TWO GENERATIONS, ONE INTERVIEW.
In 1962, Ingrid Besser purchased a small firm of tax advisers in Moabit, Berlin. Now the firm is located on Berlin’s Platz der Luftbrücke and run by her son, Andreas Besser. In the following interview, the two generations talk about how things have changed in the last five decades, and how they’ve stayed the same.
Ms Besser, what made you decide to open your own firm 50 years ago?
I. Besser: My family had their own business when I grew up, so being an entrepreneur is in my blood. After holding a regular job for a while, I knew for certain that I wanted to be self-employed. That’s why in 1962, as soon as I had my license, I bought a small firm in Moabit for DM 18,000 back then. I took over a few clients and the firm grew quickly thanks to word of mouth and recommendations.
What sort of challenges did you face back then?
I. Besser: I was advising companies in every industry, from florists to sail-makers all the way to a car paint shop. The greatest challenge was coming to understand each industry. To ensure good quality, I often had to invest more time into cases that I could bill for later. It paid off, however, because I developed a very personal relationship to many of my clients, which is still healthy today and passed on to my children. It wasn’t always easy, but I managed to weather the different times thanks to my good network.
Would you consider yours a traditional firm, and what does that mean to you?
A. Besser: We support numerous clients across generations, such as the sail-makers my mother mentioned. In addition, treating clients in a friendly, confidential manner is still at the centre of our philosophy, because we’ve found it’s the only way to give them the best service. The recognition and gratitude we’ve received for our service has always been a strong incentive to continue so.
I. Besser: During our fiftieth anniversary celebration, for example, a client thanked me for saving his company from bankruptcy many years before by turning it into a private limited company which now pays his pension. Tradition also means family. I remember well the first time my son helped me out during his school holidays and my daughter completed her apprenticeship here. I’m proud that my children now run the firm and a familial atmosphere remains in the team.
How has the work changed since 1962?
A. Besser: The German Income Tax Act used to be a booklet; nowadays, it’s a tome. Earlier, you could understand the laws by applying your common sense; now they’re so complex and compartmentalised that it’s much more difficult to find any wiggle room. Furthermore, there is the impact of Europeanisation and internationalisation on tax law. Theoretically at least, anyone could do their own tax declaration on their computer; however, the legal questions remain puzzling for most laypeople. Therefore, while accuracy and professional competence are still critical to our work, communicating and advising individuals and businesses in a personal manner is more important than ever.
What are you most looking forward to, Mr Besser?
A. Besser: For starters, naturally, I’m looking forward to the next several decades and to working with our current and many new clients. To make certain we’re well-equipped for this, we’re currently building a wider base of operations. This includes a new design and website, a wider range of management consulting services offered, and the introduction of a quality management system.