Business Interests

Take a Stand!

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Meeting-and-greeting business leaders. Source: Bloomberg [M]

Normally, the balance sheets are all the sign of success a company needs, but numbers are just one fixation. A world in flux needs a business community willing to take a stand and support certain values. Regardless of party politics, when issues are being debated that will affect all of society in the future, the voice of business leaders is indispensable today.

It’s not true that politics are of little interest for managers. On the contrary: when there are pending political decisions that will impact their own company, they take the stage, front and center. Businesses employ legions of lobbyists, whose job it is to influence the final wording of a draft bill or proposed regulation. And if things do get tight, the company bosses do all in their power to get an appointment in the chancellery.

They use this to explain to the German chancellor personally why a buyer’s premium for electric cars is absolutely essential or why coal-fired power plants need to keep running. The calendar lists of meetings between DAX-listed company CEOS and the highest level of government are dozens of pages long. And these meetings work, like in 2010, when a group of executives led by the then CEO of energy giant RWE, Jürgen Großmann attempted to force an extension of the working life of Germany’s nuclear power plants with a large scale advertising campaign.

But this had little to do with political stance. Instead, it had more to do with furthering business interests, more with weakening state regulation and thus, ultimately, with maximizing profit. This isn’t a sign of taking responsibility for the progress of society. Those moments are few and far between, when broader social issues flare up for the business community, like the swell of refugees entering Germany in 2015 and 2016.

German companies profit enormously from the four basic freedoms of the European single market – from the free movement of goods, people, services and capital.

When managers today step forward to shine light on an issue, it says two things. Primarily, the situation is alarming. The world is confronted by upheavals of enormous proportions. It’s a matter of averting damage. And secondly, it appears that in some executive offices, it has become clear that balance sheet numbers shouldn’t be the only focus. A business isn’t sociopolitically neutral.

The economy only works in a stable, transparent political environment. Maintaining and preserving this framework is also the job of the business community. Business people cannot just demand optimum conditions for doing business. The details of daily business are no longer the only things at stake, no, now it is a matter of the preservation of Europe.

In today’s political climate, a lot is at stake, particularly for German companies. They profit enormously from the four basic freedoms of the European single market – from the free movement of goods, people, services and capital. Brexit has made people aware that these advantages should not be taken for granted. They are the result of an often dogged integration process that has spanned decades. It certainly is worth standing up for the preservation of these fundamental freedoms.

New times call for new thinking. The challenges have never been greater. The business world has also been presented with the opportunity to give something back. Committing to support Europe has an historical dimension, particularly for business. The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) of 1952 was a supranational organization, which gave the European core states the chance for new growth and started the integration process that eventually led to the European Union. The ECSC was crucial for the economic resurgence of Europe, and particularly Germany, after the Second World War. Now it comes full circle. And today, as then, the business community has an obligation to stand up and support Europe.

But that’s not enough. Businesses should be expected to take a stand altogether on different issues. The challenges of our times are not limited to saving Europe. What can be done to counter the preconception that globalization produces more losers than winners? How can people be convinced of the advantages of free trade? How can, as far as possible, everyone participate in growth? What significance does one single person’s manpower have in times of rapidly advancing digitalization? How does one contribute to creating conditions in the world’s high poverty regions to motivate people to stay there? The business community is rather reticent with its answers to these questions at the moment. But it would be nice to hear them loud and clear.

A clear stance is now needed – more than ever.

 

To contact the author: stratmann@handelsblatt.com.

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