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Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)

Manuela Mutschler

2nd chance entrepreneurs in action

 

Manuela Mutschler

Austrian restarter

Gedankensprung Schulungs-, Beratungs-, PlanungsGmbH

AT - 1140 Vienna

A promising start

In 1998, Manuela teamed up with a partner to start a medical engineering company. They set out on a small scale, yet sales soon soared and they found themselves with 40 employees. The expansion required investment and interim funds for projects had to be financed through loans.

As a safety net - so that if one operation went badly, the other areas would not be affected - the individual operations were placed in formally independent sister companies. One of the companies was managed by a man called Andreas Pusker, who will become important later in Manuela's story.

The crisis came unnoticed

There could be no doubt that Manuela and her partner made a successful team, and things were looking up. Then they had their first, apparently trifling, disagreement about how to organise administration. Their arguments grew in intensity and frequency, and soon came to the attention of staff and customers. The tensions began to impair both the working atmosphere and the previously excellent customer relations. Scheduled orders began to suffer delays, and one day a customer even wanted to cancel a major order. In the end, the infighting and customer conflicts led to litigation.

The company operated in a market niche where its reputation was quickly damaged by the squabbling and lawsuits. Management was unable to agree on a joint strategy. With the firm's image in tatters, solliciting new orders became increasingly difficult. Sales drifted towards zero, while lawsuits swallowed time, nerves and a great deal of money.

"The worst time of my life"

At the peak of the crisis, Manuela's partner backed out. She tried to revive operations on her own. She recalls: "The months before insolvency were the worst time of my life. Somehow I still hoped for a miracle. Forever in search of a concept that might ensure rescue - a gleam of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel. And there was an incredible amount of fear." But it was too late for rescue and even business consultants could do nothing to save the firm.

Insolvency: the safety net fails

Five years after starting, insolvency had become unavoidable. The sister companies were supposed to be protected by their independent legal structure, but things did not work out that way. All the companies were with the same house bank and Manuela had assumed personal liability for each of them. The bank foreclosed the loans to all the companies, causing the entire complex to slide into bankruptcy. This meant private insolvency - not just for Manuela, but also for Andreas, who had assumed personal liability as director of the company he managed.

One door closes, another one opens

"Once we had filed for insolvency, it felt like an enormous weight falling from my shoulders", Manuela recounts. Uncertainty had ended - rather a calamitous end than an endless calamity. She was now able to look ahead, but how to go on?

"I lost everything - my house, my car, my life insurance. But I kept my entrepreneurial spirit - you don't lose that." She never doubted that she would start another business. Having experience with advanced training for adults, this was what she opted for.

Although Manuela had lost a great deal during this period, there was a positive side as well. Andreas had actively supported her during her rescue attempts, and the shared experience had brought them together. They decided not only to start a new business together; they also started a family.

Fresh start: overcoming obstacles

The obstacles to be overcome to get the new business on its feet were practical rather than legal. The ongoing litigation with customers and contractors kept the insolvency proceedings dragging on, and all that remained were the debts. The greatest problem was financing the new start-up, when no bank would touch it. Because of their private insolvency, Andreas and Manuela will both be facing monthly repayments to their creditors until 2013."I don't think we could have managed without the help and support of our family", recalls Andreas. The family provided the start-up capital and supported them as best they could. A few months after insolvency, they made a new start with the "Gedankensprung Schulungs-, Beratungs-, PlanungsGmbH", a company providing training, counselling and planning.

"Of course we had to lower our sights at first," says Manuela. Since then, things have picked up and the young business has positioned itself successfully on the market. After three successful years, they found a bank ready to grant them a loan. Previously, they had always been rejected because, although the business was creditworthy, the management was not. "If bankruptcy had not stigmatised us so much, our business would have much better financing opportunities," says Andreas.

Lessons learnt: new recipes for success

"Insolvency was a shock, but we have learned a lot", says Andreas. The main problem was that sales were accounted for by just a few large customers. After their encouraging start, nobody had given any thought to the possibility of a management crisis. No precautions had been taken for that eventuality - there was no exit strategy. "This time, I'm really taking care not to let things grow too fast", says Manuela. Healthy and sustainable growth is more important than continuous record gains. Both agree that it is especially important for a successful restart to take a very close look at one's own mistakes. It is the only way to make things work better next time.

Manuela Mutschler and Andreas Pusker´s main advice to entrepreneurs facing financial difficulties

"The most important point is to act quickly and decisively to keep problems from growing. Too many entrepreneurs suffer for far too long because they fear the stigma of failure. They are worn out by futile effort and they lose strength and courage in the process."

First try

Company founded in: 1998

Business sector: medical engineering

Core business: equipment for medical laboratories and medical practices including construction services and specialised further education.

Maximum numbers of employees: 40

Insolvency: 2003

Fresh start

New start: 2003

Company: Gedankensprung Schulungs-, Beratungs-, PlanungsGmbH

Business sector: further education

Core business: advanced training for adults

Number of employees 2006: 5 plus 50 freelancers

 

Alfred Lanfer

Hervé Lecesne

Manuela Mutschler

Cristian Rovira

Friedrich Stummer

Jacqueline Dubernet

Josef Zotter

Michele Zanor

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