The Haufe Group

From specialized publisher to digital pionier

»We are a digital media group«

This statement from Markus Reithwiesner, CEO of the holding company of the Haufe Group, sums up a comprehensive transformation— and points to one of the rare success stories in the publishing and media industries in the last century.

Known as a specialized publisher that made its name with loose-leaf publications, the family-run company has evolved into a successful provider of digital workplace and enterprise solutions. Nowadays, the Haufe Group generates 95 percent of its revenues from digital products, such as online services for HR managers, accounting apps for independent contractors, and internet portals for tax experts. Demand for these online products is high, and has been driving double-digit growth for years now. The sales data reflect this as well. In 1990, the Haufe Group reported 50 million euros in sales; today, sales have reached nearly 300 million euros. The number of employees has increased from 330 to 1500. These figures send a clear signal.

What made Haufe seek change— and more importantly, how did the company successfully implement this transformation? 

The trigger was recognizing early on that the traditional business model threatened to crumble in the medium-term. The wave of digitalization has been more than obvious in the media and publishing industries. New technologies and changes in how media are consumed— faster, more mobile, more interactive— have triggered a radical break of historic proportions, forcing other media companies into existential crises. Revenues continue to dwindle, while new business models that take changing market conditions into account are still in rare supply. Haufe's management quickly realized that change was the only chance for survival.

Haufe had to 
reinvent itself

One major factor here was the acquisition of the software company Lexware, which enabled the Haufe Group to significantly expand its digital expertise in the 1990s.

The expansion of the product portfolio with digital workplace solutions opened up a new business segment for the company— in perfect sync with the times. Instead of theoretical information, customers wanted electronic tools that would make their everyday work life noticeably simpler. Apps, software programs, and social media platforms were in demand. This different array of products required a new way of thinking at the company. The paramount question became: What will help customers to work more successfully? The era of editors racking their brains over content alone was over.

The new, stronger customer focus required not only a new approach, but a completely new organizational structure. It had to become more flexible to better serve individual customer needs. Getting employees on board with this transformation process was not an easy task in the early 2000s. The digitalization boom was still far off, and there were no signs on the horizon of a publishing crisis. “Motivation and commitment were not exactly amazing,” remembers Reithwiesner. Why suddenly change a successful business model?

»Motivation and commitment were not exactly amazing«

Haufe focuses on keeping employees informed and involved. This approach was based on the conviction that employees can and do want to make a decisive contribution to success. The predominant dynamics of the market can only be solved with a corporate structure that includes employees, not with rigid structures and hierarchical organization. Haufe had nominated one hundred “digital prophets” from across its entire workforce to help implement this change , and to introduce it to the rest of their colleagues. This was the secret to the company’s successful transformation: Employees showed increased motivation and commitment to the expansion of the product portfolio into new business segments.

»And the journey has only just begun...«