The fourth generation of the family business

Georgia Näder in portrait

Georgia Näder sitting on a sofa and smiling into the camera.

Young, female, supervisory board member: a rare combination

Georgia Näder, daughter of Ottobock owner Hans Georg Näder, joined the Supervisory Board of her father’s prosthesis manufacturing company when she was just 20 years old. Inside and outside of the company, she has always been one to seek new challenges.

At the young age of 24, Georgia Näder can already lay claim to considerable experience as a member of the Supervisory Board.

The younger of Hans Georg Näder’s two daughters, she joined Ottobock’s Supervisory Board four years ago. In an interview with the Handelsblatt newspaper, she tells us she was initially concerned about how people would respond to her appointment, given that she was so young. “And then I realised that in actual fact, I had twenty years’ worth of experience with Ottobock,” she smiles. “I know our products, our history and the essence and soul of the company better than external Supervisory Board members.” And she has succeeded in conveying this fact to the somewhat awe-inspiring board, which consists of ten members in total.

In one sense, Georgia Näder is at the forefront of a trend. A study conducted earlier this year by auditing and consulting company PwC and Intes, a consulting firm that focuses on family-owned businesses, revealed that an increasing number of women are being appointed to the supervisory boards of family-owned companies.

Minimum age requirements

According to the above-mentioned study, women are now represented on around half of all supervisory boards, and the figure is actually 56 per cent in the case of advisory boards, which are often less regimented. By comparison, this figure has risen from just ten percent in 2013. When it comes to age, however, Georgia Näder is a rare species indeed. This is because most supervisory boards set a minimum age for membership on both advisory and supervisory boards, and will generally not appoint candidates under the age of 30. Only six per cent of all company boards in family-owned businesses include members who are younger than 30.

And only 15 per cent of boards include members under 35 years of age who are representing the next generation of their family, according to data from PwC. The Stock Corporation Act does not impose minimum age requirements on publicly listed companies, provided board members have reached the age of majority.

Two of the youngest women to join supervisory boards in recent times include Christina Reuter (Kion) and Fränzi Kühne (Freenet), both of whom are in their mid-thirties. However, family-owned businesses are not legally required to publish information on their supervisory board members, and hence it is somewhat harder to acquire data and find out how many other such boards include even younger, female members.

A seat on the Executive Board as well

Georgia Näder ticks all the boxes. She’s young, female and she represents the fourth generation of the company, which is now in its 102nd year. Otto Bock originally founded the company, and his daughter Maria married one of his employees, Max Näder, who led the company in the second generation. Their son Hans Georg – Georgia’s father – took over the management of the company when he was just 29 years old. Today, the 59-year-old heads Ottobock Management SE’s Management Board, the body responsible for making top executive decisions for the company.

In addition to Hans Georg Näder, the Management Board consists of three members without operational roles and three Executive Directors. The Supervisory Board on which Georgia Näder serves oversees the company and acts as a higher instance. Ms Näder has also been appointed to the Executive Board for the management and investment holding. In 2019, Ottobock generated around one billion euros turnover, representing adjusted earnings of 191 million euros. According to internal sources, the company also successfully weathered the COVID pandemic in 2020.

In 2017, Hans-Georg Näder arranged for Swedish investor EQT, which shares ties with the Wallenberg family, to acquire a 20 per cent share in the company. EQT partner Marcus Brennecke joined the Board at the same time as Georgia Näder. “She’s very advanced for her age. She’s down to earth, and she’s a good listener,” he reports today. Näder understands her position as a representative of the owner family, and shows respect and appreciation for the expertise of the other members, the investor adds. EQT plans to take the company to the next level in professional terms. “The chemistry is right,” Brennecke says. The Wallenbergs are equally down to earth, he notes, so it’s a good fit. Ottobock is preparing to go public in a couple of years’ time, a step that will require Georgia Näder to also face new challenges in her position on the Supervisory Board. Until that day comes, she plans to continue studying abroad. Alongside working on her master’s degree in business administration and innovation in healthcare, she has also completed an internship with EQT in Sweden.

Georgia – who is keen to stress that she does not consider her surname to be a silver spoon – has always felt a special bond with her family’s company. She went to school in Duderstadt, the town in which the company headquarters are located. As a child, she enjoyed indoor skating on the smooth floors of the production halls. Her childhood was sheltered and revolved strongly around the company, with Grandfather Max playing an important role, her old friend Freya Schmidt reminisces. It has become fairly common for female successors to start by joining their company’s supervisory board, as in Georgia’s case.

A 2020 study conducted by PwC revealed that 70 per cent of all male successors in family-owned companies aspire to CEO positions, an ambition shared by only 30 per cent of female successors. According to her father, however, Georgia Näder is free to choose as she pleases. Alongside serving on the Supervisory Board, she made use of her freedom and chose to live abroad rather than locally while completing her business studies at the elite Esade University in Barcelona. This was not a problem because she could travel back and forth between Spain and Germany with relative ease, she tells us.

A frosty response from the university

The biggest problem she has encountered during her studies came from a completely different quarter. “My professors had little sympathy for the fact that I have to attend Supervisory Board meetings on a regular basis, which means I have to miss lectures. I found their response surprising,” she tells us – particularly given the value of work experience for such a course of study. Many young people in Georgia’s position struggle to find meaning and purpose in the companies their ancestors have founded. This has never been an issue for her. Ottobock was founded to support invalids from the first World War. “We don’t have to waste any time searching for meaning and purpose,” Näder tells us. “When I look at people like Wolfgang Kierdorf, who was affected by polio, and see him walking again and practising yoga thanks to our new app-controlled prosthesis designed for people with paralysis, I realise we’re doing a great job, and it’s wonderfully motivating for our work.”

A company founder herself

Having a full plate has not stopped the 24-year-old from seeking new challenges. Eighteen months ago, she teamed up with one of her peers to found Maluwa Superfoods. This startup markets moringa, a richly nutritious plant which is native to South America, Africa and India. “We want to make it more widely known in Germany,” Näder explains. “I like stirring the powder into my yogurt and eating it for breakfast myself.” Näder says she attaches great importance to doing things by herself. “We started from scratch, redesigning processes that have been second nature to Ottobock for more than 100 years,” she explains. The two women decided to focus on organic moringa and have learned a great deal about certification processes and supply chains on their journey, Näder adds. They’ve also chosen to support a charitable cause, namely a school in Rwanda. “Founding a company has been an important experience for me, and I’m so glad I did it,” Näder says. “You learn so much in the process.”