A father and son business relationship built on mutual respect
25 years ago, almost to the day, German lawyer and entrepreneur Prof. Reinhard Walter founded FOM Real Estate GmbH with architect Rainer Dombrowski. Having developed a reputation for astute acquisitions and forward-thinking corporate design (they constructed the German headquarters of Microsoft, T-Online, Allianz and many more), the firm grew into one of the country’s leading players in the commercial real estate sector.
With an eye on future growth and a desire to turn the company into a true family business, Reinhard’s son, Victor Von Waldberg, joined FOM officially last year. A qualified lawyer and member of the German Bar, Victor has now taken on the position of in-house legal counsel, while exploring his own real estate tokenising venture, Hedge Investments.
The father and son duo talk exclusively to Campden FB about the practicalities of working together, utlising the next-gen mindset and plans for succession…
Can you tell us about FOM Real Estate and how it was founded?
Reinhard Walter:Our company was founded 25 years ago. We knew that [software company] SAP was looking for some new offices for their partners Hewlett Packard, IBM, Microsoft, Price Waterhouse and KPMG. At that time, FOM was called Future Office Management and we had the idea to show what offices should look like in the future. We won the bid and the building was a great success. Microsoft was one of the first tenants in this building and we discovered they were looking to build new headquarters in Munich. Again, we made a successful bid and that gave us our second big opportunity.
The family business gave me the opportunity to do things that, at my age, I may not be able to do in other places. – Victor Von Waldberg
FOM Real Estate has been a successful owner-managed company since 1997, why is now the right time for father and son to be working together?
Reinhard Walter:Victor had already done some minor work at the company while he was a student. Last year, he became a qualified lawyer and he was interested to know more about FOM and wanted to work with us as a qualified person – this was the right moment for him to join the business.
Victor, was it always your hope to join the family business?
Victor Von Waldberg:When I finished my studies, the biggest thing for me was joining the business but staying flexible for other prospects as well. But then the business offered me the opportunity to do things I wouldn't be offered elsewhere – here I can work flexibly and with more responsibility. I can do things that at my age, I may not be able to do in other places. I don't know if I'll be here for the next ten years straight, I think I'll look at some other stuff as well, but yes, I've always wanted to join the family business.
Reinhard, how do you think Victor’s next-gen mindset will enhance an already established and successful business
Reinhard Walter:Victor works a lot on his networking, which is something that our business thrives on. Networking with the next generation gives a lot of opportunities to meet other people and to work with them together. Nobody knows where we will be in ten years, but I'm sure that with all these people he's meeting all over the world, he will have a good impact on the business.
Victor, how did your father engage your interest in the business, and would you apply the same methods for your own next generation?
Victor Von Waldberg: I think the main point is that he didn't put any pressure on me to get involved with the business in any way. He always said, ‘You can work here whenever you like, but you don't have to. You can study whatever you want to, and you can do whatever you want with your life’. Growing up and having my father as a role model, I have always aspired to become like him. He’s leading by example.
Victor has respect for the life achievements of his parents. - Reinhard Walter
Reinhard, your son clearly has a great deal of respect for you. How did you go about educating and mentoring him?
Reinhard Walter:Victor has respect for the life achievements of his parents. He was brought up to be open-minded and respectful of others. When he was very young, Victor lived outside Germany. This gave him the feeling of what it means to be a foreigner and to have to adapt to other people from different cultures. He developed a natural gift for critically reflecting on the knowledge and attitudes of others and making the best of it.
Can you give us some tips on how family businesses should guide their next generation?
Reinhard Walter: I think it’s necessary to offer opportunities and then the next generation should decide if they want to succeed or not. This is something you should always give the next generation… Opportunities and possibilities. Of course, everybody who looks for a successor is happy if somebody from the family succeeds, but it’s most important that there should be curiosity and fun. If you don't feel that, then you should not do it.
Reinhard, what goals will you set your son before you begin to transfer further responsibilities?
Reinhard Walter:Our business is driven by projects, we need new projects and assets under management to enlarge the company. I think the moment he can do a new project without my input, then it's the right time.
Victor, is it your ambition to succeed your father and, if so, what would your aspirations be for the business?
Victor Von Waldberg: It wouldn't be my ambition to succeed just yet. I'm still finding out what I want to do with my life. I know I want to be an entrepreneur, like my father, but I don't know if it's going to be in this area or somewhere else. There will be something that’s passed on to me from my parents, whether it's a company like FOM or in another form.
Reinhard Walter: While I'm driven to establish a structure in the company that allows it to function without me, this can’t be done in a short time. I think over the next two to three years, we will have a management team in place and Victor can be part of this team if he wants to be. But my goal was always that there shouldn't be any pressure on his shoulders to succeed. If people are feeling too much under pressure, then they are never successful.
Would you say that your core business values are aligned?
Reinhard Walter: Yes, I would say that our values are very aligned. It’s very important that people trust you and that you have a handshake mentality. You need to be honorable in business and we both agree on that point.