Edmund Haupenthal (left) and Michael Auer

“If you enjoy doing something it’s never a burden”

Successful succession in the making – an interview with Professor Edmund Haupenthal, Ursula Schulz, and Hans-Jörg Bley

The fact that the name says it all is probably not too much to say about the Steinbeis Transfer Centre TOP: For 30 years, the team spearheaded by Steinbeis Entrepreneur Professor Edmund Haupenthal has been supporting small and medium-sized companies with expansion, dealing with times of crisis, and making firms fit for future issues such as globalization, digitization, and Industry 4.0. Their approach has always been based on a holistic view of the client’s technology, organization, and personnel – or TOP for short. Reaching the milestone of 30 years, and simultaneously handing the baton on to the new management team – Ursula Schulz and Hans-Jörg Bley – were reason enough for TRANSFER magazine to meet up and exchange ideas with Steinbeis Chairman Professor Dr. Michael Auer.

The new management team is ready to go: Hans-Jörg Bley and Ursula Schulz succeed Edmund Haupenthal at the turn of the year.


Hello Professor Haupenthal. When the Steinbeis Transfer Center was founded in 1992, what’s now called Industry 4.0 used to be called CIM – Computer Integrated Manufacturing –, providing a name for the center. Even then it became clear that the secret to success was not so much technology in itself, but the skills required to apply technology. Did that also form the focus of your consulting work at the time? And has that focus changed over the years?

In the years before I took over the center in Gottmadingen, I had been working on CIM topics as a consultant, for more than seven years, and I had already dealt with the topic for my diploma thesis. At first it was a huge motivation to be able to take full responsibility for introducing this way of thinking to customers, with the concepts it involved. But I soon realized that this desire for paperless and frictionless processes and workflows – forging networks and controlling operational factors centrally – wasn’t that easy to implement. Sure, it was possible to show the potential to make rationalizations by using computer-assisted machine tools, and to show how that would change production processes, but that still didn’t result in “work without controls and commands.” I had to accept that humans still play an important part. So in the years that followed, I focused more on organizational structures and workflows, and looked at the people. We developed a tool for conducting individual enterprise checks and offered it as a product, mainly through multipliers, especially banks and tax consultants.

Around the same time, the name of the Steinbeis Transfer Center changed to TOP. At that time, lots of loan officers were overwhelmed by the rating requirements imposed under Basel I and II. We helped with company assessments, we provided advice on ratings, and we succeeded in offering important ways to develop companies positively. But in addition to improving the personal performance, it was always a matter of importance to address all topics relating to technology, organization, and personnel through additional project managers. Those topics kind of came up “automatically” by taking a comprehensive look at companies as part of the enterprise check tool.

At the same time, this development in our services increasingly took us into issues dealing with corporate restructuring. This also predetermined the next steps and very quickly there were related services such as budgeting, liquidity planning, expert reports in accordance with IDW S6, new funding options through investments, and search for investors. This put the signposts in place for stepping into what’s become my main area of work on a personal level: company succession.

Turning to you Ms. Schulz and you Mr. Bley: Hello! You’re taking over management of the enterprise from Professor Haupenthal at the end of the year. When we were talking about this beforehand, you expressed tremendous respect for the value Mr. Haupenthal has given to his network and his customers. You’re already actively working for the enterprise and contributing with your own areas of specialism. Which direction do you now want to go in with the Steinbeis Transfer Center TOP, now that you’re directly responsible for it?

We met seven years ago and have been working with Edmund Haupenthal at the Steinbeis Transfer Center TOP ever since. From the very beginning, it’s been a very fruitful process of exchange, as equals, which we’ve valued tremendously. When you’re an independent consultant, it’s extremely valuable to spar with fellow consultants and keep developing the value proposition for our SME clients. The rest comes from having the powerful Steinbeis brand behind you, as well as the philosophy that shapes and drives the Steinbeis network. And because of that, our guiding principles for the future will be consulting as a partner of equals and working together in teams on a regional basis. That includes collaboration between project managers and, similarly, working together with our clients. Our project managers bring extensive experience in industry to the table. This is something our clients value just as much as the fact that in their hearts, they’re team players. That’s also reflected in the future line-up of the people who head our team. For us, these are long-term prerequisites for supporting SMEs in the region in these times of volatility.

And you Professor Haupenthal, what specifically was it that appealed to you in 1995 when you took over the Steinbeis Enterprise in Gottmadingen from your predecessor, Walter Beck? What pointers did he give you for the journey ahead? Anything you’d like to share with your successors?

Initially, from 1994 onwards, I worked as a project manager. At the beginning I was a consultant, Edmund Haupenthal, and I soon began to realize that it wasn’t easy drumming up assignments on your own as a consultant. When I went cold-calling, the first thing I’d hear was always, “Why don’t you send us your details and we’ll get back to you!” Having the strong Steinbeis brand behind me suddenly allowed me to experience completely different things in the acquisition process – as a “Project Manager of the Steinbeis Foundation for Economic Development.” Even when I cold-called, it was immediately, “When do you have time to come over?” When Walter Beck made the decision to move to Stuttgart, I knew right away I wanted to take over the Transfer Center – even though the products that were previously offered in Gottmadingen, especially the St. Gallen Management Seminar, would move with Walter Beck to Stuttgart, and that would leave behind no products for the Transfer Center. But as I said, the shuffle still worked very well. I still thank Walter Beck, from the bottom of my heart, for placing confidence in my know-how and the trust he invested in me – that I would continue to run the center successfully. He said a crucial thing to me at the time: Edmund, you need products! That motivated me to develop the enterprise check tool.

I’m delighted to have found two successors in Ursula Schulz and Hans-Jörg Bley. The areas they both work in are an indispensable gain in developing the center. It would make me so happy to see clients and business partners place their trust in them, in the same way they’ve placed their trust in me all these years. And incidentally, I’d also like to pass on to my successors the tip I was given by Walter Beck: Develop products!

Professor Auer: Well-planned succession is an essential prerequisite for a seamless and smooth transition to the next generation of managers, especially with entrepreneurs. Networks like the Steinbeis network rely on the minds of individuals, so naturally they change when individuals change. Can you use the example of the Steinbeis Transfer Center TOP to tell us what – compared to 1992 – you consider to be the main developments in the network?

Since 1983, which marked the beginning of this “modern era” of the Steinbeis Foundation, enterprises have been identified internally by using numbers. The Steinbeis Transfer Center TOP is number 151. The most recently founded enterprise is number 2470. The overall number of all actively operating enterprises belonging to the network is more than 1,100. That shows that the network has expanded considerably in quantitative terms and it has continually reinvented itself.

When it was founded, the Steinbeis Transfer Centre CIM, the predecessor of TOP, was one of the first few companies in the network whose “head” was not a professor in an entrepreneurial sideline position, but a full-time consulting Steinbeis entrepreneur. This was a new kind of Steinbeis Enterprise – and, among others, Edmund Haupenthal played an important role in moving forward with the enterprise he’d taken over, by consistently positioning it as a “consulting center” – that now reflects an important group of Steinbeis enterprises that possesses specific competencies, in a diversity of areas, thus significantly shaping the quality and the comprehensive potential of the Steinbeis network to solve problems.

Just as Edmund Haupenthal experienced as a project manager, in the early years it was the Steinbeis Foundation for Economic Development, alongside Johann Löhn, the founder of the Steinbeis Foundation of today, that created the image and acted as a door-opener. In the meantime, it plays an important role as an umbrella organization for the network and gives it a sense of purpose. That said, in essence Steinbeis is now perceived through its enterprises and their wide-ranging competencies, particularly in the sense of trust it instils. That goes hand in hand with the passionate Steinbeisers who define what we are – such as Edmund Haupenthal, and of course in the future, his successors in their new roles, Ursula Schulz and Hans-Jörg Bley.

The success of the handover from Edmund Haupenthal to Walter Beck was something special and it was the first of its kind. These days successful handovers between entrepreneurs, especially from one generation to the next, are also an essential aspect at Steinbeis; they needed to secure a certain degree of continuity in the way we preserve value – and values – and establish a solid basis for the required development or transformation of the enterprises and Steinbeis.

Professor Haupenthal, your passion for consulting will stay with the Steinbeis team over the coming years in individual projects. Nonetheless, hopefully you’ll now have time for all the things you didn’t have time for during all those years of work. What personal projects are now at the top of your agenda?

Well, first of all I can confirm that consulting has always been a passion of mine and something I’ve enjoyed doing. The way I see it, if you enjoy doing something it’s never a burden. Despite that, looking back I do realize that for a long time I neglected some of the things around me. I have a family with two wonderful children and, in the meantime, three grandchildren, who – like my friends – have been short-changed of many hours together because of my work commitments. I’d also like to do more sport; I’ll invest more time in golf and hiking in the future, and I’d also like to explore distant shores I’ve only seen pictures of until now.

Crisis Consulting with Heart and Soul

Edmund Haupenthal can rightly be called a veteran of corporate development. After graduating from the University of Karlsruhe with a degree in industrial engineering, the native of Saarland worked in corporate planning and CIM areas for both large and medium-sized companies. He has been an independent consultant and adviser to companies for more than 30 years.

In 1995, he took over from Dr. Walter Beck as director of the Steinbeis Transfer Center CIM in Gottmadingen, which is now based in Ravensburg and called TOP. He is also the CEO of a consulting firm specialized in corporate succession and has been lecturing at the universities of St. Gallen and Ravensburg-Weingarten since 1999. Haupenthal has been an honorary professor at the latter university since 2008.

The focus of his work lies in supporting the holistic corporate development of companies. This also includes the planning and organization of company handovers and succession. For many years, he has been sharing his expertise as an advisory and supervisory board member of medium-sized enterprises.


Prof. Edmund Haupenthal (interviewee)
Steinbeis Entrepreneur
Steinbeis-Transferzentrum Technologie – Organisation – Personal (TOP) (Ravensburg)

Ursula Schulz (interviewee)
Steinbeis Entrepreneur
Steinbeis Transfer Center Technologie – Organisation – Personal (TOP) (Ravensburg)

Hans-Jörg Bley (interviewee)
Steinbeis Entrepreneur
Steinbeis Transfer Center Technologie – Organisation – Personal (TOP) (Ravensburg)

Prof. Dr. Michael Auer (interviewee)
Chairman of the Steinbeis Foundation Board
Steinbeis Foundation (Stuttgart)