Top vs. flop: Mathias Döpfner, Alex Karp and the Springer ethos

Mathias Döpfner

After taking over a substantial block of shares, CEO Mathias Döpfner will have even more power at Axel Springer AG. Largely unnoticed, however, another doer has gained influence: At the beginning of the year Alex Karp moved from the Supervisory Board to the six-member Shareholders’ Committee, to which Friede Springer and Johannes Huth (KKR) also belong.

The founder of the US software group Palantir, who made his debut on the stock exchange this week, is now supposed to be the top advisor for the digital transformation. In addition to important skills and experience, however, he also brings with him a special understanding of entrepreneurship.

Karp has “repeatedly stated that it is not the task of companies to decide on the ethical justifiability of monitoring programmes”, the German newspaper DIE ZEIT recently wrote. That is the task of politics. To us it sounds like: We do everything that is not expressly forbidden.

Digital ethics, responsible digitalisation

In many executive offices, this sounds different at the moment: companies have to set themselves “clear rules for responsible digitization – from fair and transparent handling of customer data to regulations for the ethical use of artificial intelligence,” Signal Iduna boss Ulrich Leitermann recently demanded in our FutureGoodGovernance Dialogue.

We agree: Since artificial intelligence (AI) harbours enormous risks of abuse, including the targeted manipulation of people, companies must assume responsibility and formulate clear guidelines. It is not enough to pass the buck to the legislator, who is notoriously lagging behind technical progress anyway.

CEO Mathias Döpfner has so far also advocated responsible digitisation. In 2017 he wrote that in order for technological progress to “enrich the canon of values of free societies”, it is necessary to ensure that the right ideas are successful.

Now it remains to be seen whether this maxim still applies – or whether Springer, the digital pioneer among Germany’s publishing houses, will proceed more aggressively in the future. One thing is clear: A questionable handling of data and algorithms would be a model for those who accuse Springer of a value deficit due to the brutal BILD reporting.