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Once Vilified, Foreign Investors Embraced as Firms Seek Successors

Märklin Chief Executive Florian Sieber speaks to local officials in Nuremberg. Source mein-mitteilungsblatt.de
Märklin Chief Executive Florian Sieber speaks to local officials in Nuremberg.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Privately owned small and medium sized companies, the backbone of the German economy, are increasingly opening themselves to foreign investors.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • A German politician once compared hedge funds and other professional investors to “locusts,” referring to the biblical plague.
    • Faucet maker Grohe became a symbol for the struggle of German mid-sized companies against powerful western investment interests.
    • Under new owners, Grohe is thriving, flirting with stock-market plans and making acquisitions in China.
  • Audio

    Audio

  • Pdf

It is scarcely a decade since Franz Müntefering, at the time the chairman of the Social Democratic Party, compared financial investors to locusts and prophesied a biblical plague. The pestilence would come, Mr. Münterfering warned, if the world did not act to block the machinations of anonymous funds and private-equity firms.

The catalyst was the handing off of the Sauerland-based faucet maker Grohe from one financial consortium to the next. The owner family had gotten out of the business years before. The case of Grohe became a synonym of the struggle that German mid-sized companies were waging against the greed of financial acrobats from abroad.

Today, nobody gets indignant when Willy Bogner, a fashion entrepreneur from Munich well-known in ski circles, commissions none other than the U.S. investment bank Goldman Sachs to find a successor who can also be a financial investor. At least no indignation exists about a potential new owner. That’s because the multi-talented Mr. Bogner, 72, is somewhat late in getting around to regulating his legacy.

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