How should French businesses approach the German market?

The M&A appeal of ‘Made in Germany’

Germany represents an exciting opportunity for business, being Europe’s largest market and one of the most advanced industrial economy’s in the world, however market penetration for foreign actors is not always so straightforward. Doing business there requires genuine experience and specialist skills. Experience shows that the most effective way to gain ground is through cross-border acquisitions. Moreover, French buyers are often ideally placed, given Germany’s geographical proximity and highly complementary culture.

Key insights:

  • The German business landscape is unique, in that the market is characterized by a very large number of small and mid-sized enterprises (Mittelstand). These highly skilled businesses are often family-owned – it is common for them to have been in the family for three or four generations. They also tend to have strong entrepreneurial cultures, long-term strategic outlooks (meaning they are frequently undercapitalized), and value secrecy and independence above all else. All in all, they are not always straightforward to access or understand for foreign players.
  • The Mittelstand is undergoing transformation, much like the French market did in the 90’s, as business owners progressively shift their focus away from family succession to more flexible exit outlooks.
  • Given the growing importance of the German market, acquiring these Mittelstand businesses has become a strategic priority for many foreign players, who are seeking to secure a long-term presence to this market, and access to its best-in-class equipment and products to increase their own attractiveness. This is fueling French buy-side demand for German assets: transactions are sharply on the rise, as the French seek  out new customers, markets and enhanced product portfolios.
  • Although there is no magic formula and each deal will have its own strategic logic and challenges, there are a number of ways French buyers of German assets can ensure smoother and more successful acquisitions.
  • Successful dealmaking in Germany requires a specific approach that is in alignment with counterparty expectations and the German cultural mindset. Carefully tailored M&A rules of engagement need to be followed.
  • Pre and post-deal challenges tend to be more complex in cross-border transactions, due to cultural, legal and geographic differences. Having the right people in the right place, and most importantly providing the right advice is essential.
Nicolas Balon
Nicolas Balon

“Germany is an attractive market which many French players find a challenge. A common approach is to replicate home country business strategies and M&A approaches, but these moves often fail as the German Mittelstand as its own codes. Experience and knowledge of cultural pitfalls are the keys to success.”

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