The Austria we know today only actually started as recently as 1955 when it became the Independent Second Republic of Austria. Don’t let that make you think nothing happened before then though as Austria’s history can be traced as far back as the Stone Age when the region was called Ostarrîchi. The Romans ruled for around five hundred years and after they left, it became a centre for migration with German tribes coming from the west and Slavic communities from the east. From 979 AD, Austria was ruled by the Badenberg dynasty.
Next came the Habsburg Dynasty which was given the Duchy of Austria in 1282. Over several centuries, the Habsburgs married, used politics and found other ways to increase their power and grow their holdings. In fact, they acquired the Duchies of Styria, Carinthia and Tyrol in quick succession; they are now three of Austria’s nine states. As Austria’s power began to diminish, it feared losing the Hungarian territory and so agreed to a Dual Monarchy compromise, creating the Austro-Hungarian empire which lasted until WW1.
Following the war, Austria declared itself a republic in 1918 but struggled in the mess of post- war Europe so was an easy target for Germany in WW2. Immediately after the war ended, the country became the Independent Republic of Austria and enshrined neutrality into law. It joined the UN in 1955 and the EU in 1995.
Principal Industries in Austria
The most important industries in Austria are luxury commodities, mechanical engineering, steel, chemicals and vehicle manufacturing.
Other Important Industries
As well as a significant services sector in Austria, other industries include construction, electronics, tourism, logistics and transportation.
Doing Business in Austria
As a prosperous and politically stable EU state, Austria should be taken seriously for the opportunities it has to offer. This is particularly true if you are in the energy sector. While the country has natural reserves of petroleum and gas, the generation of hydroelectric power is a constantly expanding industry and this has made Austria one of the leading lights in the hydro sector within Europe.
Starting a company in Austria is a fairly simple process but you will of course have to abide by all the rules and regulations regarding permits, trade licences, and if you’re from outside the European Union, you’ll need a residence visa too. The good news is that there are a number of agencies and government organisations that can offer help and assistance to start-ups and entrepreneurs in the form of non-repayable grants, subsidised loans, consultations and affordable office space.
Lastly, contacts are vital to business success in Austria. Use an Austrian representative to assist with this or consider outsourcing to a company that can help with any required documents, setting up meetings and so on.
The View from the Ground
When describing a country and its culture, you can write down all the facts and figures you like but if you want the full story, you need to get the perspective of someone with a lived experience of being there. That’s why we’ve asked Marie to give us her take on what it’s like to live and work in Austria.
First of all, you should never compare Austrians to Germans. It’s the one thing you definitely shouldn’t mention in a business meeting. Even socially, it’s considered a bit of a no-go area. This is something that’s very important to remember if want to do business here. What we would probably find the most offensive is if you found a pitch that worked well in Germany and then simply recycled it for us because, “they’re all the same aren’t they?”
I think the Germans just don’t care about us and we feel inferior somehow. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because we are a small country and I think we believe that because of the way we speak, they make fun of us. We also have a perception that the Germans are arrogant towards us. I think we just like to believe that they are arrogant towards us but actually they aren’t. It’s just because we feel kind of intimidated by them, I think. But, when you speak to a German person, you wouldn’t feel that way. Despite this, it’s still a widely held belief. This doesn’t create any problems in trading with Germany though. In fact, language wise, I’m more worried about calling Austria because I’m not always sure which dialect I will have to use. Calling Germany is easy because it’s just plain German but in Austria you have to adjust the way you speak because we all speak different dialects. So, we don’t like to speak standard German but obviously, if somebody spoke it to you, you’d speak it back. But that’s why there’s always this little hesitation in the first second on the phone while you work out how you’re supposed to speak. One saving grace of our dialect is that unlike some countries, we can usually understand each other even though I occasionally struggle with people from the far south.
In terms of countries we do like, we get on well with Switzerland. This is because their version of German is closer to ours than Germany’s. Also, we like people from Bavaria it’s just the rest of Germany that we’re not overly keen on.
Everybody always talks about how punctual Germans are and asks if we’re the same. Well, we like to be on time for meetings, but we are not that fanatical. One of the most important things in Austrian business is to be very polite. You should also be very structured and make sure that all your facts and figures are correct. I think it makes a good impression to be well prepared for meetings and maybe you can break the ice with a few jokes. Do keep the small talk short though. Austrians are quite focused, and they don’t really want a personal relationship when it comes to business. Personal relationships aren’t necessarily important in our business culture unlike some other cultures. For us, you just do business because it’s business. To some other nations, that may seem a little cold but it’s just the way we are.
In terms of hierarchy, it still exists in the older companies, but in younger and often tech focused companies it really doesn’t. It’s like they found a better way of working. For the older, established companies, it’s difficult for them to change. When they’ve had one person at the top making all the decisions, for so long, it becomes a system that they’re used to, and it seems perfectly normal to them. But I think the younger generation prefers to work in a flat hierarchy.
In Austria, we don’t tend to socialize with our work colleagues. You occasionally hear about people going for a drink after work but it’s so uncommon that it’s hardly worth mentioning. Maybe once in a while, people will go out to lunch together. We do celebrate birthdays in the office though. Often, we will get a cake, maybe some champagne or beer too. This will all be in the office though as we don’t really go out for a drink together. The office will have a Christmas party as well, but we sort of like to separate our work life and our personal life. For example, in Austria you never talk about business at home. You might come in and say if you had a good day or a bad day but that’s the extent of it. You certainly would not tell your friends and family all the details about your business day.
For women working in Austria, the government is always talking about improving the situation, but we do have a good policy that you can take up to two years off after having a child. This compares extremely favourably with other European countries. Also, day care is free for children over two but after having taken so long off work, it is sometimes difficult for women to re-enter the job market. There are plans in place for a scheme to get more women working in better positions, and like some other European countries, it is mandated that a certain percentage of a company’s board must be made up of women.
In terms of humour, the Austrians are highly sarcastic and like to say the opposite of what we mean just to make a joke. The sarcastic Austrian sense of humour is such a strong cultural trait that it’s not just something you do with your family and friends; we’ll actually joke like this at the office too. I know that some other countries have a sarcastic sense of humour but in Austria it’s very important.
Like the Germans, Austrians are particular about punctuality, and schedules and agendas are strictly adhered to. Austrian business culture has a well-defined and strictly observed hierarchy, with clear responsibilities and distinctions between roles and departments. In fact, in formal Austrian business meetings, it is customary for the highest-ranking person to enter the room first. Power is held by a small number of people at the top and while other contributions are welcome, these will be the people who are making the final decisions. If you are in a traditionally less formal domain these conventions may be less important, but you will still be expected to dress appropriately. Obviously, in formal business situations, formal dress is required. The Austrians take great pride in dressing well and even when dressed informally, their clothes will be neat and conservative.
In Austria, business might be conducted a bit slower than you are used to. You will have to be patient and not appear ruffled by their strict adherence to protocol. Austrians are very detail- oriented and want to understand everything before coming to an agreement.