The major sustainability issues are a human task.

Norbert Samhammer

Norbert Samhammer
Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Samhammer AG

We spoke with Mr. Samhammer about #FutureGoodGovernance.

A ship needs a captain. There is a lot of talk about new leadership concepts, about participation and freedom. How much leadership will a company still need in the future and how much agility can it tolerate? How do you envision corporate leadership in the future?

The captain is a good example, as it is up to him to make the decisive decision in certain difficult moments. A decision based on the knowledge and well-founded analyses, insights of his crew and his own knowledge. The company of the future needs both, a strong, authentic leader with the necessary decision-making authority and an organization that lives agility, loves it and has anchored it as an essential “value” in its corporate DNA. The insights of “leveled balance” and appreciative interaction between dominant decision-making authority and agile knowledge authority is key on the path to a successful corporate future

The Gretas of the world have also turned the spotlight on companies and their fields of action. What challenges do you expect to social responsibility and thus sustainability in the company?

The major sustainability issues are a human task. The individual company or each individual person may be able to make a small contribution and is also called upon to do so. Global sustainability is one of the last chances and topics for our current political system to reform its tarnished image. It can create a globally sustainable legal, binding framework that allows companies to develop new, better products and services for the benefit of the planet and all people.

Trust is good, control is better. Today, it is still primarily about numbers and compliance. Artificial intelligence, however, is changing perspective and thinking here as well. How can you imagine a future system for monitoring the board of directors? Will a supervisory board still watch over the management in the near future, or will ‘monitoring’ soon be replaced by a technically highly equipped external service provider?

Less is more. The length of the company is essentially a reflection of its top performers, its employees and its key figures, which describe the company’s situation in sufficient depth. A bad balance sheet is usually worse than it is, a good one better than it is – says a wise proverb. Rarely does a sea of numbers produce better officers or employees. In supervisory board meetings, there are often numerous stakeholders and interest currents, and objective, professional, topic-related discussions almost no longer take place. In upstream topic committees, e.g. economic committee, personnel committee, strategy committee, customer committee, etc., knowledge can be better shared and developed. Here, of course, technical analysis systems based on AI can also provide a supporting information contribution.

Companies are subject to a constant process of change. What challenges do you expect your company to face in the next 10 years? How will these change your company? What will change for employment and qualification of employees?

The entrepreneurial view into the 10 year future is of existential necessity for every company and every entrepreneur. What will happen in my industry, in my markets, in technological environments and what impact on my company, on my products is conceivable and recognizable. The core driver in almost all industries is global digitalization. Products and business processes are changing extremely rapidly, but not literally from one day to the next. There is always the possibility for companies to be active shapers of change. Digitalization primarily affects “information workstations behind a screen” – they will be replaced by intelligent, self-service services and digital assistants in the future. At the same time, we need new knowledge management & knowledge logistics professionals to sufficiently optimize the technology in its performance and maturity.

There is much debate about centrality vs. decentrality, agility and core competency in organizations. Will companies even exist in today’s sense 20 years from now? What changes in terms of business organization and finance do you expect or would you like to see?

It is difficult to answer this and somewhat subjective. The view opens up a little better from an outside-in perspective. Large, rigid companies are becoming increasingly difficult to control and thus change in times of dynamic change. This opens the gates worldwide for fast, small, agile companies that specialize in “vertical solutions” for customer needs. For the good startups of this world, there are almost always extensive financial options available today, which was not the case historically. It will therefore be very difficult for classic large companies, which were successful yesterday, to shape their future in this form and structure.

Car manufacturers are becoming mobility service providers, food manufacturers are becoming lifestyle providers, media companies are becoming data science companies. Where will your industry go from here? Will industries – as we know them today – even exist in ten years? What will come then?

Industries come and go. Core industries that focus on people’s existential needs will remain. The depth of integration of products and services is increasing rapidly. This offers opportunities and requires completely new ways of thinking, partnerships in the area of positioning and sales. But beware of those who think they can serve these new challenges too quickly with existing structures (products, processes and people). The growing “industries”, if we still want to call them that, I would rather call them “topics of the future”, aim at the “convenience of people”. Where do I save time? How is it easier? What do I get more benefit from? What is a more convenient way for me? Where do I feel more individually understood and cared for as a customer?

Today, company managers are asked from various sides the question of the company’s purpose or the specific mission of the company. How do you meet this demand? What positive or critical lessons have you learned? What advice would you give to a CEO in another industry on how best to approach this issue.

The company’s purpose is to provide its customers with clearly identifiable, greater value than any competitive product or competitor at all times. Often, (customer benefit) centered thinking is relegated to the detriment of a sea of commercial key performance indicators (KPIs). The permanent customer dialogue and working on “more sustainable customer value” should again become a stronger focus of CEOs. Success is the result of customer orientation and customer enthusiasm.

The so-called stakeholders, especially the (institutional) shareholders, are much more aware of their ownership rights and obligations than they were just a few years ago. It is therefore no longer sufficient to simply tick off the requirements of a code (“comply-or-explain”). Internationally, the intensive and permanent communication/interaction of stakeholders with company management is on the rise (“apply-and-explain”). What trends do you see here and how do you assess them?

Yes, that is the case. But the question is whether, how and when external influence leads to improved corporate governance. It is not possible to make a blanket statement. If stakeholders see themselves as professional, authentic interlocutors with complementary knowledge on an equal footing with the management board, then a positive foundation for this influence may have been laid. Otherwise, “management by helicopter has never worked.”

At the moment, #FutureGoodGovernance is still comparable to a crystal ball in many areas. What future aspects of good governance are you most concerned about? What would you wish for if you had three wishes free? Where do you see a challenge for politics? And what responsibilities will companies and their managers have in the future?

Today, disenchantment with politics is far advanced and citizens have almost lost faith that today’s regional or global challenges will be comprehensively solved by politics in the interest of the citizens. The “three greatest wishes” on my part would be:

1.) Much clearer and quicker decisions for the benefit of citizens, free from the influence of powerful vested interests.

2.) The active creation of European framework structures in future high-tech areas to be able to compete internationally.

3.) A thorough reform of the tax system, taking into account the global value-added flows of the 21st century.

Future companies bear responsibility for their social contribution to the development of employees and people, the environment and the overall prosperity of this country.

Thank you very much for the interview!