Interview with former start-up entrepreneur Dr. Oliver Grün Using contacts for a better world
Sometimes life-plans are turned upside down from one day to the next. I originally came to Aachen to study, with a view to taking over my father’s consulting engineering practice afterwards.
Dr. Oliver Grün
- born in Mülheim on the Ruhr in 1969
- Master’s in Civil Engineering (RWTH)
- PhD in Economics (Comenius)
- Founder, sole shareholder and Executive Director of GRÜN Software AG
- Chief Executive of the National Medium-Sized IT Business Association
- Married with 3 children
But very soon after arriving I turned my hobby into a business as a self-employed programmer. If you’re the kind of person that just thinks about software when you’re in the shower (instead of heat insulation) it’s pretty clear where your passion lies. And so it was that, with a heavy heart, I decided to forego a secure future in my Dad’s business for the excitement of growing my own. With zero equity. When it came to the classic question of “office or apartment” I decided to go for an office, albeit one I ended up having to sleep in too!
The Gymnastics and Lawn Sports Club has laid the foundation
The initial spark that set GRÜN Software AG going was actually quite unglamorous: Remscheid South Gymnastics and Lawn Sports Club had bought a computer from me and needed some membership admin software. As this cost DM 1,000 at the time I was sure I could do it for less, and after weeks of perfecting it, Version 1.0 was brought to market. The programme sold like hot cakes, and things just went from there. By the time I graduated I already had 20 employees. Thankfully, the business grew organically, with the result that I was able to learn all the other skills (book-keeping, sales and marketing, etc.) as I studied. This insight into all these areas is something I still get the benefit of.
Modules for success, whatever the customer needs
The GRÜN Group of Companies
- Locations: Head Office in Aachen, regional springboards in Bratislava, Vienna and Berlin
- Employees: 70
- Offering: Sector-related software, outsourcing and agency services
- Market leader in the fundraising segment
- Clients: Misereor, Menschen für Menschen, St John’s Accident & Emergency, German Red Cross, Eintracht Frankfurt, dbb Deutscher Beamtenbund (civil servants’ association)
Twenty years on, and 70 employees larger and three divisions richer, I still regard GRÜN Group as a technology business. Its foundation is – and will remain – software. In the globalised world we live in, programs have to become faster and more intelligent. Focussing on results, we make our clients’ problem our problem and make promises like, “if you introduce our software, the loyalty of your members will improve tangibly or we’ll agree objectives for new memberships”. We see our task as going that step further – even advising clients on organisational processes – something that delivers inestimable benefit to our clients and also to ourselves because we get direct feedback as a user and are able to engage in continuous quality improvement. Because our software is Internet-based, the desire was quick to emerge for agency services. As a result, the modular system we now offer has everything the client wants – from book-keeping to media design and marketing functionality. Of the three billion euros of donation money within Germany, one billion runs through our systems.
Climbing stairs for Ethiopia
Social responsibility is something close to my heart, and not just because we have a lot of charitable organisations as clients. Our business exists as part of society at large. As such it’s right that we should impact our surroundings and give something back to society. I myself am actively involved with gut.org, a charitable public company which looks after “betterplace.org”, a donations portal that guarantees to pass on donations without deducting a penny – even credit card fees are sponsored. I’m also a member of the Aachen Kaiserpfalz Lions Club. The issue of corporate social responsibility has arrived in the SME sector. Employees of companies with active social involvement programmes are more highly motivated. Every year we jointly organise a charity event. This year, for example, we’ve donated over € 8,000 to Ethiopian aid and linked this to a vigorous staff “stair walk”. The “Städtewette” fundraising programme which I brought to Aachen succeeded in funding a school for 1,000 children in Ethiopia using only the donations generated by Aachen. For me personally it makes sense to make the world a better place. Sense, after all, is also a kind of return – it doesn’t have to be financial all the time. It’s a lot of fun to see how you can do good using the contacts you’ve got. How easy it is to obtain contacts within Aachen society is, like any large city, a matter of the position you have. These things always take time. I’ve been active here for 20 years now, know a lot of people and feel very accepted – something I’m extremely grateful for.
Found a home in Aachen
After graduation, many of my co-students were drawn away from Aachen to the big cities. I never even considered that out of a sense of responsibility to my employees. I think the many memories you have make it a great thing to remain in the place you studied in. The area where Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands all meet up is somewhere I find very stimulating. I now live with my family in Hauset, and we love every minute. Belgian cuisine is delicious. On my way home it almost feels like I’m going on holiday. Nevertheless, it takes only 13 minutes to get from my office to the city centre. All things considered, everything’s so wonderfully close together in Aachen. Live in a big city and you can often spend 30 minutes just getting to work. Aachen is neither too small nor too large, but just right. You come across people you know, but it never gets boring. Aachen has developed brilliantly over the last 20 years. Some of my former co-students are now regretting going off to huge cities. The RWTH Aachen University Campus is an amazing project, the sort of thing a city needs in order to be more than one of many. Aachen is definitely my home of choice.
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