The value of outside experience: Marie-Christine Ostermann of Rullko Großeinkauf

Name: Marie-Christine Ostermann / Rullko Großeinkauf
Sector: Retail
Market: Germany
Founded date: TBC

Marie-Christine is Managing Partner of Rullko Großeinkauf, a fourth-generation grocery wholesaler which is one of the top three in its sector in Germany. Although there was no pressure from her parents to go into the family business, she knew from a young age that she wanted to take over the business one day, and planned her career to make sure she was well prepared. She completed a banking apprenticeship at Commerzbank, followed by a business degree at the University of St Gallen. This included a thesis on wholesale retailing which gave her a broad theoretical knowledge which she then applied at discount supermarket Aldi.

“I was looking for external experience in our industry. After the trainee program at Aldi, I became an area director and soon I was managing up to six supermarkets and around 70 employees. That gave me confidence and experience in food retailing, and I decided it was the right time to move back to our own company. Looking back, this external period was perhaps too short, so I was glad to take on the national chairpersonship of the young entrepreneurs association. I was able to earn respect by chairing the association and that strengthened my position in the family business.”

When she joined the family firm, Marie-Christine knew that it would be important to learn how it worked from the ‘bottom up’: “I wanted to learn exactly what was involved in each part of the business, so I rolled my sleeves up and carried boxes. The employees soon recognised that I was not afraid of hard work. After that, I took on a management position next to my father. My father had told the employees at an early stage that I was to be his successor, and it was important that our roles were clearly defined. Good communications were vital too, so that we always spoke with one voice. I remember one situation in which my father overruled me under pressure from employees. When we clarified the situation, he went back to the employees and told them that he had made a mistake and supported my original decision. This was really helpful in establishing my authority.”

Marie-Christine’s sister was also a key part of the succession planning process, even though her career has taken a different path, outside the family firm: “My sister will also participate in the company’s success in the future. We are a family company, so it’s important for me that she is involved.”