Dirk Rossmann, 68, was born in Hannover. He took over his deceased father’s pharmacy after high school and founded Germany’s first drugstore, where the customers could shop like in a supermarket. His son Raoul, 29, studied ecomonics, and is responsible for the sales and marketing at the family business. Together they share responsibility for a privately held, multi-billion-euro chain of drug stores employing 26,000, the second-largest drug store company in Germany. The two spoke with Handelsblatt in their first interview together.
Handelsblatt: Mr. Rossmann, your father is combative, argumentative, emotional, open, chaotic. What are you like?
Raoul Rossmann: Well, I’m also combative, argumentative and inquisitive, but not so unpredictable. You never know with my father. Sometimes, he is the most chaotic person I know. And then his thinking again is completely clear and structured. I am more orderly, at home and at work. I tend to adapt to structures. My father makes his own structures. I am sometimes more the manager type.
Dirk Rossmann: I only went to school. My son is much more intelligent than I am. He graduated high school, vocational college, studied. I mostly have experience and intuition.
Your father gives interviews, appears on talk shows, has his photograph taken. Why are you so shy?
Raoul: I want to concentrate on work first for the next two to three years. Otherwise, I’ll lose my focus.
Dirk: I think that’s the right thing to do, even though a lot more businessmen should go out and engage the public. We had a hard time for 33 of the 43 years I’ve had my company. There was so much debt that sometimes I didn’t know on Friday how I was going to pay the employees on Monday. My worries used to be different. I always had this feeling of rivalry and thought, “Man, dm (a rival drugstore chain) is doing it better.” Now, we have been doing really well for ten years. This leaves me free and I use that freedom to work on media relations.
What do you get out of that?
Dirk: I was born in 1946 and grew up in the ruins of Hanover. If the people in this country think only of themselves, then there can be another Adolf Hitler and chaos. We need responsible people – journalists, physicians and businessmen. Only that will give us social peace. And sometimes, it’s just fun. I get a lot of applause at my lectures.
Michael Otto, who owns the mail catalog Otto Group, recently announced he has put his shares into a foundation. So have other family-business owners. Is that something you have considered?
Dirk: We don’t need a foundation. My money is not my priority, but rather the willingness and ability to assume responsibility. And I am sure my sons have both of those. We’ll also have fun working in the company. I am thankful for that.
Was the decision to move your younger son into management a difficult one?
Dirk: Raoul’s desire for overall responsibility was always unmistakable. There was never a problem between the brothers in this matter. So, the decision was easy for me.
Couldn’t they both run Rossmann?
Dirk: The two are extremely different. Daniel takes care of expansion and real estate, which is a great responsibility, but ultimately, one has to have the final say.
Did you always want to join your father’s company?
Raoul: There was a phase, between 15 and 18, when I was open for everything and had a lot of weird ideas. When I was a student and working in the company already, a lot of things were interesting, but I hadn’t really made up my mind. But ever since I’ve been in charge of the non-food segment and see how I can move everything forward, I know my place is here.
You are still very young. Is the responsibility overwhelming?
Raoul: I feel the sense of responsibility less than the technical challenge. When I started, I was suddenly in charge of 60 employees, all of who knew more than I did. I was certainly insecure. Self-confidence then came with asking the right questions. I learned how to ask them from my father. The move to company management didn’t frighten me. That was something of a surprise to me as well.
Dirk: Recently, an older lady said to me after a panel discussion, “Mr. Rossmann, your son is hardly more than a child. He can’t possibly run such a big company.” And I said, “Oh yes he can.”
Where are you in the process of stepping back?
Dirk: Still in the middle of it. As long as I am healthy and my grey cells are functioning, everyone is happy I am relieving them of work. It would be stupid to sit at home because I am still needed here. But I don’t decide the course to take. We discuss. I recently read about myself that I am very complicated, so I immediately asked a member of the staff, ‘Am I complicated?’ He said, no, not for someone who has known you for 30 years
But you have employees who would tell you if it were true?
Dirk: I have a couple of employees who have become friends and would certainly be honest in such a case.
It would seem you are succeeding where many family businesses fail in terms of an orderly change of generations.
Dirk: We are all very different, but we like each other. In everything, it is always a matter of the quality of our interpersonal relationships, of a viable, resilient bond of trust. That is something beautiful in a world where everything is fragile.
Raoul: We are bonded by 29 years. That can’t be explained.
What are the best and worst things about your job?
Raoul: I haven’t yet experienced anything really bad. What gets on my nerves is I am no longer master of my own time, especially in contact with suppliers. Right now, it is also a matter of becoming acquainted, of building trust. I could do a thousand other things with that time. The best thing is that I have inherited a good team from my predecessor.
What is the best thing about being the boss’s son?
Raoul: The best thing is all the freedom I have. I don’t have to look up or next door. I don’t have to care what others think when I make a mistake. I can work very unselfconsciously and that’s the big difference between me and other people.