point to a
Few people understand the long-range economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic better than SARNA RÖSER. She is an entrepreneur and the spokeswoman of the young entrepreneurs association in Germany
The 33-year-old studied international business administration and is the desig- nated successor of her father in the fami- ly-run company that was established in 1923. In 2009, she joined the Board of Di- rectors of the Social Angels foundation
set up by her parents. Sarna Röser is a member of the management team and an authorised officer of Röser FAM GmbH & Co. KG. She became the national leader of an organisation of young entrepreneurs,
in March 2018 and joined the Supervisory Board of the optical company Fielmann
Text: Leonard Prinz
Photo: Maurice Haas
in the future
is vital for
every economic recovery
Everybody is talking about the coronavirus. How did the lock- down affect your company?
Sarna Röser: We are now into our sixth month with the coron- avirus. Physical distancing and hygiene rules have been drilled into us and are now second nature. But, at the beginning of the pan- demic, every entrepreneur faced two questions: Will I be able to stay in business? And under what conditions? We had to decide just how strictly we could introduce physical distancing. It was easy in production. We have a huge production hall. We can easily main- tain physical distancing there. But we still have many other major concerns. We entrepreneurs want to get moving. But, as long as issues such as child care during another outbreak have not been answered, companies will not be able to return to normal.
Jürgen Röser: We bought hardware and software for our adminis- trative staff. We set up monitors and laptops at employees’ homes so that they could work remotely. Everyone dealt very well with the change.
The organisation is one thing. But orders are another.
Jürgen Röser: As a construction-industry supplier for municipali- ties, counties and motorway management authorities, and as a maker of concrete pipes and shafts used in sewerage systems, our business normally takes off when winter ends. For weather-related reasons, the construction industry is most active during the spring. It was exactly this time when the lockdown hit. But we were fortunate. Our customers let us know that construction work would continue. But how is work supposed to move forward if city and county coffers are empty? If the business tax evaporates? What will things look like in a few months or next year when govern- ments do not have the funds they need to finance new in- frastructure projects? We are worried about it.
Which industries have been particularly hard hit?
Sarna Röser: Young entrepreneurs and family-run companies have formed an alliance throughout all industries. It is obvious that all of them do business in the same ecosystem. We have just seen how this chain reaction works: When a hotel closes, the decision im- pacts suppliers, regional trades companies and more and more and more people down the line. You could call it the coronavirus domi- no effect. The first domino falls, and the rest then come crashing down, one by one. If a huge wave of bankruptcies hits this autumn, as we must expect that it will, all of us will be caught up in it.
What do you think of the initial relief funding that has been provided to companies?
Sarna Röser: The lockdown essentially meant that we all slammed on the brakes while flying down the road at 100 mph. Overnight, turnover disappeared while costs remained at 100 percent – that was tough. But the government in Germany did the right thing by quickly supplying a shot of liquidity. Nonetheless, a financial void developed among medium-sized enterprises. This void was not filled until the summer when the German Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy came up with transitional funding to fill it. Small companies quickly got the government support they needed, and the big companies received an emergency bailout when the government bought a stake in them, a step that provided an injec- tion of equity to them. But our medium-sized companies had to tap their reserves.
What sort of “subsequent damage” do you see?
Sarna Röser: It will all have a huge impact on the economy and so- ciety – and the longer the crisis lasts, the more critical things will become. The mountains of coronavirus debt that we are piling up will have to be paid back by someone. This is what has really shocked me: No one asks questions about who will repay the debt and how.
And who will pay?
Sarna Röser: Future generations will be squeezed on two sides. From one side, they will feel pressure arising from the need to re- pay the debt. From the other, they will feel pressure from the non- existent flexibility in future federal budgets to invest in the future. This will also be the case for the EU’s budget: It will take at least
30 years to pay off the EU’s rescue package. Nobody is talking about whether tax increases or a wealth tax will be asked to do the job.
Jürgen Röser: As a business location, Germany will have a hard time if we do not create better business conditions right now in order to remain competitive internationally.
What do you think would be necessary to create a capacity to act and security for the future?
Sarna Röser: We need a restart. To manage the crisis, we need a mix of growth, employment incentives and priority setting for government spending. This will be the only way to create the fi- nancial freedom that we need to invest in education, digitalisation and infrastructure in the future. Confidence in the future is vital for every economic recovery – and entrepreneurs will have it only if we do not have to worry about pending tax increases. We also need a much leaner digital government, like digital public adminis- trative operations. Germany is a developing country in terms of digitalisation.
Jürgen Röser, looking back on the past 35 years when you started in the company, what would you say is different today?
Jürgen Röser: The unbelievable speed of change! We are in the middle of a digital transformation right now. We constantly have to ask ourselves what this will mean for our industry. Will we have to rethink our business model? Will more things be automated? Will more things be digitalised? How digital can our products be? Back then, we did not face such questions or have to deal with such fast-paced change.
What does the role of entrepreneur mean to you, Sarna Röser?
Sarna Röser: I think entrepreneurship is a mind-set, a passion for something. The key is your burning desire to do what you are do- ing. To me, entrepreneurship means that I can turn my dreams and visions into a reality. I can determine the structure of my company, its direction and the way to get there by myself.
Do we need more entrepreneurs?
Sarna Röser: Definitely. The number of new companies being es- tablished in Germany is alarmingly low. I also know why that is: We train managers and not entrepreneurs. It all starts in secondary schools. The concept of entrepreneurship is not a topic there. Young people do not get the grounding they need to become entre- preneurs. The conditions for starting a business are also too com- plex. On average, you have to make nine trips to government au- thorities in order to establish a company. Why can’t such processes be done digitally? One mouse click, and I am on my way!
Jürgen Röser: There is one other complicating factor involved as well: Failure is not socially acceptable. Sometimes, you will not succeed until your third or fourth try. Such failures should no longer be seen in a negative light.
Sarna Röser: What’s more: In television thrillers, entrepreneurs frequently are portrayed as the bad guys. But the positive exam- ples, those people who hold our business location together and move it forward, are rarely shown. This has to change. We have
to show people that entrepreneurship is something fantastic and that it pays to be bold.
Who should teach these lessons?
Sarna Röser: Teachers must receive continuing education in eco- nomics and technology. Knowledge is Germany’s form of natural resource. If you do not provide education, what is left? We have to invest in education in order to keep up with other countries.
Does the coronavirus represent a turning point?
Sarna Röser: No one wishes for a pandemic! It is such an earth- shaking event. It will change many things. It is the first major cri- sis that my generation has faced. We have to learn from it and re- alise that something like it can happen again. We have to be more attentive and far-sighted.
Jürgen Röser: Many entrepreneurs are being plagued by another problem as well: It is impossible for them to set up a well-organ- ised video conference and be able to open an e-mail at the same time. The poor quality of the digital infrastructure is something that all of us have experienced first-hand. It is the same with cli- mate change. After two or three extremely hot summers and water shortages, it may finally start to dawn on people that something has to change.
Sarna Röser: Basically, we in Germany have to become more open to technology and faster because no one knows for sure just what the future holds. No medical expert envisioned this pandemic. No one foresaw a crisis of this magnitude coming. It caught us com- pletely off guard. We cannot let it happen again.
Jürgen Röser joins his daughter Sarna in their company’s production hall. The company produces concrete pipes and shaft systems for such customers as municipalities and motorway man- agement authorities