Infrastructure and Construction, Oil&Gas, Chemicals and Manufacturing.

In January 2019 Alessandra embraced a new, ambitious project as founder and Managing Partner of Alexander & Duke.
Throughout her career, Alessandra has conducted numerous assignments seeking for talented professionals having different levels of seniority from Middle Management positions to Top Executives and Board Director roles in Italy and abroad.

Graduated in Law, before starting her career in headhunting, she spent four years in a Criminal Law firm in her city, Turin.

She’s fluent in English and competent in French.

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