Jan Conrad, Management master degree student and organisation team member of the 19th Congress for Family Businesses, tells us about practice orientation and entrepreneurial freedom.

How does economy really work?

Already during my Bachelor studies I had always been interested in learning practical topics. Studying management therefore was supposed to provide the basis for a change towards more sustainable ways of managing our economy. The Bachelor’s programme at a state university was just the beginning.

In order to learn more about the correlation of theory and practice, I decided to pursue master degree studies at Witten/Herdecke University. During the Management M.A. programme (formerly: General Management), first and foremost you will become a manager of your own personal development.

By organising the oikos Winter School 2013 and the Future Conference Food 2014, I developed an understanding for the way we humans learn. Moreover, as a representative of the Master students I became involved in university politics and thus gained better insight into the university’s organisational culture. During my studies I went to Mexico to study and do an internship, improving my Spanish this way. At the same time I participated in several consulting projects for sustainable management.

The organisation of the 19th Congress for Family Businesses was the masterpiece of my studies to me. An annually changing student team plans, organises and implements the congress together with UW/H students. The university thus puts a lot of trust in the students, accompanied by much entrepreneurial responsibility on part of the students.

What is the "Congress for Family Businesses" all about?

The two-day Congress for Family Businesses is the largest and oldest event of its kind in Europe and aims at networking and inspiring business families. Another unique feature of the congress is that participation is restricted to members of family enterprises. Names like Alfred Theodor Ritter (“Ritter Sport” chocolate) or Götz Werner (“dm Drogerie”) appear on the list of approximately 350 participants.

There was no other study project that provided so much entrepreneurial freedom. We, namely Zina Jacob, Julian Grah, Bartholomäus Peisl and me, had the chance to organise the congress after we had pitched our proposal to the UW/H executive board. Just like in case of a start-up, the complete budget plan had to be compiled and many more entrepreneurial decisions to be made. We created the “Preserving the future” congress motto and developed the related congress topics primarily in the course of discussions with family businesses.

Our approach

After successful application, we made use of the freedom provided and went our own way of planning the event. With the organisation team being heterogeneous, we represented each of the four degree programmes at the Faculty of Management and Economics. I was responsible for “topics and programme” and for tasks concerning the communication with participants, sponsoring and organising the more than 140 staff members during the event.

Our approach to developing the congress topics was unconventional: In more than 60 meetings with family business managers across Germany we elaborated the requirements and challenges of the tense relationship between tradition and future in family businesses.

How fast a year goes by!

Preparing the congress usually takes two semesters. While studying at least half of the time during the first semester, we exclusively focused on preparing the event during the second semester. In Witten, this is not a disadvantage as the flexible organisation of one’s curriculum offers the required space for entrepreneurial freedom.

Even though the congress lasted only two days – we learnt a lot throughout the year: about team dynamics, responsibility, corporate governance and much more. Besides, I founded my own “family business” and became father of a little daughter. In this respect, I succeeded in making my own “masterpiece”.