borer chemie ag successful succession planning

Borer Chemie AG: The Right Chemistry

Making a clean sweep – this is the perfect metaphor to describe Borer Chemie AG. This family firm in Zuchwil offers innovative cleaning and disinfection solutions, and managed an almost seamless handover to the second generation.

“If it’s right for the family, it’s right for the company, my father used to say. I never understood what he meant by that before, but now I know,” Markus Borer says in his calm and collected manner. The middle of three sons took over management in 2010 and is a majority shareholder in the company that was founded by his father, Anton Borer, in 1965. No one could have foreseen, back then, that the one-man operation would become a prosperous business with 80 employees, sales partners on every continent, and a subsidiary in China. As is often the case in founding a company, happenstance also played a major role for the Borer family. 

It All Started in a Hair Salon

What seemed like a simple dinner with a business partner 50 years ago ended with Anton Borer flying to Brussels the next day and returning two days later with a license for a revolutionary cleaning formula. He founded the company PMC (Products for Medicine and Chemistry) in a former hair salon in Solothurn. Since he still owned an electronics company at that time, he hired a qualified managing director to run PMC and get the company established. After that managing director passed away unexpectedly, Anton Borer decided to take over management himself in 1978. “As someone who did not specialize in chemistry, I had to learn the material as quickly as possible,” the ambitious entrepreneur remembers, and adds with a laugh, “I stole my son Carlo’s chemistry books, who was in secondary school at the time, and picked up the necessary technical knowledge through independent study.” He was successful. The deconex® product line, which is currently being further developed in the in-house laboratory, is a testament to the ingenuity of the company founder. Successful tinkering is one reason why Borer Chemie AG is active today in three completely different sectors. At first the company primarily served the chemical industry, providing products for cleaning laboratory glass, but after receiving requests from the watch industry based in western Switzerland, the company quickly expanded its focus to include the industrial sector. At the same time, increased activity in hospitals led to the formation of the Medical division. After the turn of the century, the pharmaceutical sector was also added as part of the Life Sciences division.

The Apple Falls When It’s Ripe

Company founders usually start from scratch. They are often creative, self-taught individuals who drive the company forward with a lot of enthusiasm and charisma. It is therefore difficult for them to let go of their “baby” at some point. Anton Borer officially retired in 2005 at the age of 70. Since then, he has kept one foot in the company as Chairman of the Board of Directors. “The succession management of a family business cannot be underestimated. It is not an easy process for either party,” says Markus Borer, speaking from personal experience. When his father offered him the position of managing director in 2005, he turned it down after careful consideration. “I was 38 years old at the time and I didn’t feel ready to take on that responsibility. Furthermore, I loved the industrial sector and wanted to remain head of that division.” Looking back, it was the right decision for Markus Borer: “It would have really burned me out to take over the company at that time.” Interim management by an external managing director also gave him the opportunity to observe and experience a different management style. His father never put pressure on him, for which Markus Borer is still thankful. But he still had to learn how to deal with the pressure to perform and, in particular, with his own high standards, because he felt the need to prove himself. He admits outright that there were moments in the past when he would have liked to switch roles with his father and create something of his own. “Having the freedom to decide was a major factor in the successful handover. However, it was also important for me to learn the business from the bottom up and for my entire family, including my two brothers and especially my wife, to support me,” he says.

Strong Partnership

Credit Suisse is also an important partner. It has been Borer Chemie AG’s company bank for 35 years and has always supported the company with valuable incentives. For example, Markus Borer learned about the complex process of succession management at a seminar at Bocken. “You should expect it to take 15 years on average. That stuck with me,” he remembers. The company’s trust in the bank has always remained strong, even in tough times such as the global financial crisis of 2009. Markus Borer especially appreciates the outstanding service provided by the client advisor: “They are grounded people, just like me. They understand their area and don’t impose.” This also includes honest consultation on a level playing field. “We wanted to finance the succession management process with our own funds. Credit Suisse has supported our aspirations for autonomy from the start.” What about current challenges such as the increasing pressure of regulation or the value of the Swiss franc? “Legal limitations result in a lot of administrative work, additional positions, and restrictions on the freedom of action,” notes Markus Borer. These new requirements pose challenges, but also offer a chance to grow. The value of the Swiss franc, naturally, has a major impact on a company with an 80 percent export share. The company copes with this by offering innovative products and process solutions that are tailored to the needs of the client and by implementing strategic measures such as developing its direct business model in Switzerland. However, loyal employees who stand by the company and the boss in tough times are essential.

A Good Sense of Humor

The second generation has been at the helm of Borer Chemie AG for five years now. With virtues such as appreciation, respect, loyalty, reliability, and transparency, Markus Borer is leading his father’s lifework into the future, while always remaining open to critical questions from employees, his brothers, and his father. This remarkable family always brings along a good sense of humor. When the company founder stated a bit sullenly at the end of the interview, “Nothing at this company belongs to me anymore, not even the chair I am sitting on,” his son calmly responds, “But now you can afford it.” Both burst into laughter. One thing is clear: The Borers have good chemistry – in every sense.