Adlatus is a Swiss organisation founded in 1982. They support companies and private individuals in all kinds of business affairs, making the organisation a great contact for young entrepreneurs. Their speciality is not only their knowledge, but the experience they bring to the table: All 400 members of Adlatus are retired business people.
I met Robert Fuchs (68), the regional director of Aargau/Solothurn, for an interview.
Mr. Fuchs, how did you feel the day you retired?
I felt great! I began to do the housework, because my wife still had a job at that time.
But then you joined Adlatus. Two years ago you were elected as the regional director. That doesn’t seem like a normal retirement to me.
Well, I cannot imagine just letting go of everything I like. There are so many things to do and so many questions still left to answer!
It looks like a cool job you’ve got here. How do I become a member of Adlatus?
First of all, you have to be retired. Second, you have to be very good at what you do. After that, it is not very different than in the not-retired working world: You go through an application procedure. And you have to agree with our philosophy: We help people with our knowledge, but we don’t add money to our pension funds. We can expense our office supplies – but that’s it.
So can I use Adlatus for free?
No. Every consultant arranges client-specific fees for their work. Therefore, when a company makes a profit, they pay more than someone who hasn’t been as financially successful. This gives us the liberty to work with some clients for free, like we might do when their debts are getting too high.
What do you say to people who want to build a start-up, but it’s clear to you that they can’t run a company?
I have got one fatal flaw: I’m very honest.
But, I guess not everyone agrees with your opinion.
Right. But, you know, time works in my favor. Sooner or later, they will understand what I meant.
What personality traits do I need to successfully run a start-up?
You just have to be an entrepreneur. Shear will and stamina are the most important keys to your success. Working in your spare time and knowing that you won’t earn any money for a whole year are the issues you must be prepared to face.
Talking about money: How much money should I have before I start building my company?
That is up to you. The amount of money you need to pay your life for one year is the minimum. That’s why the business plan is very important in the beginning.
Why is that?
Until you have done the work to write it, you simply don’t know your start-up the way you should. I’m not talking about a hundred page document – twenty are enough. But in that plan, you define your goal and how you want to reach it. You analyse your competitors and give yourself a deadline by which you have to earn your first profits. If you can’t stick to your deadline – stop your business.
Based on this requirement, we won’t start our consulting at Adlatus if you can’t show us your business plan. But of course, we can also help you create it if you need help.
Starting a new company means, as you said, investing a lot of time. That produces psychological stress. Do you have to play therapist from time to time?
Oh yes. Let me tell you a story: We had a man and his company who hadn’t had any orders for a long time. But still, he went to work every morning, so his wife wouldn’t know. He just read books while she thought he was at work. As the debts got higher, he asked us to help him. And we did. He was too embarrassed to tell his wife – we had to do it. So yes: We are therapists, too.
What are the most common reasoning errors young entrepreneurs make?
They don’t think things through. Sometimes they don’t even know the laws that govern their business. My advice is that everyone should attend a course about how to launch a start-up before they actually start planning. That way, they will see that you have to think about insurance, you have to decide what kind of company structure suits you and so on. It doesn’t happen with just a great idea!
Are more men or more women seeking counselling with Adlatus?
These days, it is an even split. A few years ago, there were less women.
But the members of Adlatus are predominantly men…
That’s the sad truth. I really appreciate working with women. They just have an extraordinary way of thinking. Compared to the male way of thinking, they are cross-linked, they consider social aspects and mostly, they think things out more thoroughly. But don’t ask me why. And of course, not all women do so – some of them are the opposite, just like some men. But I have learned a lot from women.
Does Switzerland offer enough good conditions to begin a start-up?
Definitely. There are so many opportunities! You can get the basic information you need at almost every corner.
Some people say that you have to launch a few companies before you create a successful one.
That is not true. I know many friends whose best company was the first one. And in my case, none of my companies failed.
Social media presence is very important these days. How can Adlatus help start-ups in that area?We don’t do that ourselves. We have a few partner companies we work with – especially for social media. They know this stuff much better and are much younger (laughs). And of course, they are faster, and therefore cheaper than we are in creating a website. So it also makes economically.
What happens when your clients don’t need your support any longer?
Mostly we just keep in touch. We meet for dinner or lunch and we talk about their work and other stuff. The contacts are very personal, it is not just a business relationship. And of course, we recommend them to others when it makes sense.
What kind of company should I start building these days?
It depends on your personality type and the working environment you want to create. In general, I would say that you’d have the most success with a company that has a high specification in one sector.
How does leadership today compare to what it was 30 years ago?
The hierarchies are much flatter. The boss doesn’t give orders anymore, he talks to his employees. Overall, communication has become much more important. And that is a very positive change to me.
When will you launch your next start-up?
I really like it when a company has stalled and I get it to move again. But I won’t build new start-ups anymore. There are other things I want to do during my retirement (laughs).
Robert Fuchs began his career with an apprenticeship as an electrician. Later on, he began to study. Soon he managed a Europe-wide bureau. He led hundreds of people, founded numerous firms and says about himself: “Carrying a business is the only thing I can do.” He retired eight years ago. During this time he, as a member of Adlatus, took over a company for five years, because they couldn’t find a successor for the former boss.