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Honesty is the most important capital


DUSSELDORF. The fear was palpable. Since a universally highly respected and successful family business his life’s work began with risky bets on the line. The business empire of Adolf Merckle was thus eroded so much that when rescue finally just stopped the destruction. And he himself has so broken that he tried to commit suicide.

Even with Winfried Kill did not believe it. With daring guarantees for a business friend of the hitherto solid middle class investor risked not only his fortune but also his relatives. According to his family was the Indus-founder at the time of the transactions severely depressed, and therefore incompetent. But no one stopped him.

The cases of Adolf Merckle and Winfried Kill is not just personal tragedies. They act like a beacon in a year that has demystified the German Mittelstand. For beyond all the tragedy, they show one with utmost clarity have insidiously, many family-owned company approved by the ideals of the founding after the war. For years, commercial success has so concealed. But now the current economic crisis puts the weaknesses openly ruthless.

An idealized image of the middle class

The soapbox is drawn like to have an idealized image of German middle: Corporate governance – that is something for anonymous corporations. The family business will act responsibly out of themselves, committed to sustainable business because he already thinking about the next generation, no debt accumulates and is only very limited risks.

But unfortunately, the reality is often quite different. Every third German company – and most of which are SMEs – works according to calculations by the credit reference agency Creditreform still with a capital ratio that is lower than the seen as the critical limit of ten percent. And effective control of economic activity often does not. Where this can lead in extreme cases, has shown the example of Porsche: Solitary decisions of the family companies and the management team have entered in the attempted takeover of Volkswagen not only the interests of shareholders with contempt, but ultimately cost the company to independence. And also by attempting to hide a lot of reputation acquisition by way of stock options on their own industry.

Rows of this year are gone, the company in bankruptcy, approximately 38 000 will have caught it by year-end estimated. But it is not the sheer number that scares the most. The record from 2003 with 39 470 bankruptcies is not achieved well. These are the names of failed companies, to rouse: Marklin, source, Schiesser, mold, Rosenthal, Karmann. Icons of the German economic history, which for decades in the public standing as a synonym for success "made in Germany".

The crisis becomes a watershed, to the salutary shock. Hesitation, the methods of many medium-sized hedge funds, investment banks and large corporations have taken over. Have built swanky headquarters, set an ambitious target returns on the company’s sustainable success, established branches worldwide, all backed by complicated and tricky financing models.

There were and are of course the responsible contractor. But who wanted to play in a particular league that had to solve them, and take higher risks, the economy has seen a psychologist Professor Michael Kramer. "In our economy, just dominated the monetary success of the values orientation."

And now falls on it quite clear that many entrepreneurs – like Goethe’s sorcerer’s apprentice master – the spirits which they said no more.

Already the calls are loud to the old merchant’s virtues, according to a reflection on the traditional values of the past. The founder and family business Berthold Leibinger brings it to the point with the question: "How do we know in business, what’s wrong and what is right? Is there for us all clear, unambiguous moral landmarks that have entered the us? "And he also gives the same answer:" We need the principles of honest tradesman, because human life together, because if it is to work, even across national and cultural boundaries of time, based on mutual trust. "And also Gerhard Cromme, the father of the Corporate Governance Code, was most recently with his colleagues on the way:" I advise everyone to the principles of honest businessman living day by day. "

But what have moral criteria such as honesty or integrity with a successful and sustainable economies to do? Did not for years, the motto: "The Honest is the fool." Or, as Bertolt Brecht, it has dramatically worded so beautifully: "First comes the grub, then morality."

No, fraudsters are not the German family business – apart from occasional black sheep, perhaps. But the respectable merchant of the Italian Middle Ages, or the North German Hanseatic League of Cities would have thought about that with some of them still twice whether he had done business with them. For many centuries, honesty in business, not a moral category, but a very key requirement for businesses. Are regarded as honest and respectable reputabel meant to be – and for the practical skills of the businessman were important criteria.

"An honest businessman is reflected, gives heed to others, such as employees, and consider the consequences of their actions. This he achieved stability and peace in society – which then also brings benefits for himself, "concludes it Daniel Klink together by the Institute of Management Berlin’s Humboldt University. Klink has set up the Institute, the Internet portal "The honorable merchant" and conducts research for years on this mission. He has observed that in almost all historical sources depends on the honesty of the merchant not only virtuous, but also very practical features.

For the model of the respectable businessman has been developed not by do-gooders, but by business people, who knew that confidence is their most important asset. Already in the 13th Century said Berthold von Regensburg, "If they respected the right sizes and weights and Kardinalübels of the merchants, the swearing and lying to the purchase and sale contained, then the work could be carried out honorably." A businessman who risked too much which exhausts all Permitted and accumulated wealth at the expense of business partners, who lost his good reputation. And that was usually his downfall.

The parallels with today are only too clear. "Some entrepreneurs who really embody the honorable should have to get infected by the Anglo-Saxon methods. Some lacked a critical reflection of their actions, they have been influenced by the advice of investment bankers and investors, too, "warns Klink. They have simply exhausted all possibilities – cost what it may.

This is actually an example of the decline of the once proud mail-order source. 82 years ago opened by Gustav Schickedanz and Crete as a small trader and built up to large corporations, ruined by daughter Madeleine. She trusted the wrong advisers, bringing men in leadership positions that are unequal to the task. Beginning of the End is the merger of Karstadt and Neckermann, never a healthy growing together from the entire enterprise. Fall under the enterprising CEO Thomas Middelhoff, then the last inhibitions: "asset stripping" is the magic word for short-term successes, the real estate be sold and leased back expensive, silver-plated investments. The new name of art "Arcandor" breaks the bridges of tradition. The customers stay away, business partners lose confidence, and turn away, refuse bank financing. Even the state may eventually help avoid the bankruptcy anymore.

Legal rules alone are not enough. If people are willing, everything that is not explicitly prohibited, to the last auszureizen, remains not only the common good on the track, but also the sustainable business success. "That ultimately is not a question of morality, but simply bad management," economist puts it together Klink. The rules can be a respectable businessman as a simple but effective guide to its future: a more realistic formulation of return targets, less aggressive variable compensation systems, greater transparency of corporate decisions in relation to workers and the public, a fair dealing with customers and business partners. And keep a little extent.

Anyone who sees pictures of how Baron Georg von Ullmann, family shareholders of barely escaped bankruptcy of private bank Sal Oppenheim, presented as a horse with a thick cigar lovers around the racecourse, which inevitably has to smile when he reads in the memoirs of Giovanni di Pagnolo Morelli. The respectable merchant of the Italian Renaissance, wrote of his profession there in the album, "Be suspicious to entrust your money or your business a man who plays the dissolute lives, which is too expensive clothes, which celebrates, in short, a man without a brain."

But with this timeless advice many a folly of the current financial crisis could have probably avoided.