Small and mid-sized companies stand for German quality, continuity, and innovation. Yet most people don’t know them. Insight into Germany’s best-kept secret for job seekers.

Germany is known for companies like Siemens, BMW, and Bayer. But its vast swath of smaller, privately run companies is really the soul of the economy. It may be the job market’s best-kept secret. These so-called Mittelstand companies offer many career opportunities yet barely register with job seekers.

Take Trumpf. Located in a remote town in the Stuttgart suburbs, it’s a hidden champion for sure. The typical Mittelstand company is family-owned and often family -operated, has no more than 50 million euros in revenues and 500 employees at the very most.

Trumpf employs more than 11,000, and it’s the second-largest machine-tool maker in the world. Yet it’s still got that Mittelstand mentality. Family-run, it preaches stable growth, high-quality products, and loyalty to its workforce. So much, in fact, that it’s overcome strict labor laws to develop one of Germany’s most flexible workplaces.

What’s more, Trumpf still keeps a low profile, as many Mittelstand groups do. "Is that related to Donald Trump?" a master’s student from Berlin asked at a conference when he heard the name. Indeed, just 1.5 percent of German engineering students polled by Trendence, a Berlin employment research group, rank Trumpf as their favorite.

Founded in 1923, Trumpf produces high-tech machine tools, laser technology, and electronics. Heads of companies such as Siemens refer to it as a model modern workplace. That’s because Trumpf’s CEO took on Germany’s infamously strong labor unions and rigid traditions to create flexible companies and career tracks alike.

Trumpf now wins business awards and recognition for its innovative company environment. Yet that news tends not to get far beyond Stuttgart suburbia. And Trumpf’s dilemma isn’t unique.

Wilhelm Schulz GmbH doesn’t appear in any popularity scale worldwide. In the tiny town of Krefeld, it produces specialized tubes and pipes for the oil and gas industry, operating under the name Spezialglühbetrieb. That’s not exactly sexy terminology, and even Germans have trouble figuring out what it means.

This article was excerpted from ZEIT Germany 1/2017.

Yet American business magnate Warren Buffett, one of the world’s most successful investors, took note. He snapped up Wilhelm Schulz in January 2017 for an undisclosed sum. He also acquired Detlev Louis, a familyrun motorcycle apparel retailer in Hamburg.

Perhaps Warren Buffett has recognized what many job seekers have not: that companies like Trumpf and Wilhelm Schulz are to thank for Germany’s economic success. A whole 99.6 percent of German companies are small or mid- sized, accounting for nearly 60 percent of jobs nationwide, according to the Institut für Mittelstands forschung, a think tank based in Bonn.

Mittelstand job opportunities are vast. That is, if you know where to look. A recent survey by the National Association of German Cooperative Banks and DZ Bank found that 26.7 percent of all mid-sized companies planned to increase personnel within the next six months. Only 6.5 percent envisaged downsizing, according to the survey.

For job seekers with strong IT skills, prospects are particularly strong in chemicals, plastics, and electronics fields.

Building contractor Leonhard Weiss, founded in 1900 in Göppingen, isn’t far from Trumpf’s Ditzingen headquarters. It targets young professionals by advertising "freedom, flat hierarchies and also a stake in the company’s operating result."

Yet the company is just as proud of its dedication to current employees. Company materials stress an emphasis on internal promotion. In March 2017, it even paid tribute to a 50-year veteran of the company in a detailed press release.

Leonhard Weiss didn’t include the employee’s name. That might just be the Mittelstand’s problem: delivering quality and continuity while avoiding the spotlight at all costs.

Translation: Maria Retter