Jonathan Kümmerle was already launching his own projects when he was still at school. One thing they all had in common is that they were comprehensively sustainable. While looking for a professional practice partner on his “Rethinking economics” degree course at Alanus University of Arts and Social Sciences, he came upon Neuguss. The resulting relationship has continued and remains fruitful – on both sides – to this day. The practice partnership scheme is a long-standing collaboration programme between Neuguss and Alanus University of Arts and Social Sciences, and includes two bursaries at the start of each degree course.
Together with his partners, Jonathan now runs the company Himmel un Ääd, which delivers organic food by bike from regional producers straight to customers’ doorsteps. He also advises companies such as Neuguss on questions relating to sustainability.
You came across Neuguss during your “Rethinking economics” degree course at Alanus University of Arts and Social Sciences in Alfter. Can you tell us how it all happened?
Since school I had an avid interest in questions relating to management and organisational structures, but a conventional business administration degree course was just not for me. Searching for a suitable place to study, I became aware of Alanus University of Arts and Social Sciences in Alfter. My main reason for choosing Alfter rather than other universities with similar degree courses was the three-year-long professional practice partnership that Alanus University of Arts and Social Sciences offers as part of this degree course.
It was while I was researching practice partners on the scheme that I stumbled across the Neuguss Group, whose concept I consider to be extremely sustainable. Initially I was a little sceptical as to whether a company such as STOCKMAR could offer enough suitable projects to benefit my practical experience, because of its size – though STOCKMAR is globally active, it is also very small. But my doubts were allayed as soon as I spoke to them. Ultimately, this incredibly sincere feeling of togetherness made me commit to being “in a relationship with” STOCKMAR for the next three years.
Which projects did you get involved with at STOCKMAR?
One of the main projects would be the “True Cost Accounting” project, implementing a form of cost accounting that incorporates consequential costs for society as a whole – in other words environmental and social costs – into accounting. As time went on, I also became involved in the Common Good Balance Sheet process, which STOCKMAR had just begun to implement, and was able to develop and support various workshops and projects.
How did you find collaboration there?
As I mentioned above, there was a really excellent working atmosphere, and working together on problems and projects makes you so much more effective. One slightly unusual aspect was that right from the start, I was given the space to work on my own initiative. This freedom means an unbelievable amount of creative scope, but it can also be very stressful. Sometimes I would spend four weeks working alone. Though personally I found this very easy to cope with and used the time to good effect, for example to gain a better insight into production, it certainly wouldn’t suit everyone.
During the last two practical experience phases, I felt that I had just about gone as far as I could. I wanted to do something new, and I was actually able to say so to Inke (Kruse, Managing Director of STOCKMAR). By this point I felt we could speak to each another as equals; that I was seen as someone with ability and full of questions, and someone who was taken seriously.
This practice partnership is deliberately not linked to the offer of a position after you have completed the course. It’s about “learning from one another”, and also letting you find your own way. What did you take away with you from this time, especially with regard to other projects, or your own?
It’s important be clearly understand that there is a huge chasm between theory and practice, so this practical experience was really important for that. Along with theoretical knowledge and information, feelings and experience are also key considerations. I gained significant insight, and was also able to see transparency and openness in action, especially when addressing critical problems. I got so much out of it!
Particularly with regard to the company I now run, for me it was essential to look at the interplay between leadership and work, and to consider the question of how leadership works. How did management work? Again, I learned so much from them, especially Inke. I actually believe that both sides benefitted from our relationship, and I also think I was able to provide input and ideas for transformation – though Inke had to (and still has to) put up with my youthful impatience. But it’s obviously important and useful for a company that their staff can provide lots of different views on the same problem. After my practical experience there ended, I was able to set up a workshop and cultural day for STOCKMAR, and I’m already planning projects with Neuguss for 2022. Granted, STOCKMAR and Neuguss are both old hands, with a total of 150 years under their belt, but they’re still capable of developing really cool projects, and it’s noticeable that other companies are also keen on getting involved with this way of working with one another.
How do you see your future and what will it take to get there?
In terms of business management for my projects, there are still a few things I’d like to change. The financial pressure is very much palpable, so that’s not “doing business differently” enough for me. I don’t want to work less at all, absolutely not, but I want to work differently. I’d really like to develop my own products and be able to look deeper into questions surrounding the feasibility of development projects. I would like to bring people in the region together even more.
However such innovation projects, the genuinely cool things, require available cashflow, because the pressure to stay profitable always weighs heavy. And nothing truly innovative can be produced under pressure.