Wolfgang Hohl has been working in the field of auditing, tax consulting, legal advice, insolvency services and business advisory services with Franz Reißner Treuhandgesellschaft mbH for the past 35 years.
Wolfgang Hohl started his career at Franz Reißner Treuhandgesellschat mbH in 1977. A few years later, he completed his exams to become a Tax Consultant and a Public Auditor. In 1980 he became the CEO of Franz Reißner Treuhandgesellschaft mbH. Since then, he has continuously developed Franz Reißner Treuhandgesellschaft mbH and the FRTG Group.
Wolfgang Hohl is a tireless entrepreneur and creative financial services professional who has spent his career breathing new life into distressed companies while giving bankrupt businesspeople the chance to start over.
He is an unashamed workaholic, always takes his laptop on summer and winter breaks (his holiday home is close to Cannes in the South of France) and uses his hobbies as an extension of his business pursuits, including golf and running a fusion restaurant called Karl’s in Dusseldorf.
When Wolfgang first started at FRTG Group in the early 1970s, he could never have imagined that some 50-odd years later he would own the firm, operate as host of other businesses and employ his entire family to help him run those various enterprises.
As another string to his bow, Wolfgang can also boast that he was one of the first financial tax and restructuring experts to cross over to East Germany shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall to help rehabilitate bankrupt state- run businesses.
“I started at the business full time in 1977 and bought 30% of the shares of FRTG.”, Wolfgang says. “I was not long out of university and had been working there during summer holidays for a few years, so I already knew how things were run. By 1984 I had acquired over 50% of the shares in the company. Later I took over all the other shares as my partner admitted that he was not really a businessman – just an accountant.”
Wolfgang admits his entrepreneurialism seemed to come naturally from the start.
After he took on a full time role, he’d already devised his business model, which was to focus on distressed businesses, analyse back office operations, discover the parts that were worth saving and get to know the business owners. Very often the CEOs would be eager to restructure or start afresh and would need skilled help, something Wolfgang was prepared to give them.
“I’ve always been more like an entrepreneur, taking over businesses, helping them to grow again,” Wolfgang says. “That involves a lot of restructuring work. The business model is to make an intervention plan and work with what I call the living clients (as opposed to the dead ones – metaphorically speaking – who aren’t worth saving). That intervention plan can involve starting the business over again, finding different partners and even helping to look for new clients.
“I’ve always been more like an entrepreneur, taking over businesses, helping them to grow again”
“We rely essentially on the entrepreneurial spirit of the people that we’re getting involved with – even when they are bankrupt. I’d say our business is generally 50% distressed companies and 50% normal tax and accounting work.”
Working at the coalface
While Wolfgang has built FRTG from a small entity into business with more than 200 staff in offices across different cities in Germany, he still does a lot of the critical work himself:
“When you start as a small firm, you have to have the overview of everything. Once you grow, you have a lot of people to deal with as your client list grows. And a lot of these clients have been with me for many years. I do everything and will continue to work like that until my son Peter any my daughter Andrea are trained to take over from me.”
He admits it’s often as much a journey for himself as it is for his clients: “It’s almost like you go on the journey with them. So they could have been distressed businesses, even bankrupt. But even with a bankruptcy, you’ll often be working with the entrepreneurs to become successful again. And with the businesses that I’ve sold, I often end up looking after their journey ahead for them as well, with the new owners.
“It’s really never ending. We create the liquidity plans, build the tax structures, and help them develop going into the future. But it’s not just the business. Much of this is about the people behind the business. That’s what I’m looking for first. I convince them that they are in good hands. I have a client for the long term.”
Winning business on the golf course
Wolfgang sources most of his business through receivers, often over a game of golf. These individuals are mostly receivers for up to 1,000 firms, which then become his clients. Wolfgang then positions himself in the background, putting a microscope on the business. He believes it’s a long way from the UK insolvency world, for instance. “We’re not administrators simply winding up businesses,” he says. “I’ve worked with UK insolvency professionals and often there’s no effort whatsoever to restructure anything. They just become the administrators and they wind companies up.”
FRTG will look at any business and has no focus on any sector, although Wolfgang says the firm has carried out a lot of work in pharma, steel and the automotive industry. There’s also often a significant cross-border element to the work, particularly if the parent company has been liquidated but the subsidiary in Germany is still trading. Inevitably, this often results in a lot of time on the road.
“I travel everywhere,” Wolfgang says. “I spend a lot of time in China, for example. I have a client who has subsidiary in the Kunming. I was asked to do the due diligence when he acquired the partner in the joint venture.
“I’ve also spent a lot of time in the US. It can become very complex doing business there, depending on which state the business is based. The Eastern hemisphere is completely different to the Western hemisphere – almost like two different countries. In some states it’s a totally different culture where you might have 50% of the people speaking Spanish.”
Over the Berlin Wall
For Wolfgang it’s ironic that some of the most challenging cross-border work he’s done in his career was within Germany itself – or rather in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), otherwise known as East Germany, then a separate entity to West Germany. He was hired to work in the jurisdiction shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. He hadn’t realised how different the culture was in the GDR.
“For the future I’m integrating my children into the business. I asked them if they wanted to sell the company at some point after I retire, but they all want to continue to work for it.”
“Everyone including businesspeople were completely different,” he says. “They were educated in a completely different way, focused on Russia. When the Democratic Republic fell apart, the economic situation was a disaster. It was essentially a bankrupt state, and I went in there to see what could be done with some of the big state-run companies. I had a lot of experience in restructuring by that time, but also learned a huge amount in the GDR.”
Wolfgang admits that as an entrepreneur he could see big business opportunities as the country started to open up to the West: “I chose to see the chances that had suddenly opened up. Most businesses were big firms, totally bankrupt. We had to go to different locations in the GDR to see how these enterprises worked, what they are producing, who was doing the payroll services, the bookkeeping, what the financials were etc? It was a huge task, but fascinating. Virtually every company in the GDR was distressed. I was part of the process of selling these entities. It was a long process to prepare the firms before we could sell them.”
“When the Democratic Republic fell apart, the economic situation was a disaster. It was essentially a bankrupt state, and I went in there to see what could be done with some of the big state-run companies.”
Back to the future
Back in Dusseldorf 2022, Wolfgang and FRTG Group has been joined by his family – wife, three daughters and son. All have a role to play in continuing to make the business a success: “For the future I’m integrating my children into the business. I asked them if they wanted to sell the company at some point after I retire, but they all want to continue to work for it.”
Wolfgang also set up another enterprise more recently: “I have a lot of ideas and we also have a business that has nothing to do with audit and tax. It’s called FRGT Holding AG. Within this company, we have a lot of other businesses focused on areas such as Real Estate. My wife runs this enterprise.”
I ask: “So your wife is an entrepreneur like you?”
Wolfgang laughs: “Even more than me. She is in the office for a minimum of 8 hours a day. Very often we will dine in our restaurant after work – and, of course, invite clients to join us. The restaurant is a hobby, but we like to do business there as well.”