Do I have to follow in daddy’s footsteps?
When the father has his own company, the future of the children is often predetermined. Maike Rotermund initially felt not ready for operation
Even as a little girl I was aware of the worries and fears my father had when the family business suddenly turned into competitors. Because at the beginning of the 1980s, Beate Uhse decided to divide her erotic company among her sons. She and her youngest son kept the shops, the cinemas, and the film distributors; the eldest son Klaus Uhse and stepson Dirk Rotermund, my father, took over the mail order business. Five years later they were allowed to rename their company – that’s how Orion was born.
It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I understood what Orion was selling products.
At that time I had an abstract picture of my father’s job, which of course was due to the topic. Actually, all I knew was that he was a businessman, had to work a lot and often had to travel on business. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I understood what products Orion sells: love toys, lingerie and lubricants. I had no problem with it – on the contrary. I liked to provoke adults with it. If someone asked me what my father does for a living, I would be happy to tell you about it in detail. At the age of 16 I was even allowed to help in logistics in the afternoons, bagging catalogs in order to earn some pocket money. An absolute exception – employees and temporary workers usually have to be at least 18 years old.
Go your own way
I still remember well when my father said to me and my brother that he would like one of us to take over the business later. For me that led to resistance, I wanted to go my own way: get out of Flensburg, experience something. After graduating from high school, I went to Brighton to study international business and French. My father even welcomed that, thought it was good that I saw something of the world. He later told me that he thought I would come back well educated after graduation – and that I would come straight to him at the company.
Instead, I trained as a chartered accountant in England because I wanted to. To keep me up to date, my father sent me minutes of internal meetings without being asked. And once a year he called to ask when I would finally do an internship with him. His persistence paid off. When I was in my late twenties, I signed, somewhat reluctantly, an internship contract at Orion, went through various departments, and got a picture of the company. What grabbed me – more than anything else – were the employees: their warmth, their commitment.
Back to the family business
I wanted to be part of it all. So I got into the business and assisted my father. Somehow it was in the room that I should take over everything, because my younger brother had been self-employed for several years at the time. But we never talked about it. Ten years later I got an email from my father that said: “If you don’t want to take over the management, you have to veto now.”
I quarreled. Not because Orion sells sexual wellness products, but because it is so obvious that a family business is being taken over by one of the children, in this case me. It was a colleague who opened my eyes. He said, “Try it out. You can always leave.” He was right. I could get out at any time if it wasn’t fulfilling – and then it would be my decision. I took over the company in 2014 – and I’m still here. My father kept his office, every now and then he comes in and throws in an idea or a thought, but with the addition: “You are now the manager, you decide.”
More stories on family companies: “Generation responsibility. When ownership obliges”, Herder, 25 euros