Management Style


September 16, 2013

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This time last year, German entrepreneur Willi Balz was a happy man. What’s more, it wasn’t his day job that was causing him to smile.

For he’d just spent the weekend racing his Maserati Tipo 61 ‘Birdcage’ at what had been a particularly sunny weekend at the 2012 Goodwood Revival. For those who’ve not yet had a chance to go, it’s a time warp of an event, that attracts significant international interest; taking place just off England’s south coast.

This year however, his car collection was present but Willi wasn’t racing. And on this, the Monday-after-the-weekend-before, he’s unlikely to be in high spirits.

That’s because last week the man that was the chief executive officer and founder of the ambitious German developer Windreich, “withdrew” from his post, following the firm having filed for insolvency earlier in September.

The latest sorry twist caps a corporate tale that has been playing out very publicly for a number of years and that’s led to a series of management and structural changes throughout the firm. For Willi these changes have been critical in realising his vision of building out increasingly ambitious initiatives.

However, for those investors on the outside looking in, they’ve only served to heighten a sense of unpredictability and potential drama.

Indeed, only earlier this year the firm caught the attention of the German authorities, resulting in an early morning office raid, following suggestions that it had engaged in fraud and manipulated its balance sheet.

Whatever the case, following the firm’s file for insolvency and with investors circling in the wings, it was clear that in order to safeguard pre-existing projects and the operational structure of the business, Balz had no choice but to go.

Viewed through the eyes of the private investor, this set of circumstances of course, is by no means rare. Far from it in fact.

Since over and above the financial viability of the business, it’s imperative that both the management and prospective investment teams see eye to eye.

Invariably, investors – particularly when entering at such a critical corporate juncture – are looking for safety, security and stability. And perhaps most significantly, a healthy shot of confidence that will see the business deliver.

That management style and set of personality traits are not those typically displayed by an entrepreneurial founder – who’s fought from the bottom, up.

Or by those individuals who are unafraid of taking high stake, carefully calculated risks, provided of course, that the rewards are right.

Quite aside from the specifics of this particular case, it is boardroom bust ups like this that offer a curious insight into a market that continues to mature.

Naturally there’s no doubting the aptitude and strength of many of the most significant management teams currently in place at the very top of the market.

However, as the Balz case shows – and as the Engel instance demonstrated earlier in August – high profile executives quickly become corporate lightening rods. Especially when, while they’re quite comfortable overseeing rapid periods of growth, they are perhaps less sure-footed when the market twists and turns.

Moreover, the latest high profile departure demonstrates that having the right management style, for the right audience, at the right time, really matters.

Balz is a highly successful entrepreneur and a gifted driver, to boot. Windreich may have slipped through his fingers but rest assured this won’t be his final lap.

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