Lückertz, Schlagheck and ReiseArt merge agilely
nc360° Interview with Managing Director Ralf Trilsbeek
// Agility, Corporate Culture
In 2020, the Corona epidemic radically hit the travel industry. Almost all trips were cancelled, new contracts were no longer concluded and only with the help of emergency government aid were the travel agencies able to prevent the immediate end. The three Lufthansa City Center travel agencies ReiseArt, Lückertz and Schlagheck from Münsterland had already been negotiating a stronger cooperation before Corona, but now the catastrophic market situation accelerated their plans and since April 2022 they have been united under the brand "reiseart". The change consultants from noventum consulting have been accompanying the merger process and the establishment of internal structures and communication of the new company with agile methods since August 2021. In an interview, managing director Ralf Trilsbeek (formerly of ReiseArt) reports on the remarkable process.
Mergers are a standard process and every merger is different
All three merger candidates had already been operating successfully as Lufthansa City Centers for many years and had cooperated extensively in individual cases, e.g. Schlagheck and ReiseArt in the business travel segment.
Major challenges of the merger arose from the fact that Schlagheck (65 years), Lückertz (95 years) and ReiseArt (26 years) were companies with an extensive history and grown structures, which they brought to the merger. Company history - that means customer relationships, travel products, work focus and last but not least, evolved operational structures and working relationships. Despite similar business models, profound coordination and convergence were necessary for the merger in order to jointly develop a profile for the future.
"For every travel agency today, it is important to have its own exclusive portfolio in addition to brokering standardised third-party offers in order to have a future," Ralf Trilsbeek is convinced. "Finding out who can do what best, which processes will best support the future company and what should distinguish us as a joint company were the central questions at the beginning of our merger talks. The current size of the company allows us to serve all major segments professionally. In everything we offer, we have to compete with specialists in the market. This works much better in our current structure. "
The decision to merge was made as early as November 2020, and in April 2022 the three travel companies (thwarted only by Corona) announced the completion of their merger to the public. Since then, the traditional brands Reisebüro Lückertz and Reisebüro Schlagheck have stood for personal travel advice with more than 100 employees at a total of 7 locations in Münster and the Münsterland. The regular reiseart newsletters in the Lufthansa City Center CI support the external appearance and clarify the merger for the customers of all three predecessor companies. The brand reiseart combines the business travel activities, but also stands for incentives & events and, with a new homepage, for its own and exclusive topics.
Herkules Project Fusion
In order to promote concrete cooperation in addition to the legal and commercial merger, the managing directors Laura Brokamp (formerly Schlagheck), Matthias Lückertz and Ralf Trilsbeek engaged the consultants from noventum consulting. The aim was to restructure the three companies under one roof in a participatory way and to develop a sustainable organisational model. The focus was on harmonising working methods and strengthening cohesion. It was also about bringing together three stories of successful companies. "Each of us has successfully managed his or her company and yet we all had to question ourselves and put our respective views into perspective. Neutral guidance was important for this process," Ralf Trilsbeek is convinced.
A two-day initial workshop in August 2021 set the process in motion. In addition to the management, other key players from all business areas took part in the workshop, so that in the end 16 employees from three companies were able to participate in the concrete design of the future cooperation. Some of the participants only got to know each other at this workshop, which took place in an external location and was facilitated by noventum.
After a detailed discussion of a "change statement", challenges of the future company and weaknesses were identified with the eigenland method. The literally "playful" approach of this method initially caused astonishment among some participants. However, this quickly turned into enthusiasm. The issues identified were translated into fields of action that determined the merger work in the following months.
- the implementation of uniform internal communication methods and tools (TEAMS)
- Setting up a shared wiki (where is what information?)
- The cleansing and merging of CRM data
- The establishment of an idea box for all employees
- Planning and establishing communication measures in the company (e.g. monthly Townhall Meeting, staff newsletter)
- the implementation of employee surveys
»I didn't expect the impulse that the workshop with noventum was supposed to set to have such a lasting effect. With his inimitable manner, Uwe Rotermund threw the right spark on the right pile and thus triggered a great energy. Far beyond the original fusion team, there is a great willingness in the company to work on concrete improvements.«
Continue working with agile methods
Since the workshop with noventum, reiseart's internal merger process has been oriented towards agile organisational and communication principles. Transparency, reflection and continuous adjustments should determine the process.
A Kanban board was set up for the central fusion team and the tasks were processed step by step in weekly and retrospective meetings over the following months. Kanban boards were also set up in the Tourism, Own Events, IT & Orga and Corporate Incentives departments and cross-departmental exchange was promoted.
An important feature of the eigenland method, as well as agile methods in general, is that employees can actively participate in decision-making on important issues, regardless of their hierarchical position in the company. "When we finished our collection and analysis, we were faced with more than 30 small and large tasks. It was amazing how quickly each task found an "owner" who felt responsible and accountable. All the workshop participants took action individually or in small teams and thus made our fusion their own concern," Ralf Trilsbeek remembers the motivating atmosphere of the workshop.
The colleagues then carried the shared good experience and motivation into their areas. At times, up to 60 people were actively involved in one aspect of the merger or another. "Adhering to the agile principles even after the workshop and seeing how the status of the individual projects is in monthly half-day reviews despite the heavy daily workload was exhausting, but very good," Ralf Trilsbeek is convinced. "These meetings contribute significantly to mutual understanding, even across departmental boundaries, and always bring home the fact that the merger is our common theme."
noventum consultant Rabea Wolters accompanied the process and was able to conclude together with the reiseart managers at the end of April that a good basis for further cooperation had been created: "The reiseart integration project will of course continue and new tasks will certainly arise in the future. But the agile mode is established and the new team is very energetic." And all this while the day-to-day business is still going on, because the tourism industry has of course been buzzing again for a long time.