Campaigns: Why supervisory boards have to take the offensive now

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An analysis of the “PR-Magazin”, worth reading, has sparked a discussion about whether and to what extent supervisory boards should communicate publicly. We believe this is how the majority opinion in the corporate governance community can be summed up: Yes, they should – but only on topics specific to the Supervisory Board and very cautious. We only agree halfway. In our opinion, the great reluctance towards the media shown by many bodies is nowadays extremely dangerous – especially in debates about the CEO.

What went wrong on the ThyssenKrupp Supervisory Board

The ThyssenKrupp case is impressive proof of this. In an interview, Ulrich Lehner, then Chairman of the Supervisory Board, vehemently defended his CEO Heinrich Hiesinger against attacks by activist shareholders. But apparently the action was not embedded in a coordinated communication strategy of the committee – otherwise other supervisory board members, above all Ursula Gather from the Krupp Foundation, would have signaled their approval afterwards. However, their silence gave the impression that Hiesinger and Lehner did not enjoy broad support among the owners. The consequences are known.

Attention: Campaigns against supervisory boards

In addition, supervisory boards are increasingly becoming the target of activist campaigns. In particular, the heads of the supervisory board should therefore be in a position to communicate professionally with the media and the public in order to take the wind out of the sails of activists. Sure, no one needs to start tweeting and posting now. But it is important to anticipate attacks and develop an adequate communication strategy to be prepared in case of an emergency.