Kienbaum Consultants International

Kienbaum Consultants International

  • has existed for over 70 years. The company, head-quar­tered in Cologne, is curr­ently managed by the family’s third gene­ra­tion and mana­ging part­ners. As a personnel and manage­ment consul­tancy, Kien­baum Consul­tants Inter­na­tional GmbH is active in the follo­wing busi­ness areas: Execu­tive Search, Human Capital Services, Change and Orga­ni­sa­tional Consul­ting, and Commu­ni­ca­tion. The company is repre­sented in 18 coun­tries on four conti­nents, and gene­rates an annual revenue of around €100 million.

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Fabian Kien­baum just came out of a meeting with his father. Since the begin­ning of 2018, when he became his father’s offi­cial successor, he is the sole CEO of Kien­baum Consul­tants Inter­na­tional GmbH. But the 34-year old wouldn’t want to pass up the advice of Jochen Kien­baum, who has over four decades of expe­ri­ence in the busi­ness that is still being run by the Kien­baum family and its mana­ging part­ners. He meets with his father — who is staying on as Mana­ging Partner — on a regular basis, and they discuss important deci­sions. His bottom line after three months as the top boss? Fabian Kien­baum laughs. “I’m satis­fied. We’re on the right track, the topics we defined toge­ther are being imple­mented. I am espe­ci­ally thankful for the confi­dence and trust that ever­yone has placed in me. It actually doesn’t feel like such a big change because my father and I were a tandem last year. And with our manage­ment team, we have more of a ‘first among equals’ model, so I don’t feel like the sole boss – it’s a team approach.”

Fabian Kien­baum repres­ents the third gene­ra­tion at the helm of the Kien­baum personnel and manage­ment consul­tancy. In 1945, Gerhard Kien­baum founded the company in Gummers­bach, near Cologne, to help war-damaged busi­nesses with recon­struc­tion. In 1977 his son Jochen came to the family busi­ness, which was growing strong, and in 1986 he became head of the company. Today’s Kien­baum Consul­tants Inter­na­tional, with its focus on people, curr­ently has 600 employees in 18 coun­tries.

At the outset, however, it wasn’t clear that Fabian Kien­baum would take over the manage­ment of the company. Sure, he was always inte­re­sted in consul­ting, and he received exten­sive insight into the busi­ness when he accom­pa­nied his father on inter­na­tional busi­ness trips, but his father never pres­sured him. “Ever since child­hood, my five sisters and I were able to do what we wanted – I believe that is also part of the recipe for success. My father didn’t expect me to follow him, I felt more pulled than pushed.” After comple­ting a bachelor’s in busi­ness manage­ment, Fabian Kien­baum studied inter­na­tional manage­ment at ESCP Europe and received a German busi­ness manage­ment diploma, a Diplômé de Grande École, and a Master of Science. After around three years working in an American manage­ment consul­tancy in London, it was time for a new career step – and it became clear to him that brin­ging his talents and energy to his father’s busi­ness could be much better and more produc­tive. Natu­rally, Jochen Kien­baum was very happy about his son’s wish to join the family busi­ness.

After many inten­sive discus­sions with the whole family in spring of 2013, the orien­ta­tion phase began: At the outset it was set up to be five years long and consist of several stages. In 2014 Fabian Kien­baum took over respon­si­bi­lity for digital busi­ness, company invest­ments and the manage­ment of the Berlin office – just as his father did with foun­ding Kien­baum Berlin. One part of the success formula was that the son would thereby have a field of activity in which he could work and prove himself. “I was able to provide new ideas. In the process, I was able to benefit from being new to the company and working in an area which was previously vacant. This increased the proba­bi­lity of my success, and as ‘the boss’s son’ I didn’t get on anyone’s toes. Further­more, I came into a phase of active change in which ever­yone was part of a close-knit team. So I didn’t have to compete against the others, right from the start I could focus on applying my talent and energy in the best way possible”.

“It’s better to over-commu­ni­cate than under-commu­ni­cate”

Having a new CEO is one thing, but at Kien­baum, this was about much more: the succes­sion into the next gene­ra­tion with the manage­ment team and finding a new struc­ture, i.e. answe­ring the question as to how this tradi­tional consul­tancy can posi­tion itself in a sustain­able way. One of the biggest chal­lenges was beco­ming fami­liar with and under­stan­ding the diffe­rent perspec­tives. Top manage­ment worked on this for a year and a half, and once again, Fabian Kien­baum empha­sises how important team-thin­king is, and that the best inte­rests of the company are everyone’s top prio­rity. What does he consider to be the biggest success factor in the new struc­ture? “Trust is the most important thing,” answers Fabian Kien­baum without hesi­ta­ting, “and we had that comple­tely. Commu­ni­ca­tion is also essen­tial – in every direc­tion, with all stake­hol­ders, whether within the manage­ment team, with employees or with the public. It’s important to be very trans­pa­rent and open regar­ding why specific deci­sions are made and what we stand for, and this needs to take place via all chan­nels of commu­ni­ca­tion. It’s better to over-commu­ni­cate than under-commu­ni­cate. Along with long-term forward plan­ning, this creates trust, orien­ta­tion and secu­rity.” Succes­sion processes often have a very indi­vi­dual shape in family-based compa­nies. It was very important to Kien­baum Senior that he and his son take the last steps as equals, that’s why the two men managed the company as co-leaders in 2017. At the start of this year, manage­ment of the company was trans­ferred to his son. Never­theless, the level-headed father remains a spar­ring partner for the impul­sive son, some­times slowing him down – when he gets impa­tient, some­times Fabian Kien­baum can’t help laug­hing at himself: “In principle, we’re of the same mind, but we tend to discuss how radical our deci­sions come across: How vigo­rously and quickly should we imple­ment our deci­sions? It’s good that my father, with his many years of expe­ri­ence in the company, some­times keeps me from clashing too hard with the others. On the other hand, what he likes about me is that I can move things forward.”

The success of the coope­ra­tion of the father-son team is also demon­strated by a variety of awards. In November 2017 busi­ness maga­zine “Capital” named Fabian Kien­baum one of the “Young Elite – Top 40 under 40” in the “Busi­ness” cate­gory. At the same time, the Federal Asso­cia­tion of German Manage­ments Consul­tants (BDU) made Jochen Kien­baum an hono­rary presi­dent for his commit­ment to the consul­ting indu­stry. In an April 2018 ranking of the best consul­tants by brand eins, Kien­baum Consul­tants was ranked #1 in Human Resources and Coaching and #2 in both Change Manage­ment and Trans­for­ma­tion & Orga­ni­sa­tion.

Both father and son feel encou­raged by these acco­lades, but the company still has a long way to go in its trans­for­ma­tion process. The tradi­tional consul­tancy is posi­tio­ning itself intern­ally for the future with the slogan “NewKi­en­baum”. “Having a successor from the family is a posi­tive signal, it shows a certain commit­ment to conti­nuity. But neither tradi­tion nor history can spare us from change,” empha­sises Fabian Kien­baum. “We need to ener­ge­ti­cally move forward, and we need to become more agile and digital.” Digi­ta­li­sa­tion and New Work appear to be the keywords he was waiting for. His voice is enthu­si­astic when he talks about the change processes. As a consul­tancy, Kien­baum would like to set a good example for its clients and use its own expe­ri­ence to advise them about digital trans­for­ma­tion, because “we can’t preach Digi­ta­li­sa­tion and New Work without commit­ting ourselves fully to those ideals.” Moving the Gummers­bach head­quar­ters to the Airport Busi­ness Park in Cologne was a step in this direc­tion. Inspi­ra­tion from Microsoft’s new German head­quar­ters in Munich can be seen in the new offices: open buil­ding struc­tures and modern working areas for a variety of work requi­re­ments charac­te­rise “the space­ship”, as it’s often called. It is very important to Fabian Kien­baum that New Work isn’t only reflected in the archi­tec­ture, in oppor­tu­nities to work in a home office or in the appli­ca­tion of digital tech­no­lo­gies, but that it’s espe­ci­ally under­s­tood to be a cultural subject: “The most important requi­re­ment for it is the esta­blish­ment of a new culture of trust in a company in which New Work can flou­rish. That is probably the biggest chal­lenge compa­nies have to master in terms of moving towards a new working world. Without New Culture, there’s no New Work!” The biggest demands in this area are upon manage­ment: as the top manager, Fabian Kien­baum doesn’t exclude himself – that’s why the E in his title deli­be­r­a­tely stands for some­thing other than “execu­tive”. The Chief Empower­ment Officer would like to empower his employees, he wants to commu­ni­cate with them on an equal level, bring them toge­ther into suitable projects, topics, and teams. He wants to give them inspi­ra­tion and purpose and unleash their enthu­siasm. “We want to set the course away from an object-oriented culture towards a subject-culture which allows for indi­vi­dua­lity, diver­sity and the deve­lop­ment of employee poten­tial. For us, good leadership is ‘servant leadership’ – above all, leaders are mentors and coaches for the team members, who should also take on respon­si­bi­lity. In the extreme form, this means: leaders will make them­selves super­fluous.” But surely not ever­yone is happy with this? Fabian Kien­baum laughs. “Of course this clashes funda­ment­ally with the human ego and its desire to feel important and needed. But this way energy is released and one can once again dedi­cate oneself to diffe­rent topics. I consider not crea­ting any depen­den­cies to be a way of acting sustain­ably in the long-term. The roles them­selves change in this process and one deve­lops agility in action, which replaces the hier­ar­chies. This idea is what counts in the end.”

In addi­tion to the orga­ni­sa­tional changes, Kien­baum Consul­tants’ busi­ness model is also under scru­tiny. The growing digital compe­ti­tion is putting long-esta­blished consul­tan­cies under pres­sure – Fabian Kien­baum sees this as an oppor­tu­nity to find answers and make progress. He’s focu­sing on colla­bo­ra­tive efforts and inve­sting in tech startups which are rele­vant to HR, like First­bird, 4 Scotty, Jobtender 24, Capi­talheads and Edition F. Through such intel­li­gent part­ne­ring, Kien­baum is part of the move­ment which repres­ents the future of consul­ting – a key to success in the new work envi­ron­ment. Fabian Kien­baum isn’t worried about consulting’s future: “Consul­ting will always be around, but mega­trends which chal­lenge the busi­ness model – the demo­cra­ti­sa­tion of know­ledge, and alumni who change sides, to name just two examples – change the way consul­ting is done. The project typo­lo­gies change, the busi­ness model gets adju­sted. There will be more projects in deli­be­r­a­tely mixed teams of perma­nent employees and free­lan­cers, and sourcing will change. Increa­sing auto­ma­tion will make the borders between people and tech­no­lo­gies smoother. In a world whose comple­xity is ever-increa­sing, advice is in demand more than ever, because compa­nies have to question them­selves constantly. That’s why consul­ting won’t lose rele­vance – it will simply become more chal­len­ging.”

Through all the necessary changes on the way to beco­ming NewKi­en­baum, the tradi­tional consul­tancy never­theless remains true to its old values, the most important being its human touch. It seems almost anachro­ni­stic when Fabian Kien­baum says, full of convic­tion: “Huma­nity is our guiding star. We want to become Europe’s most humane consul­ting house.” Perhaps it is precisely these combi­na­tions of tradi­tion and inno­va­tion, huma­ni­stic values and digital culture, which set Kien­baum Consul­tants apart from the compe­ti­tion and ensure the company’s long-term success. Because in the end, it’s the people who shape the future and make the ulti­mate diffe­rence in compa­nies – on this issue, Kien­baum Junior and Senior are both in agree­ment.

Kienbaum Consultants International

Kienbaum Consultants International

  • has existed for over 70 years. The company, head-quar­tered in Cologne, is curr­ently managed by the family’s third gene­ra­tion and mana­ging part­ners. As a personnel and manage­ment consul­tancy, Kien­baum Consul­tants Inter­na­tional GmbH is active in the follo­wing busi­ness areas: Execu­tive Search, Human Capital Services, Change and Orga­ni­sa­tional Consul­ting, and Commu­ni­ca­tion. The company is repre­sented in 18 coun­tries on four conti­nents, and gene­rates an annual revenue of around €100 million.

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