From July 15th to 26th, 2019, STEP member Zhejiang University organized a trip through Germany, Switzerland, and Italy during which a group of Chinese visitors toured European family businesses and conducted discussions with local STEP member schools.

Led by Prof. Chen Ling and Hao Xin of Zhejiang University, the study tour on Succession and Sustainable Development Studies was the fourth year offering this unique program to Chinese business families to learn from prominent business families in Germany, Switzerland and Italy. The Program aimed to provide business families with valuable knowledge through a combination of professional lectures, site tours, and face to face interactions with family members of famous enterprises in the 3 countries.


First stop-Germany!  The group visited the headquarters of the Simon-Kucher & Partners Strategy & Marketing Consultants GmbH founded by Professor Hermann Simon, a world-renowned management expert and the creator of the concept of “Hidden Champions”. At the Confucius Institute of Duisburg University, the group listened to a lecture by famous sinology expert Professor Thomas Heberer on the historic progression of Ruhr, Germany from a coal and iron producing region to a modernized service industry center. Afterwards, Mr. and Mrs. Heberer accompanied the group on a tour of the Ruhr Museum and the Red Dot Design Museum. In Ulm, Professor Hermut Kormann, who has decades of work and management experience in a large German family enterprise, spoke with the group about succession and management of German family businesses and gave in-depth responses to questions relating to successor training, management framework for a family business, selection of family enterprise strategies, and more.

Germany warmly welcomes the Study Tour of Business Families from China!

Traveling through Germany’s Gold Capital, Pforzheim, the study group visited Wellendorff, a gold jewelry brand with 126 years of history, and had dinner with the fourth-generation head of the company, Christoph Wellendorf, and his family.

The Study Tour at the Wellendorf family firm in Germany.

In Stuttgart, the group toured German family business Trumpf Group and visited the Mercedes-Benz Museum. In Koblenz, the study group met with the International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine, toured the Moselle Dam, and learned about the transformation of the Rhine River from “the sewer of Europe” to a sustainably-developed waterway.

The Study Group continues their learning journey through Germany at
Trumpf Group family firm.


Next stop—Switzerland! In Lugano, Switzerland, the study tour group was warmly welcomed by Lugano Mayor Marco Borradori. The dean of the Zhejiang University Institute for Entrepreneurship, Professor Ling Chen, represented the Zhejiang University School of Management in formally joining Silk Link Ticino, which aims to promote trade relationships and cultural exchange between China and the governments, industries, and higher education institutes of Italy and Switzerland. The study group toured two classic family businesses in Lugano: Chicco D’oro and Foxtown. Chicco D’oro was a company specializing in roasted coffee beans and now has grown to be the largest producer of coffee beans and related products in Switzerland and jointly managed by the second and third generation of the founding family.  Foxtown is managed by the Tarchini Group and focuses on land development and leasing for commercial, industrial, and tourism uses. The founder of Foxtown is now 75 years old, but still eagerly participates in running this classic family business, which is being jointly managed by the founding family’s three daughters.


Final stop – Italy!  The group traveled to Milan, Italy, and visited Bocconi School of Management where Bocconi and Zhejiang University co-organized a seminar on family business succession, during which the participants discussed and learned about succession and development strategies for family businesses. Keynote guests speakers included Professor Guido Corbetta of Bocconi University, founder of Italian menswear brand Maurizio Baldassari, Mr. Maurizio Baldassari, and Vice President of Inoxfucine, Mr. Lorenzo Pugassi. The study group visited another Milan-based family business, Branca, which has already passed down six generations of Italian liquor production, sales, and distribution knowledge and experience.

The Study Tour wraps up their fascinating journey at the
Bocconi School of Management in Italy!

Members of the Zhejiang Study Group share their positive and educational experiences from their 2 week learning journey:

Xiaohua Feng, a Shaoxing-based founder of a family business, felt deeply impacted by his experience at the STEP and Zhejiang University study tour, stating that:

“As a first-generation entrepreneur, the most important thing is no longer the fight to get my enterprise to survive, but doing my best at securing the succession of my business and making sure that my values are successfully passed on to my children.”

Xuefei Mao of Ningbo is the daughter of Lixiang Mao, founder of the Fotile Group. During this trip, she came in contact with various top-level professors and CEOs of companies with over 100 years of history. As the second generation successor of a family business, she felt that the experience improved her thought and work patterns and broadened her horizons. She expressed that the family business study tour gave her more power and confidence to ensure a sustainable future for her family’s business:

“From Professor Simon’s discussion of Hidden Champions, I learned how to persist in the upkeep of a small yet beautiful enterprise; from Professor Kormann, I realized how to spark the interest of upcoming generations in the family business, and also learned how to invite senior professional managers to participate in two three-year plans for the training of young entrepreneurs.”

The STEP Project’s academic network is a valuable asset for the STEP teams worldwide. Collaborations such as this well organized Study Tour with Zhejiang and STEP Universities in Europe offer new opportunities for their researchers and business families. To learn more about Zhejiang and STEP’s Study Group Tour, please check here.

To learn more about the STEP Project and membership, please check here.