German 'Hidden Champions' – a Career Path Worth Considering?
Looking for a job in Germany can be challenging, even more so for internationals. When we brainstorm about 'German companies', typically the MNCs like Volkswagen, Daimler, Bosch, Siemens etc. come to our mind. But what if there was a lot more to the German company landscape? Yes, that is the case here and this can mean more entry opportunities than one might initially assume.
In this article, we will look at the so-called 'hidden champions' in Germany. These are medium-sized companies and therefore part of the 'Mittelstand', a very broadly used term that describes German SMEs. Hidden champions produce a mostly unknown yet important and highly specialised niche product. Many are world market leaders in their field and known as 'Mittelständische Weltmarktführer'. In fact, a large portion of these firms are in southern Germany. So here are a few examples which are mostly an hour’s drive from Munich:
- Magnet-Schultz is a company in Memmingen (west of Munich) which produces electromagnetic solutions for various industries .
- Schattdecor is located in Rosenheim (east of Munich) and specialises in surfaces for furniture .
- Seele has its HQ in Gersthofen (close to Augsburg) and is a world leader in façade and roof construction .
- Dalog Diagnosesysteme (close to Augsburg) provides predictive maintenance solutions .
As 'hidden champions', the word itself already implies: They are 'hidden', often somewhere along the value chain, and as a result you hardly know them. However, such companies could be just as interesting to consider if you plan to pursue an international career within the German job market.
First, many of these companies operate abroad successfully. In Asia, subsidiaries in China, Southeast Asia or India are common. By producing locally, they are close to the customer and capture on market potentials. Therefore, a multilingual, internationally educated talent can be of strong value to them.
Another typical characteristic are comparatively flat hierarchies: In an SME environment, you are more likely to be closer to senior management than in an MNC. You might also have the chance to take on responsibilities faster. With fewer hierarchical levels, decision-making processes are shorter, and you are more likely to get to know other colleagues.
The German Mittelstand has been particularly resilient during economic crises: Their growth is mostly organic and equity- instead of debt-financed. This makes their financial position very sustainable and long-term oriented, and such a long-term view is often backed by the family which owns this company. Many employees also stay in these companies for 10+ years.
SMEs offer great career opportunites
('General shots of working professionals in a co-working space' by ILO/L. Mitul 2018 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 IGO)
We have talked about international operations, flat hierarchies, long-term view, 'so what else should I consider'?
Do note that with the 'hidden' nature of such firms, it can be challenging to find them. A starting point could be the local Chamber of Industry and Commerce ('Industrie- und Handelskammer'), which often lists such companies in your region. There are two extra links  with relatively long lists containing such firms.
You might also not immediately find a position that suits your interests. A call to the company’s HR can provide information on whether there could be any potential opportunity, followed by an unsolicited application ('Initiativbewerbung').
Lastly, you may have realised that many 'hidden champions'are in smaller townships. This could have an impact on where you will be living, and German skills might be more important at work and everyday life.
Conclusion: The purpose of this article lies in drawing attention to a sometimes-overlooked company type. Of course, the characteristics and examples mentioned here are generalised, do not refer to any specific company, and should be seen as a guideline for orientation. Depending on your preferences, you may be able to take this uniquely German company type into account when applying for internships, entry-level positions and so on.