Climbing the stairs hidden behind the small door between Steffen's butcher shop and his restaurant, Frank's Table, one arrives at the family business' offices. Two buildings that were once separate, but which the young CEO (for "chief entrecôte officer"), Tom Steffen, knows well. "We grew up in the building above the butcher shop. We ate every lunchtime with the staff," he recalls.
He welcomes us there, accompanied by his sister, Lisa Steffen, who is ten years his junior. She has just joined the company founded by their father in 1989. From the first butcher's shop in Steinfort, the group has grown to five. And it has transformed itself by adding curing, catering and restaurant activities, employing around 200 people and exceeding a turnover of €20 million by 2018.
Learning to surf
"The moment Lisa joins us is somewhat similar to a situation I experienced in 2009," recalls Tom Steffen. After studying hotel and restaurant management at the Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon, he completed a number of internships between 2006 and 2008. "Normally, it was planned that I would do other external experiences. But we had a discussion with my father who told me: 'there is a major crisis. If you want to learn to surf, there are waves.
So he joined him, first as operations manager, before moving on to general management. Today, with the Covid-19 crisis, "it's a bit of a rebound," he smiles. Lisa Steffen finished her hotel studies in Switzerland in February 2021, during which she was able to do some internships in London and Paris. On 1 May, she joined the family group. Both agree on one thing: this is not the easy choice, contrary to what many think.
After high school, Lisa Steffen considered becoming a psychologist. She hesitated, wanted to take some time to think about it, and went abroad for six months. She finally interviewed for the hotel school in the Indonesian jungle. "Everyone had to cut their internet connection," she recalls. Seeing her "passionate" father and then her brother enter the business motivated her decision to get involved in "a family business in a field that [she] is passionate about."
A challenge to meet
"One might be led to believe that this is the simplest choice. It might be the most obvious choice. But when it comes to the challenge, you soon discover that it's not," adds her older brother, aged 35. "It's an opportunity, I'm not going to hide from it. That I can, by my behaviour, honour or not." He also notes a boundless dedication. "It's something I'm passionate about to the point where I don't see it as professional if from 11pm to 2am there's an idea I can't get out of my head."
He says of his choice: "For me, a bit like Lisa, it's an environment I've always worked in - my holidays washing dishes, curing [meat]... It allows you to experience that corporate life from a young age." He did think about architecture in high school, but from the very first technical drawing classes, "I quickly realised that I liked architecture more than architecture liked me," he jokes.
One might be led to believe that this is the simplest choice. It may be the most obvious choice. But in terms of challenge, it is not.
Frank Steffen sees two of his children joining the company. This is a source of pride, even though he "never forced them". "We were free," says his daughter. Before he chose this path, Tom Steffen says he was even drowning in architecture books. "He just wanted his children to succeed, in any field. Their sister, Anne, took a different path and works for a jeweller in Switzerland. "It was never an option to come into the business without studying," adds Lisa Steffen.
At the moment, she accompanies her brother in meetings to understand all the departments, in addition to her tasks as project manager. "It is this understanding of the company's life that will eventually make it possible for us to have a first name in addition to our family name," explains Tom Steffen. This is mainly passed on from brother to sister, after father to son. Frank Steffen had to take a step back from the day-to-day business after a fall in mid-2020.
Management without ego
The aim will be to share the management between brother and sister: "We are very complementary. I'm a pragmatic person, whereas Lisa has a value that I always try to draw on, she works very much from the heart."
Regarding the transmission of the capital, "it's my father who will determine it, because it's his heritage. We don't have a fixed timeline. For me, it's not possible to have someone who contributes a lot to the intangible asset, but who from a material point of view doesn't have his proper share of the cake. The fact that I have been with the company since 2009 and Lisa since 2021 makes no difference. There is no ego thing."
Lisa has a value that I try to emulate, she works very much from the heart.
While the second generation is gradually taking over, it may seem early to talk about the third. Lisa and Anne Steffen have no children, Tom Steffen has two daughters, aged five years and ten months. "I don't see this project as an end in itself. I've never thought about selling. If my daughters or Lisa's children, or even my sister Anne's children, want to be happy in the business, then so be it. If they don't, they won't." A freedom of choice, again, well passed on.