interviews Ulrich Buchholz and Herbert Höckel

Portraits of AMR's founder Ulrich Buchholz and current Managing director Herbert Hoeckel
Düsseldorf, 30.06.2022

On 20 June 2022, Ulrich Buchholz (founder of AMR – Advanced Market Research) and Herbert Höckel (managing director of AMR) gave an interview to the industry portal The occasion was the handover of the management last year. So after 41 years of AMR you are now retired. What is your personal view of this long history? 

Ulrich Buchholz: Yes, 41 years is a long time, and I can look back on it with pleasure and satisfaction. They were exciting, varied and always highly interesting tasks in which we – that is, my team and I – grew every day and which we carried out with great passion and pleasure. 

The numerous social contacts, acquaintances and even friendships that I was able to make with colleagues and clients worldwide are also beautiful and very valuable. 

And as far as my industry of market research is concerned: with an open eye and mind, it is simply inspiring to have witnessed and sometimes even helped shape the various developments, be it the small evolutions or the larger revolutions in the market research industry. Market research can be described as a very vibrant industry that keeps reinventing itself over the years and I am proud to have been part of it for so long. How did it come about that you placed the management of AMR in the hands of an ex-employee?

Ulrich Buchholz: First of all, I would like to state that Herbert Höckel was not only a former employee of AMR, but has been a friend of the company and also of me personally for decades. Basically, he has always been part of the family!

But equally important is the following: Herbert is an exceptionally accomplished and therefore also successful market researcher. As the owner and managing director of his own institute for many years, he is characterised by his special passion and also empathy towards his team and clients. In addition, he has always been a proven methodological expert. So what better successor could I have wished for? Herbert, what was your first thought when you were approached by Ulrich Buchholz?

Herbert Höckel: Ulrich and I have always had a very good and close relationship. Moreover, AMR and moweb Research have been cooperating very closely since the beginning. But I have to admit: I was really surprised! And at the same time I felt very honoured. Nevertheless, I had to give myself some time to think about it.

Then I did some quick calculations [laughs] and said to myself: two companies are more than one company. Managing two teams is different from “just” managing one team. It’s not only more complex, it also means a lot more work. But I later decided in favour of the offer and now I know: The right decision! After a good six months, both institutes have already grown together considerably and I am looking forward to a joint and successful future. The market research industry has been increasingly consolidating since 2020. Why didn’t you sell AMR? Then retirement might have been even more relaxed.

Ulrich Buchholz: Excuse me [pauses briefly], but I already don’t like the word retirement. That’s more something for popes. I will remain closely connected to AMR in the future, as a shareholder, as an advisor, but also in day-to-day business. I am happy to offer my advice to Herbert at any time. Together with Simon Chadwick from Cambiar and Reinhold Barchet, who joined us from McKinsey, we support Herbert in strategic decisions.

Herbert Höckel has long been an initiator of and for innovative processes, and in this way he constantly provides new and, above all, noticeable impulses in day-to-day business. In addition, far-sighted adjustments are more important than ever in this age of digital transformation, and I now know that AMR is in capable hands.

I answer your question about purchase offers with a clear: Yes, there were and there still are even! As a specialised, international institute focused on CATI in the B2B segment, AMR has worked hard to gain the reputation of a hidden champion and sees itself as a niche provider, which understandably arouses the covetousness of many competitors overall.

Nevertheless, I decided on the current path because I wanted to place the sustainable further development and growth of the company in trusted hands. By the way, I am thinking not least of AMR’s employees. Their future is a matter close to my heart. How far along are AMR and moweb in terms of joint market and product strategy? Can we expect new services?

Herbert Höckel: Yes, of course we have been working on the common strategic direction for a long time, but [folds his hands] I would ask for a little patience. Because as the saying goes: »Good things come to those who wait« and we are sticking to that. The merger of two companies requires a lot of tact, careful planning and a little time.

What I can already announce: We are developing a whole new approach to the mixed-mode method. Strictly following the concept of Customer Centricity, we not only collect and deliver better and more useful data for our clients, but also ensure an enhanced experience for the respondents in the sense of “Survey Experience (SX)”.There are not only two equally ranked companies working on a common path here, there are also two teams with absolute experts in their respective segments. With the best of both worlds, we are now creating real added value for our respective clients.

And by the way: Our customers are already reacting very positively to our development and confirm the meaningfulness of the new cooperation. AMR has been around since 1981, but in recent years it has been comparatively quiet. Is your appointment also linked to the idea of bringing the institute back into the industry’s consciousness?

Herbert Höckel: Absolutely! That is also my mission! But you have to look at it in a more differentiated way. It is actually only relatively quiet here in Germany. Outside our borders, AMR has always recorded healthy growth and has a very good standing both in the USA, the other EU countries and also in Asia.

We will use succeet 2022 in Munich in October as a kick-off for joint marketing activities, including an AMR-moweb stand where we will inform about the combined offer. Interested readers are cordially invited to visit us: In Hall 1, Stand 100. That’s probably not very hard to remember [laughs]. Mixed-mode approaches are widespread, but there are comparatively few projects with combinations of methods in the quanti field. Instead, many clients now decide on a case-by-case basis how “representative” the field needs to be. In which areas do you see potential for more mixed-mode research?

Herbert Höckel: First of all, what do you mean by »how representative«? There is no such thing. A study is either representative or it is not. From a purely professional perspective, you have to approach clients in such cases in a friendly but self-confident manner, because our most important currency is and remains trust. And trust comes from quality. I consider it extremely problematic to wave a study design through as “good enough” in case of doubt. Because the rule is “rubbish in – rubbish out”. We do not compromise on quality!
On the potential for mixed-mode research: In general, I see the accessibility and participation of test persons as a weighty problem for future market research. But we are already working on this and can already report amazing progress.

A test person we reach by phone can be offered the survey link by e-mail if he or she wishes. Or, conversely, an online participant can dial in to a toll-free hotline if they prefer a face-to-face conversation. In any case, we clearly recognise that a significant proportion of respondents like to »switch« the survey method. At the very least, we should aggressively offer the option.

By the way, we are currently working on innovative combinations of online and telephone methods (CAWI/CATI). Just one small example: Within the CAWI process, we recruit an active participant directly for a »telephone in-depth interview«. Our experiments in this direction are already yielding promising findings, which we will be happy to share as soon as we can draw valid conclusions. Apart from the synergy potentials mentioned, are there plans for the long-term merger of the two companies?

Herbert Höckel: Yes, there are. But I refer to my previous statement that we still need time for such far-reaching internal planning. Before the public learns about it, we will first involve our customers in such processes anyway, because it is only for them that we work every day. So it will take some time before any decisions are ready to be made, and I am sure you will understand that. What are your plans for (un)retirement? What projects are on your agenda for the future?

Ulrich Buchholz: So, … [leans back] first of all, I will have more time for my family as well as for literature, classical music and sports. In addition, after two years of Corona abstinence, my wife and I are looking forward to more frequent visits to concerts and the theatre again. I go swimming every day and enjoy cycling extensively.

As I said, I remain on AMR’s advisory board and even that is not infrequently a real challenge – so many new ideas and plans that Herbert regularly puts on the table! [laughs] I also continue to look beyond the end of my nose on a regular basis, not least thanks to my investments as a business angel in several start-ups. These young companies all deal with ambitious topics for the future and are both a challenge and an exciting broadening of my horizons.

And that’s how it should stay, so instead of a single large project, I prefer to commit to many smaller projects.

On Ulrich Buchholz:
After studying social sciences and social philosophy in Paris, Ulrich Buchholz worked as an assistant at the Chair of Politics and Social Philosophy. After the foundation of AMR in 1981, he was temporarily at the same time Managing Partner of Forsa, Gesellschaft für Sozialforschung. Since then, Ulrich Buchholz has spent decades building AMR into a renowned international social, political and market research company.

On Herbert Höckel:
Herbert Höckel began his career at AMR: from 1994 to the end of 2003 he worked as a Research Director in the team. In 2004, he went into business for himself and founded mo’web research, an institute for digital market research. Since then, he has written a book on the Customer Centricity Mindset, is a coach for marketing and market research topics and a speaker at professional events. Herbert Höckel has been working for AMR again since mid-2021: As Managing Director, he is responsible for the management of the company.