Railway Supervisory Board Chairman Michael Odenwald: Controlling instead of control

Michael Odenwald

The chairman of the supervisory board of Deutsche Bahn, Michael Odenwald, is said to have tried to prevent digital manager Sabina Jeschke from travelling to China. The chief inspector asked “what she wants in the Far East and whether it wouldn’t be better to prepare for the strategy meeting in Berlin,” writes Der Spiegel in its current issue. He even wrote a letter to Jeshke, “peppered with critical questions about the planned China trip”. Granted: We can hardly believe that Michael Odenwald interferes in such a way in the operative business. But on the other hand, the episode would fit into the picture – into the picture of a railway that is taking the federal government ever closer to the curb.

Odenwald and Rehberg in, Frenzel and Großmann out

This was one of the declared aims of the coalition agreement, and Schwarz-Rot did not waste any time: in April they appointed former Secretary of State for Transport Odenwald as Chairman of the Committee and successor to former Degussa CEO Utz-Hellmuth Felcht, who had sharply criticised political influence. Eckhardt Rehberg, the CDU’s housekeeper, also joined the supervisory board. Since the former Tui boss Michael Frenzel and the entrepreneur Jürgen Großmann also took their hats shortly after Felcht, state secretaries and members of the Bundestag now clearly dominate on the shareholders’ side. And in view of the lack of entrepreneurial expertise, we would not be surprised if a ministerial-bureaucratic controller attitude had returned to the supervisory board. In this context, the Rail Management Board needs more urgently than competent controllers who can separate the essential from the unimportant, who can ask the right questions and who can also act as sparring partners for strategic questions.