Entrepreneurial spirit

Packing More Than a Punch

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Young businesswoman not only leads her family packing business and sits as a panelist on an investment TV show, but she also advises the board of German transport giant Deutsche Bahn.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Ms. Wischhusen is a panelist on reality TV investment show “The Cave of the Lions.”
    • She has worked at her family’s successful packing business since she was a teenager.
    • The high-flier is also head of the German Federal Association of Young Entrepreneurs.
  • Audio

    Audio

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A TV studio in Cologne. Lencke Wischhusen is wearing a blue dress, pearl necklace and red high heels. She sits in a red chair between two men and takes notes. Ms. Wischhusen, a panelist on “The Cave of the Lions”, a reality TV show for entrepreneurs, listens to two young men pitch their idea for a Crispy Wallet. The budding businessmen want to convince her and the other investors on the show to buy into their company, which would make gadget covers from recycled plastic.

The city of Bremen in northern Germany. The W-Pack company. Ms. Wischhusen wears a floral-print dress, pearl earrings and bracelets. She walks through the dim warehouse of her company, a supplier of packaging materials. She unrolls some tape. “Sniff away!” It smells strongly of duct tape. “Now feel it.” The sticky effect is, well, clear. Then she unrolls another tape and explains, simply, why one roll stinks and the other sticks.

Ms. Wischhusen, 29, plays many roles. TV investor, head of the family business, leader in the German Federal Association of Young Entrepreneurs. And, since Monday evening, adviser on the board of the Deutsche Bahn transport company.

Even as a child, she knew she wanted to take over her father’s business one day. The company was an important topic at dinner, and as a teenager she worked at the firm.

I had to first earn my spurs and work for respect.

Ms. Wischhusen immersed herself fully in the business after earning her high school diploma in 2004. She completed training for export and import merchants. “I had to first earn my spurs and work for respect,” she said. Did her father, Dieter, help her? “He completely left me alone,” she said. “But I also wanted to do it myself.”

It wasn’t easy. At 19, she made her first sales pitches to potential customers and had to put up with a barrage of sexist comments. She cites one example: “Darling, if you wear a shorter skirt, I will buy from you.” But the experience strengthened her, and today she seems more mature than others her age.

Her father appointed her manager of W-Pack,  a company specializing in take-out food boxes,  packing tape, bubble wrap, when she was 24. Two years later, she became a partner at the 50-employee company. Her leadership style: communicate more, delegate more.

She shares the work with her brother Arend. “He is the interior minister, I am the foreign minister,” she said. Her brother deals with strategy, finance and data management. She looks after personnel, sales and communications. Her father, 71, still helps out with clients.

In 2012, she became the leader of the Association of Young Entrepreneurs. Since then, she has fought for age equality and against the women’s quota and the retirement age of 63. In November, she will go for a third term. As yet, she has no competition.

She has benefited both professionally and personally from the entrepreneurs’ group. She met her future husband at an association event named Touch the Federal Chairwoman. “He took that literally,” she said with a laugh.

The two were married in August andMs. Wischhusen now works four or five days a week in Bremen and goes to the Frankfurt home she shares with her husband, a 30-year old entrepreneur also in a family business, at the weekend.

Since then, Ms. Wischhusen has fought for age equality and against the women’s quota and the retirement age of 63.

Ms. Wischhusen has a tight schedule. She approaches her tasks directly. On television, she seems austere, and she calls her demeanor “Nordic-cool.”

“She can be pretty tough on the entrepreneurs,” said Frank Thelen, another investor-panelist on the TV show. “But I stand behind her.”

After brief negotiations, the pair decided to invest in Crispy Wallet, although Ms. Wischhusen called the quality of the mobile-phone cover “complete crap.”

“In the end we want to build a company, and that is not a piece of cake,” Mr. Thelen said. The two actively mentor  the company’s founders, often with phone calls in the middle of the night.

Crispy Wallet has now reached their investment goal. For Ms. Wischhusen, her work as a finance, knowledge and time investor is just beginning. “We have changed the quality, built the online shop, provided a network and guided the founders,” she said. And after a short pause, “In any case, we are not a sleeping partner.”

The author has been an editor at Handelsblatt since 2013 and profiles business leaders. Contact: krumrey@handelsblatt.com

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