Constantin Conrad (MBA-18) and Charlotte Conrad Palermo (PMD-23) share their experiences as third-generation leaders of the Leschaco Group, a global logistics service provider with operations in 24 countries and €1.2 billion in annual revenues.
The origins of our family business date back to the late 1940s, when our grandfather Herbert Conrad joined Lexzau Scharbau as an apprentice. Based in Hamburg, the company was founded in 1879 by Wilhelm Lexzau and Julius Scharbau as a shipping operation.
Herbert ended up spending his entire career at the company, climbing the ranks from apprentice to general manager and partner. He also forged close ties with the owner families, which had no successors during his tenure.
When it came time for the founders to pass the baton, their main concern was leaving the company with someone who would continue their legacy, and Herbert was the obvious choice. He became the sole shareholder in 1970.
Our father, Jörg, joined the family business in 1976. Sadly, his time working alongside his father lasted only ten years with Herbert’s unexpected passing in 1986. With three second-generation family members and no roadmap for succession, both the family and firm were thrown into a state of upheaval.
Jörg ultimately assumed the firm’s ownership and management in 1992, rebranding it as the Leschaco Group. While this decision offered clarity for the company, it left indelible marks that would shape future decisions.
Growing up around the family firm
The family business was a frequent topic of conversation in our childhood home. Our mother, Elke, didn’t hold an official role, yet behind the scenes she wielded significant influence.
Like our father, she never pressured us or assumed we would join the family firm, although we both knew the door was open. We were fortunate to have parents who encouraged us to explore, discover and pursue whatever piqued our intellectual curiosity.
Constantin was always drawn to the logistics sector and its global dimension, fast pace and ability to bring people together. He earned an undergraduate in logistics and shipping, and immediately joined the industry – but not at Leschaco.
He first wanted to get his feet wet outside the family firm to decide if this was where his future lay. After six successful years on the job, he was approached one day by Jörg with an “All right, Constantin, I think your experiment has run its course. You like logistics! Now it’s time to work with me!”
“All right, Constantin, I think your experiment has run its course. You like logistics! Now it’s time to work with me!”
Charlotte took a different path although with a shared interest for discovering other cultures and countries and gaining experience first outside Leschaco. After earning her undergraduate at New York University in 2016, she joined a major U.S.-based hospitality group, where she did a four-year management rotation through various departments.
Everything changed in March 2020 when the pandemic hit and the entire staff was laid off from one day to the next. The experience instilled important life lessons, while opening the door for her to join the family firm. She began leading strategic HR projects from the U.S. before moving back to Germany with her family in 2021.
Learning and leadership
IESE first entered our radar in 2016, when Constantin began looking for an MBA program. He wanted to enhance his leadership and business acumen before joining Leschaco. His experience at IESE was life-changing: not only did he earn his MBA, he met his future wife, Caroline Russo de Oliveira (MBA-18).
His years in Barcelona also planted the seeds of an amazing collaboration. In 2019, the Leschaco team worked with IESE Custom Programs to develop a solid strategic plan and explore new avenues for growth. While its timing was coincidental, the program left the company better equipped to navigate the operational challenges of Covid-19.
Planning for succession
Our parents were committed to ensuring we didn’t go through the same turmoil as the previous generation following our grandfather’s death. Upon our mother’s insistence, Jörg redesigned Leschaco’s ownership structure and appointed us shareholders in 2021, when we were still in our 20s.
On paper, this decision surely seemed strange since the company was thriving and Jörg had no immediate plans of retirement. But as we all know, life is full of twists and turns: a year later, our father died suddenly after a brief illness. For both our family and Leschaco, it was an extremely painful loss that no one could have foreseen.
Our father appointed us as Leschaco shareholders in 2021 when we were still in our 20s, which probably seemed strange at the time.
Fortunately, the company was on solid ground. Jörg had already signed off on the new strategic roadmap, so everyone knew what to do and where to turn for guidance. We also counted on amazing partners and suppliers who gave us the time and space to mourn.
Thanks to their support, our father’s leadership and our parents’ foresight, we didn’t lose of our clients, key staff or banking relationships. This period also coincided with Charlotte’s participation in IESE’s Program for Management Development, which gave her a unique window to grieve and grow as a person and a leader.
In April 2022, Constantin was named CEO of Leschaco, while Charlotte leads projects to bolster its organizational development.
Following our father’s example, we will always prioritize corporate social responsibility and the well-being of our employees, customers and other stakeholders in Leschaco’s activity.
We also hope to build on our family’s people-first leadership legacy. While our grandfather, Herbert, helped build the company’s renown in Europe, our father was the driving force and key strategist behind its international expansion.
He was also a deeply caring person with a strong moral compass and profound sense of integrity and concern for others, which was why he connected so well with IESE.
Leschaco marked another milestone in 2022 when it became an IESE Partner Company.
In 2022, Leschaco marked another milestone by becoming IESE’s first Partner Company in Germany. As alumni, we felt it was important to give back, but there was more to our decision than that: just like our grandfather’s deep connection with the Lexzau and Scharbau families, our interactions with IESE have never felt like a business transaction.
At Leschaco, we each bring unique strengths and perspectives, and work really well as a team. We think the future is bright and look forward to working, growing and discovering new pathways together.