ROLKO: Succession done right

Success story

ROLKO: Succession done right

When SMEs hand over the baton, the questions raised go much deeper than economic issues. People want to know if the company’s success stories, which many employees personally identify with, will continue to be pursued. The leaving managers hold a lot of responsibility here.

A successful handover: easier said than done 

Sooner or later, handing over responsibility becomes an issue for every company. For the leaving managers, this means letting go and handing the reins over to the next generation. The new owners are expected to take over existing principles while also developing the company in line with their own vision. How can that be done? 

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What if there is no successor to take over a family business? This was the case at ROLKO, a manufacturer of rehabilitation technology based in East Westphalia. Founded in 1990 from its own industrial representation, the company saw great success under its founder Willi Kohlgrüber and his son Achim. With wheels and tires for wheelchairs, and accessories such as wheelchair ramps and adjustable head rests, the two entrepreneurs tapped into the medical engineering/life science future growth market and saw rapid growth. In 2013, ROLKO was perfectly positioned with four plants in four countries and a worldwide customer base in 40 countries.  

At this point in time, the now sole managing director, Achim Kohlgrüber, planned to hand over responsibility, but there was no suitable candidate in the family to hand the business over to. At this point, his entrepreneurial network put him in contact with INDUS. 

Two birds with one stone 

The success of the SME holding company INDUS, the promise to keep companies for the long term and the offer of a gradual handover of management responsibilities convinced Achim Kohlgrüber and his father, who was still a partner, to sell. And so, INDUS acquired a majority share in mid-2014.  

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One of the most important factors in the entrepreneurs’ decision to sell to INDUS was the economic power of the parent company and its experience in supporting internationalization processes. Overall, the two former entrepreneurs were not only certain that they were handing over their business to an owner who would treat their life’s work responsibly, they were also sure that their company would be able to overcome the increasingly tough challenges of international competition. 

Corporate culture: a valuable commodity 

It is important to take great care when ushering in a new company era. INDUS therefore always takes a gradual approach wherever possible when transferring shares and implementing changes to the company management.  

This was also the case at ROLKO. After INDUS had acquired the majority of shares, the former owner remained on the management team for over two years. In the fall of 2016, Achim Kohlgrüber handed over the reins to his former sales manager Torsten Eikemeier. After 30 years with the company, the new managing director not only had long-term experience, he also had the support of the company’s employees from the start. Achim Kohlgrüber still advises the company and keeps in close contact. 

The reward for letting go: new opportunities 

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We can now say the handover was a success. Sales and income have grown, new employees have been hired, and the company has increased production capacity in Changtai, China. The goal: driving internationalization and serving the market more widely and deeply with additional products. Good wheels are not only in demand in the medical engineering/life science market, but also in industry. 

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