Up Close & Personal
‘I will miss our team.’
March 31 will be his last day: Heinz-Ulrich Bösch is leaving! The Hamburg native has spent 43 years of his life shaping Bösch Boden Spies, mostly as a Managing Partner. In our interview, he talks about what make BBS special, questionable developments in the industry, and his secret love.
“I was born to it,” says Heinz-Ulrich Bösch, “I grew up with it.” He first encountered his father’s business clients at home as a little boy. “Naturally, it aroused my curiosity,” he says describing his early years. After studying business administration, he completed an apprenticeship in foreign trade at an export company, and was then a sought-after passionate and competent sales expert for decades.
Now Bösch is calling it quits. “That’s not quite true,” stresses the dynamic 67-year-old. “I’m retiring from the day-to-day business and management, but will remain associated with the company.” He describes Bösch Boden Spies as his life’s work. His younger son has been working for the company almost five years, so the fourth Bösch generation is already well established.
Mr. Bösch, lately you’ve been traveling even more than usual. Were you on a farewell tour?
It was an extended vacation combined with business – in South Africa. One of our key partners has been based there for decades, so I’m frequently down there, which sparked my love for the country. We support a social project there. Bösch Boden Spies has supported various projects around the world for years – South Africa is a bit of a mix of first and third worlds– and we feel that it’s almost an entrepreneurial duty to be socially engaged there. I’d like to step this up in future.
What and who do you support exactly?
“Dance for all” is the name of the project for which I founded an association the year before last. It’s basically a township project in which 1,700 children and young people are currently being taught classical and modern ballet and African dance, to open up other possibilities for them. Essentially, BBS supports three projects that the partners feel deeply committed to: a project in India, one in South Africa, and one on our doorstep, so to speak, in Hamburg.
March 31, 2019 is officially your last day at work. How do you feel when you think about it?
Wistful and happy. I have mixed feelings about it. I think the greatest gain that I can take away from this long period is the people I’ve met. We’ve grown a lot over the years. When I started, there were 12 of us; now we’re more than 10 times as many. The people, colleagues, employees, but also the many contacts that have been made around the world have developed into friendships that will continue even after I leave.
Is “liking people” a basic prerequisite for successful trading?
Yes, but I’m curious to see how everything develops. Due to the consolidation that is taking place in the trading sector, often the only thing that counts now are the hard factors: the price is either right, or not. At big organizations, the training people undergo is very different than here with us, less practical, more theoretical. Factors like quality are increasingly being relegated to the background. At BBS, on the other hand, we train our employees and they have a very well-founded, solid knowledge of the products and their quality.
Why has that changed so much?
It’s the passage of time. There’s no room for sentimentality anymore. Every company just wants to survive the competition and grow, if possible. Arguments don’t count for much then. But if a sales conversation only boils down to the price, that just isn’t enough. You still need to have arguments [up your sleeve] for why price shouldn’t be the only consideration.
I’m worried that many partners in trade no longer have the professional training. This is especially important for food, because it’s produced by Mother Nature. As we all know, no two years are the same climatically. So you do have to know what’s important.
Your grandfather Otto Bösch, the founder of the company, probably already knew this. How do you remember him?
I remember him as a very kind man. Back in his days, that was a positive attribute. Today you can’t win a bean with kindness. Business has become tougher. He still did his business on the stock exchange, as a broker for suppliers, who then offered the price to their principals overseas. It’s unbelievable how our means of communication have changed. The revolution in communications is probably the biggest change I’ve seen in my years here.
Do you miss the “good old days”?
No, it’s not that. Emails, for example, are a great thing. But speed is also a disadvantage for us. Sometimes we need more time to win over our overseas partners with good arguments, and to brief them on what they will need to succeed here.
What do you think makes BBS special?
That we are very deliberate about selecting our partners, for example. Our size gives us the privilege of being able to say “no” every now and then. Twenty or thirty years ago we had to go out and acquire suppliers. Nowadays suppliers approach us about a partnership. This has changed because we’re so stringent about who we work with. Our customers know this, too. I remember our foray to the China business: It was sexy at first sight, but came with a string of negatives. That’s why we said we prefer to use our resources for our sustainable, reliable suppliers.
What will be the biggest challenges for your successors?
To keep being able to offer the kind of healthy ingredients from sustainable sources that are in demand here. That’s the most important thing.
What values would you like to pass on to the next generation?
To run this business with passion – true to our former slogan “[A] Passion for food.” and to preserve the family character of this company, because that’s what makes for our long-term teamwork with our employees: that they feel the management is willing to listen, that we take care of them – and care about their concerns. That this is not just a job, but that we consider each individual to be important. Our employees feel this, too. That’s why they stay with us for a long time.
What are your plans for your life after BBS?
I have various ideas and thoughts, but I haven’t yet had time to concretize them. Because if you offer yourself to a project, you have to be available to it, too. I’d like to keep traveling, and get to know new countries as well. Other cultures and mindsets have always fascinated me.
Will you miss the BBS team?
I will miss the team. A lot. No question.
What do you think you would have become without Bösch Boden Spies?
Perhaps an architect. A well-constructed building is really a fantastic thing. My secret love is and will always be architecture.