Two generations of engineers in traditional craft business

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Name of the provider / Family business 

W. Schwarz GmbH

Professional sector and company size 

<50, Gas- and water engineering

Need/problems/challenge addressed 

Adapting family business to new technologies, succession 




Link to more information  

W. Schwarz GmbH is a family-owned company in Vienna that was founded 40 years ago by Wilhelm Schwarz (representing the first generation). Over the years, the company became a successful SME in the field of traditional gas- and water engineering. The business strategy was from the beginning to build up and maintain a good and sustainable customer relationship, and to provide reliable technical services of high quality.

At quite early stage of the business development, Wilhelm considered the issue of integration of new technologies. He set up the strategy of ongoing further training in the field of gas and water technologies for himself and his employees, to keep the business focused on high technical quality standards and prospects.

Another issue of high significance was the succession of one of his children. When Thomas, his eldest son, had finished compulsory school and showed great interest in the family business, the family council decided that he would be the successor.

Although the company provided in-company training for apprentices from the beginning. Thomas had his vocational education as an apprentice in another gas- and water-engineering company, since his father wanted him to “learn the profession from the bottom up”. After Thomas had finished his apprenticeship, he stayed with the other company for three more years to gather substantial knowledge and experience.

Six years ago, Thomas began to work in the family company; first as one of the craftsmen, then he supported his father in planning and CRM. For the past four years, Thomas has been the second managing director of the company. In this position, he began to elaborate concepts for digitalisation of CRM and order processing. The planning was carried out together with his father; they held strategy planning meetings every two months to review and adapt the process before taking the next steps. The core element of the digital CRM is to enhance the availability of services through online requests and booking of appointments, so the company can react quickly, e.g. via smartphone. Another part of this strategy is to obtain customer satisfaction online and to send automatic reminders for the maintenance of heating systems.

Together with the digitalisation of CRM, Thomas, in compliance with the family business strategy, sought new ways for sustainable business development. Since he had continued his ongoing training in the areas of sustainability and energy efficiency, he suggested in the regular strategy planning meetings to specialise in old building refurbishment and equipping these buildings with thermal insulation and sustainable heating systems, such as heat pumps or pellet heating.

This specialisation of the company opened new markets and a new opportunity to focus on a specific customer group. Whilst Thomas´ task was to develop the technical and human resources, Wilhelm used his decade-long customer relationships to establish cooperation with property owners and property management companies. Through these activities, the family business is now a specialist in the refurbishment of apartment buildings and has excellent prospects for the future.