It’s a dreaded dinner party question that leaves many of us scrambling to make our mundane jobs sound more interesting than they are.
It’s also the first thing I ask Steffen Lange, the branch manager of a company called “Berliner Schrauben” (Berlin screws), when we meet at his workplace on a cold autumn morning.
“It’s all in the name,” he tells me. “Where we’re from: Berlin. And what we focus on — screws.”
But the name doesn’t quite reveal the full story. Screws account for 60 percent of turnover. Berliner Schrauben also supplies pipe fixtures, dowels, wood connectors and a range of associated tools.
It might not dazzle your dinner party guests. But it’s pretty likely to pay for the wine.
Berliner Schrauben exemplifies Germany’s “mittelstand.” The term refers to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with fewer than 500 employees and an annual turnover of no more than €50 million ($57 million). These firms are often described as the “hidden champions” behind the country’s economic success.
Chief among the characteristics associated with Germany’s SMEs is a willingness to choose a niche, stick to it and focus on slow and steady growth rather than rapid expansion.