Big boots

The announcement of a new chief at German dealer group Büroring has been anticipated with some trepidation. Can Carsten Marckmann follow in Klaus Kemper’s giant footsteps?

It’s not that the chosen successor of Büroring managing director Klaus Kemper is in any way controversial. Quite the opposite. Carsten Marckmann has all the right credentials. He started his OP career at Reinhardt Schmidt Briefumschläge, the German envelope manufacturer where Kemper himself spent over 25 years of his career and where he first met Marckmann who, then in his 20s, worked as an apprentice.

In 1998 – and with Kemper long gone – Marckmann moved to Mayer-Kuvert-network, another German envelope manufacturer with facilities across Europe. There, he is currently second in charge as sales director. And in this capacity, he has certainly met some of the larger dealer members over the years that he will be working with at Büroring from 1 July.

But we’ve been here before. A year ago, during Büroring’s AGM in May, Kemper announced his semi-retirement and his wish to work in a consultancy capacity. A successor was quickly found in Dan-Roberto Dobre, who took over in July. Three months later, Kemper was back in the hotseat, though not in full swing, but certainly more than in a semi-retired role. The reason for Dobre’s sudden departure, said the board, were "differences about the future direction of Büroring". It was back to the drawing board until last March.

The most important aspect of the job that Marckmann has to get right is his relationship with Büroring’s dealer members, and it is here where the challenge lies. The standard that Kemper has set during his reign is incredibly high and it is the incumbent’s sheer presence and success record that makes the task so daunting.

Says Uwe Peter Timm, editor of German OP magazine PBS Report: "Carsten Marckmann will have a tough time I’m sure. It is safe to say that Klaus Kemper has made Büroring into what it is today. He started in 1998 when the group was at an all-time low.

"Kemper was immediately accepted by the group’s members and quickly ensured that everybody pulled in the same direction. Büroring is currently in the best position of the dealer groups in the country – better than Branion – and that is due to Klaus Kemper. Despite difficult economic times in Germany for the best part of his tenure, he’s done exceptionally well in retaining members and being profitable."

Indeed, the German OP market continues to be somewhat shaky, with many dealers still facing bankruptcy or succession problems. But Büroring managed to increase its profit in 2004, following some slimlining measures in 2003, and also grow its membership figures marginally. But Kemper is cautious about 2005 and says: "I think we can be happy if we hold revenues and profit this year."

That said, he is confident that Büroring has finally found the right person to take the group forward. While not actively involved in the selection process – this is done by a panel of non-executive directors who come from the dealer community – Kemper certainly had a say in the final choice.

He says: "I have a very good feeling about Carsten Marckmann. I think he’s the right guy for the right job. Coming from the manufacturing sector, he is familiar with both sides: he knows what dealers want and need and what manufacturers want and need. Büroring is a bit of a half-way house and Mr Marckmann will have to react accordingly. Obviously, we will only know for sure after 3-6 months if he is what we expected."

Spicers Germany is another company hoping for a smooth transition. The wholesaler’s relationship with Büroring started when it first entered the German market five years ago and Spicers is now the group’s main logistics provider. Thomas Apelrath believes that continuity is essential. "In principle, Carsten Marckman has to continue what Klaus Kemper has been doing very successfully for the past seven years. There’s no reason to change tack in any way – the most important thing is continuity and an approachable attitude."

In the early days, Marckmann will have plenty of support, both from Kemper and joint managing director Ute Suberg who has been there since 1999. Indeed, any cooperative in Germany by law has to have two managing directors and while day-to-day tasks at Büroring are fairly strictly divided, both have joint responsibilities in the group. Kemper is planning to be at his side for the first three months at least, at which time he hopes to take a step back and continue with his part-time consultancy work, as originally envisaged for last year. This will involve some marketing projects, including Red Office and OfficeStar, as well as the recruitment of new dealer members.

So by the end of the year at the latest, it will be a matter of sink or swim.