In Germany things tend to be a bit different. Our democracy encompasses us all, we have co-determination between representatives of capital and representatives of the workers, and we’ve got rules that don’t apply to everyone.
One of these ‘don’t apply to everyone’ is what we call ‘cooling off’, namely a time out when members of the executive board may not move up to the Supervisory Board. To avoid conflicts of interest.
This is a period when occupancy of a new position should not enable you to make use of previously acquired knowledge that’s still warm. A time when specific notions are made to cool down. A concept that is just as important as is the specific time required for it which, for a CEO is 24 months. This was enacted and made law by a democratically elected body, namely the Bundestag, voting § 100 II lit4 of the German law on joint stock companies..
Trade union leaders, however, have things differently. Their position as leaders gives them freedom to decide freely how and when the judge summons them to whatever Supervisory Board. This is what happened with Roman Zitzelsberger, local secretary of IGM Metall in Baden Württemberg who, similarly to his predecessor Franz Steinkühler joined the Supervisory Board of Daimler. And why not? It’s true he isn’t a worker but parliament has endowed trade union officials with right of access to court.
The situation regarding his boss is completely different. The leader of the vanguard in IG Metall Jörg Hofmann has (and he may well feel like adding ‘at long last’) convinced his predecessor Berthold Huber to resign not only his union post in IG Metall, but also his mandate in the Supervisory Board of Volkswagen. I just hope that anyone who thinks that this is in any way linked to the present day situation in Volkswagen, is mistaken.
Yesterday, Jörg Hofmann tendered his resignation from the Supervisory Board of Daimler and today has been appointed almost deus ex machina by an omnipotent judge as new member to the Supervisory Board of Volkswagen. The intelligentsia (there is a certain measure of preparedness that trade union leaders have come to have expected of them) glides seamlessly from the Supervisory Board of Daimler to that of Volkswagen without a second being dedicated to cooling off.
What is the marketing message to be drawn? That power wins? Or that number one gets to choose the best position at the right time before number two. In the former post his fee was 183,400 Euros per year whereas the per annum emolument of the outgoing member of the new one was 937,000 no less. A handsome salary even for a trade unionist.
It should also be said that, similarly to his predecessor, the odds of Hoffman’s election to the chair of the Supervisory Board of Volkswagen are highly favourable, another boost to his fee. The drawbacks however are substantial. The chair is almost literally very hot; as the person in charge of the company’s external relations he is the embodiment of the many and, if summed together potentially lethal class actions that Volkswagen will have to face. Considering this conflict of interests, the judge’s ruling, handed down in the greatest independence devoid of any intel or knowledge of the facts is, indeed, very daring. The extraordinary shareholders’ meeting was highhandedly cancelled to prevent a tsunami of unwanted issues.
Supervisory Board member Hofmann’s task will be to reassure the public that “I’m not in it for the money – My job here is marketing”.
Coincidentally, in the run-up to the world summit on climate change, Allianz CEO Oliver Bäte, made front page news with “we sell everything that heats the planet” (no more investing in coal-based energy – but still present investments amount to 4 billion Euros). This attitude makes me think of a father who catches his child plundering the cookie jar and throws him out on the street instead of setting a good example and explaining in simple terms that he can understand that we’re all in the same boat and duty bound to act responsibly towards our fellow human beings.
It’s true, there are others preparing education oriented programmes (Norge/NBIM as opposed to Wal-Mart as opposed to ….) but this approach alone will not lead to better behaviour either in awareness or in absolute terms.
On the other hand we’ve just learned that what is sauce for the goose is not necessarily sauce for the gander. We all have room for improvement and for behaving with greater awareness. Let’s make this our contribution towards improving 2016.
Let’s all get to it! …. not just those for whom rules and regulations are things of great worth.
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