Corporate leadership

Wanted: Blue-Chip Entrepreneurs

Adidas's Herbert Hainer is one of only two DAX-30 chief executives to have created a business from scratch.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Large German firms are often criticized for lacking entrepreneurial spirit and suffering from sluggishness and sclerosis.

  • Facts


    • Just two of the 30 blue-chip DAX firms – Adidas and SAP – are run by executives with experience of starting their own business.
    • A third of the firms in Germany’s TecDAX index for young technology firms were founded by their current leaders.
    • The typical DAX company executive board member is 48 and has been with the firm for 12 years before being called to the board.
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What do a former gourmet shop owner from Long Island and a former bar owner from Dingolfing, a small town in southern Germany, have in common? Today, they are the bosses of two of Germany’s largest corporations.

Bill McDermott, the American boss of software giant SAP, already had his own food business while at school aged 17. And the outgoing head of sports retailer Adidas, Herbert Hainer, ran a bar called the Gussofen (Cast Iron Oven) with a fellow student while studying business administration at college.

“The Gussofen was a huge success,” said Mr. Hainer, looking back. “The two of us took turns working there evenings and didn’t even pay ourselves a salary in the beginning. After a year, we completely paid off the loan we had taken out and resold the bar at a profit.”

As founders of business enterprises, Mr. Hainer and Mr. McDermott are considered exotic in the corporate world. Mr. McDermott will likely be the last boss of a DAX exchange-listed company who has an entrepreneurial background after Mr. Hainer leaves Adidas in October. In the United States, not a single head of a company represented in the Dow Jones Index has ever started or managed a company they owned.

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