Invest Region Leipzig GmbH

Interview with Peter Ledermann: Unite's expansion in Leipzig

We are delighted that Peter Ledermann (PL), CEO of Unite, took the time to talk to our colleague Greta Wenske (GW). Unite, formerly Mercateo, has established itself as an innovative and fast-growing company in Leipzig in recent years. Mr Ledermann gives us an insight into the development of Unite, the reasons for relocating the Munich headquarters to Leipzig, the unique business models and the corporate culture that characterise the company.

GW: Mr Ledermann, how did Unite get started in Leipzig?

PL: In 2003, my colleague Sebastian Wieser and I took over the company, then Mercateo, from the shareholders because we believed in a scalable marketplace model for business customers. From Munich, where Mercateo was founded, we fortunately found further investors in 2004 and came into contact with the Saxony-Anhalt Economic Development Agency. They told us about a wage subsidy model and that's how we became aware of the Köthen site in Saxony-Anhalt. We said that no customer would come to us in person anyway because we are active on the Internet. We also go to smaller towns and Köthen was good! So we started with the first 9 employees in Köthen and found very good people.

But in the long run, the small town of Köthen is a bit too small for a fast-growing e-commerce innovation company. That's why we decided to expand to Leipzig in 2011. Leipzig was close enough for us to retain the cultural transfer from Köthen. At the time, we were already discussing, especially in the Supervisory Board, why not Berlin. Everyone goes to Berlin. We deliberately said: No, not Berlin.

Peter Ledermann, Vorstand Unite

What we particularly liked about Leipzig was its civic DNA. Leipzig is historically a cosmopolitan trading city, culturally open. That is in the city's DNA. It has something down-to-earth and at the same time something open and innovative. And as a city, Leipzig is naturally beautiful. That suits us well, as we are also innovative, down-to-earth, culturally orientated, open and honest.

As our office in Leipzig slowly grew, Köthen and Leipzig grew equally. We have set up an internal carpooling centre in both cities to ensure communication between the locations.

GW: Unite's new headquarters recently opened - how have employees reacted to the construction of the new headquarters?

PL: It was an exciting process. One day, the opportunity arose to acquire a plot of land in the city centre to build an office building there. We don't own any property, we only rent. The constellation with OFB as the project developer came about. The city of Leipzig put the plot out to tender and we applied together with OFB as the project developer. We were eventually awarded the contract. But that was before corona. We planned the office building and that was probably quite stressful for the architects, as we always have good ideas. The building has the shape of a U. We didn't want straight corridors to avoid it looking like a typical office building. There should be meeting points where people can meet and move around. We thought about what the work might look like in 10 to 15 years' time.

Corona came, but we hardly had to change anything because our planning was also suitable for the future. When the building was finished, we realised that our architecture promotes the behaviour and culture of our employees. We have flexible room sizes, lots of retreat options and different types of meeting rooms. This also means that the principle of 'I come to my department and everyone has their own fixed place' doesn't work, otherwise we would have far too many desks. But it also means that all departments mingle in our office space. This is how we promote dialogue. We also wanted to achieve this through the architecture. The architecture should support our culture and not just be stylish.

GW: Does the concept work from your point of view?

PL: We are already noticing differences to the previous property, it is a change. But we realise that it works. A banal example: the best coffee machine is on the ground floor in the restaurant. If you want good coffee, you go there and meet others.

GW: How would you describe the corporate culture at Unite?

PL: We are open, transparent, respectful and work on an equal footing. There are no boardrooms or directors' offices, no secretariats. I find my place like everyone else. If I have a conversation that I don't want everyone to hear, I look for a space like everyone else. It's a respectful dialogue at eye level, open and honest.

Sometimes it's too cosy, but we still have to perform well because we are a commercial enterprise. What I hear from new employees is that what strikes them most is the openness. If they have a question, they get an answer or are referred to someone who can answer it.

We are transparent, we have a so-called "Hello Unite" every four weeks, where the Executive Board reports transparently to the workforce. I present the business figures for the previous month there, regardless of whether they are good or bad. Openness can also be scary if you say that the last month was bad. We are feeling the effects of the macroeconomic recession. If a company out there says we're cutting 10% of our administrative staff, we lose 10% of our customers. We're still operating profitably and with our own money, but we don't have great growth numbers. We are not shrinking, but we are feeling the effects of the overall economic situation. In times like these, it's important to remain transparent and say that's just the way it is. We are prepared to talk about the things that are not going so well.

GW: Can you tell us about the current transformations at Unite and the new business models you are implementing?

PL: Let me briefly explain our business model - we operate a B2B platform that enables buyers and suppliers to manage their business relationships efficiently and transparently. With our single creditor model, we reduce processing costs for our customers, while the platform supports sustainable business practices and compliance requirements. We also promote long-term, trust-based business relationships and supply chain resilience through our network and collaboration platform.

Due to new legal regulations and to strengthen our unique selling points, we are undergoing a transformation process. Our marketplace model follows the 80/20 rule: 20% of suppliers represent 80% of the purchasing volume. However, the marketplace separates the relationship between customer and supplier. We are neutral, do not have our own warehouses and treat all suppliers equally.

In the second part of our business model, we look at the remaining 20% that are not served via the marketplace. Here we have considered how a platform can generate added value if suppliers and customers can network. In addition to the marketplace model, we have therefore introduced the single creditor model, in which we act as a purchasing commission agent for customers. This reduces process costs and offers flexibility through mini tenders at shopping basket level. The model is attractive for major customers, SMEs and the public sector as it fulfils regional, digital and sustainable procurement requirements.

Sustainability is important to us. A certain percentage of transactions via our platform should consist of sustainable offers. Our platform optimises the shopping basket by making better economic and sustainable proposals. This is particularly relevant for public procurement and companies with compliance requirements, which are our main target group. Other functions that are important for public procurement, such as the visualisation of clusters, can also be mapped via our platform.

GW: What advice would you give to other companies considering investing in Leipzig?

PL: I can only recommend it. Leipzig is worth living in, has well-educated people, an international atmosphere and a good mix of down-to-earth and innovative. Leipzig has a cosmopolitan DNA. Even the peaceful revolution of '89 could not have taken place in any other city than Leipzig.

What companies won't find here is a hip Berlin scene, but instead a great diversity. You have to be prepared to get involved with a Leipzig network that focuses on honesty and down-to-earthness.

GW: Are there any companies or collaborations with local companies and institutions that you particularly value?

PL: Yes, we value the cooperation with various institutions such as the Gewandhaus and the Leipzig handball club. We have the first trainee from the Leipzig youth team, a U17 national player. Training top athletes is hard work, but we are prepared to do it, because that is one of the reasons why good people come to Leipzig. On the cultural side, we are approaching the Gewandhaus to learn how a conductor gets a group of artists to play something that sounds good. We also work with the Mendelssohn House.

We have had a business relationship with the L-Group for a long time, partly because they are our neighbours. We have also hosted events for the city of Leipzig and recently organised the HR Barcamp. We had over 100 HR managers with us. We are a member of the IT Cluster Central Germany and give lectures on IT topics, organisational development and corporate culture. We are in contact with the HTWK, which has produced purchasing studies and process cost calculators for us. We have contacts with the Handelshochschule and Lancaster University - 2 of our employees work there as lecturers.  We are open to co-operation and believe that company boundaries are becoming permeable. We think in ecosystems. For example, we have service providers who are based in our company and work with us, who are indistinguishable from their colleagues at Unite. We have set up a home base in Munich for AI students at the Technical University of Munich. This creates a great exchange of experience, it's like a permanent regeneration programme. This is an area that I would also like to make available at our headquarters under the title "Startups in Residence". We don't want to close ourselves off, we want to be open to relationships. That also suits Leipzig.


With a strong corporate culture and a focus on sustainability and digitalisation, Unite is optimistic about the future. We would like to thank Mr Ledermann for the informative interview and look forward to further exciting developments from Unite.