Optimising financial processes

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Business Performance at a macro level: The Economic Wonder that is Germany

In the last three weeks I attended two very different networking events. The first, European Technology Forum aka ‘Snowball’ in Gstaad and the second, the Deutsche Bank Business Leaders event with Dr Josef Ackermann in London.
‘Snowball’ is very relaxed affair in the mountains with some 52 entrepreneurs, business owners and investors from around the world. Some great people, sharp minds (during the day, anyway!), fascinating experiences and some genuinely thought provoking content sessions and discussions intermingled with some skiing and dining. As an aside, there was talk about renaming the event as the World Technology Forum to better align with the geographic spread of the attendees. There was some consternation however at the requisite acronym which would be WTF!

The Josef Ackermann event was a more sober forum in Deutsche Bank’s beautiful London Wall offices. About 80 people listened to an interview and open Q&A session with the Deutsche Bank CEO. He was fascinating, sharp, thoughtful, precise as well as humble and light. That’s not a combination of adjectives commonly used to describe many people in his position. He covered a wide range of topics from the Euro, the UK and US economies and regulatory environments, the people’s uprisings and political unrest in the North Africa and the Middle East, the Banking crisis and increased regulations and proposed levies, the role of a CEO, China and India to the worrying world food and water shortages that pose a serious risk to societal and economic development. Not bad for an hour!
He had a genuinely impressive global outlook. There was an interesting discussion referring to the European and North American habits of extolling the virtues of ‘developing economies’ and the harnessing the talent there and then implanting leaders from the headquarters country in these operations. Dr Ackermann commented that when he took over as DB CEO, most DB Asian operations were led by a German national. Justifiably proudly, he claims that now all the leaders of these operations bar one, are the local talent.
He made some quite amusing quips including the comment that on his recent trip to Delhi he could get mobile/cell phone signal at all times and a clear reception for calls to anywhere in the world, a feat that is still somewhat challenging in the centre of Manhattan!
I was fascinated by the discussion on why Germany is doing so uniquely well post recession. German industrial output has been storming along for the past 18 months. This topic came up in answer to a question from Tony who was sitting next to me. Josef Ackermann gave a thoughtful view of why Germany has done so well. In summary (I didn’t take notes but this is my recall), he gave six reasons for Germany’s strong recovery from the recession;
·         The unions, government and management have learned to work together harmoniously and this relationship seems to balance the economy from extreme shifts. I suspect also that job cuts in Germany were less severe than in some countries, enabling quicker response and upswing as the economic headwinds turned.
·         There is a very strong segment of family owned businesses, the Mittelstand, where management and owners take a long term view and run very tight businesses. Some of these businesses, although small by some standards, have apparently secured a 60-80% global market share in their specific niche. No mean feat!
·         The new younger generation of German entrepreneurs and business people are much more bottom-line focused rather than purely growth or market share driven.
·         German industrial firms have invested for decades in building strong operations and distribution networks around the world. Some of these were the first into China for example. This creates strong brand awareness and builds demand.
·         The weak Euro has done marvels for Germany’s exports. The irony is that while debates on the future of the Euro continue on the back the woes of the PIGS countries, Germany would be in a much weaker position if it were running an economy on the Deutschmark – which would be so strong as to damage exports!
That’s only 5 reasons, I can’t remember the 6th but thinking back to the European Technology Forum, there wasn’t a single German national still living in Germany that attended this event in Gstaad! They were all probably busy building their businesses and contributing to that economic miracle, rather than talking about it. Perhaps that’s the 6th reason – genuine hard work!