surprise U-turn

Daimler's Not the Devil

Daimler for distort_effect
Daimler's AGM was an eye-opener for our author.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Marek Dutschke is an environmentalist and anything but a die-hard capitalist – and yet he has a high opinion of Daimler stock.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Martin Dutschke is a lapsed member of Germany’s Green Party.
    • He has a small number of shares in Daimler, owner of the Mercedes Benz brand.
    • The company held its annual shareholders’ meeting in Berlin last week.
  • Audio

    Audio

  • Pdf

First of all, I want to make it clear that I’m a member of the Green Party or, more specifically, of a green party corpse who believes in the idea but is no longer all that politically active. I say this now so that you’ll know that I am not a die-hard Daimler shareholder. Nevertheless, I am attending the annual shareholders’ meeting today.

I receive the magazine for Green Party members, called the Schrägstrich (Slash), at regular intervals. It contains brochures designed to help us invest our savings more effectively. Ads by Ökovision, a sustainable investment fund, appeal to our environmental conscience and call upon us to “invest your money ethically & environmentally.”

Green City Energy promotes a sustainable way of life with its slogan: “If you support the Energiewende (Germany’s phase-out of fossil fuels and promotion of renewable energy sources), now you can do something about it!”

Until last year, you could just toss these tempting offers into the trash and wonder whether anyone actually invests money on the basis of bulk mail. But that has now changed. Because of the low interest-rate policy of the European Central Bank (ECB), ordinary savers need to be concerned about their savings.

To be honest, I have never understood the investment options with renewable energy producers. And why should I? My children provided me with hope, perhaps my son would become a professional soccer player and take care of me in my old age. But Plan B is safer. Plan B is simple: I become a shareholder. In my view, Mercedes wasn’t just a high-quality product, but also a potentially worthwhile investment. And so, in 2009, I became a co-owner of Daimler AG.

This year, I decided to learn more about my company. I signed up for a spot at the annual shareholders’ meeting in Berlin. I was so excited when I imagined that I would be picked up in a black S-Class at my home in the Friedrichshain neighborhood of Berlin and driven through the city. But when I received my registration, it merely contained a ticket for travel on public transportation. Was Daimler in trouble? Was the stock price in decline?

As a shareholder, after all, you have to interpret even the tiniest signs. But when I noticed that item two on the agenda was called “Increasing the Dividend,” I quickly regained my composure.

The sausages and potato salad were fabulous.

As I traveled to the meeting, I passed the Messe-Süd local train station which isn’t exactly a shining example of Berlin architecture, I thought, and wondered if perhaps this might be a place for Daimler to invest a little money? I couldn’t possibly have lost my way as I headed for the City-Cube, where the meeting was being held.

As if the organizers had taped red arrows to the pavement, white-haired retirees and gentlemen dressed in suits were all walking in the same direction. This is my crowd, I immediately told myself. And they were all talking about cars, my favorite subject.

I was getting nervous. Pretty soon, I would be expected to make decisions about many strategic issues, and the wrong decisions could very well send my company to the brink of disaster. Aside from Mercedes, I was completely unfamiliar with Daimler’s product line. But luckily my handful of votes won’t make much difference, given that there are more than a billion votes in total. So I decided that I would just lean back and listen.

A number of Smart cars were standing around, and I hoped that Daimler would unveil some new, energy-saving models. It would have appeased my environmental conscience. Unfortunately, I learned that the opposite was the case when CEO Dieter Zetsche announced that 2015 was the year of the SUV! Oh no, I thought, feeling devastated. I resolved to sell my shares.

By the time I’d regained my composure, I noticed that Zetsche had finished his remarks and that shareholder representatives were now speaking. And then I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It felt like being at a Green Party convention. They were calling for more transparency and greater participation, as well as higher distributions to shareholders.

They sharply criticized the high salaries and some of the activities of the executive board. They wanted the company to provide shareholders unable to attend the meeting with the opportunity to watch on a live video stream. They discussed topics such as child labor in developing countries, torture in Brazil, the defense industry and political donations. Finally, they were also critical of how long it was taking the company to increase female participation.

The board members reacted more like current Green Party leader Anton Hofreiter than former party leader and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer – professionally and unemotionally, but also somewhat tediously. One of the few shareholders remaining in the room was still talking when large numbers of white-haired men began heading for the buffet, where they were serving sausages and potato salad.

Now it’s afternoon and I’m summing up my impressions. I was very pleased with the discussion between the shareholders and the board members. The sausages and potato salad were fabulous. This is the point where the company feels very human to me. The stock is growing on me. I would never have thought that there would be so many parallels between the Greens and Daimler.

 

 To contact the author: gastautor@handelsblatt.com

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