Economy

Secret millionaires club founded: rich heirs want to do good

Elisabeth Furtwängler (left) and Jacob Burda (second from right), heirs of the Hubert Burda media group, are the youngest German billionaires.

Britta Pedersen / picture alliance via Getty Images

It all started with a chat group. A few days later the first video conference took place. Fourteen young millionaire heirs from Germany, Austria and Switzerland founded a group in which they have been exchanging views on privilege and responsibility for a month.

The actual goal is to initiate social change, explains Stefanie Bremer, one of the founding members. The millionaire heiress has a different name. The pseudonym enables her to get involved without having to involve her family.

“In Germany, rich people who have been able to build up fortunes on their own are adored,” says the heiress. “But talking about money and the responsibility that goes with it is taboo.” The group wants to change that and take on more social responsibility, possibly with specific donation projects.

You won’t find anything on the net about the practice group for the DACH area of ​​the young wealthy. First, the members want to coordinate a common timetable in a protected area. But the goal is not to become a pure wealthy club – the heirs want to exchange ideas with as diverse as possible partners from different life situations.

The main theme: Global injustice and how wealthy young people can change it. The idea comes from the Resource Generation in the USA, an initiative that brings rich young people under the age of 35 together and seeks ways for a fairer distribution of wealth.

The new German billionaires

As heirs, the German-speaking practice group also unites the image of the young, super-rich who never had to work for their assets. In fact, Germans are over-represented among the hundred youngest billionaires on the Forbes list, but there is not a single German self-made billionaire. It might have stayed that way if the search for the corona vaccine hadn’t driven up the share value of biotech companies. The scientists and co-founders Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci have been the first self-made billionaires in Germany for years.

Most young German billionaires, on the other hand, are the heirs of family businesses such as Burda, Braun or Dräxlmaier. The names make the Forbes list featured on their annual Billionaires List. Most successors continue to cultivate the image of the withdrawn super-rich who live far away from the public.

You may know the musician and producer Lisa Fou, the 28-year-old who prefers to wear sweatpants and sneakers and – if you believe the social networks – spends most of the time in the music studio. Lisa Fou is the stage name of Elisabeth Furtwängler (yes, that is the daughter of Tatort commissioner Maria Furtwängler) and owns more than a third of the Burda Media Group (including “Focus”, “Bunte”). The business magazine Forbes estimates her fortune at around 1.2 billion euros, making her sixth among the youngest billionaires worldwide.

That’s why there are so few self-made billionaires here

The fact that so few entrepreneurs have made it to billionaires on their own in the past ten years is also due to the structure of the economy in Germany.

“The US has more self-made billionaires than Europe because new companies are developing the new technologies there,” explains Emmanuel Saez, professor of economics at Berkeley University. Young entrepreneurs got incredibly rich very quickly, like Elon Musk with Tesla, Sergej Brin and Larry Page with Google or Jeff Bezos with Amazon. “In Europe, on the other hand, existing large companies are developing the new technologies,” says Saez. While Tesla produces the electric cars in the USA, these are developed in Germany by the major car manufacturers. In France, luxury goods are adapting to the global market, building on existing companies, says the economist. This also explains why the richest people in the European Union tend to be the heirs to these companies.

Stefan Bach, an expert on tax policy at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), sees today’s heirs as the successors of the startups of the 50s and 60s. By this, Bach means companies like Aldi, Lidl or later SAP, which turned the first Germans into self-made billionaires. Bach says that today we have to look more closely at how Germany is positioned in the new tech industries.

Research at the management consultant McKinsey shows that European startups have a 30 percent lower probability of success than US-based startups. Adam Bird, consultant for digital strategy for McKinsey in Munich, also observes a further dynamic among young entrepreneurs: “Successful founders in Germany look for new projects after successful exits and in the best case become successful serial founders,” says Bird.

There is currently great potential for growth in the biotech and medical industries, predicts Bach from DIW. “In addition, there are more and more women who, as pioneering entrepreneurs, give hope.”

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