Corporate culture: How Otto boss Alexander Birken attracts talent

Alexander Birken

Apparently worlds collided: Alexander Birken (54), the head of the Otto Group, reported last week in “ZEIT” about a meeting with Andrew McAffee. According to Birken, the US bestselling author was “firmly convinced” that “companies have no social responsibility beyond business” – in the tradition of Milton Friedman, the forefather of the shareholder value concept (“The business of business is business”). That had made him “very concerned,” said the Otto boss. For he had “understood that Americans have a different understanding of values”.

Values as a secret weapon in the battle for the millennials?

What worries us is that Anglo-Saxon investors such as Paul Singer are increasingly bringing this understanding to the German economy. The long-term well-being of the company is of secondary importance – quite different from that of family-owned companies such as Otto, whose culture apparently attracts the millennials in particular. “We feel that the Otto Group is highly attractive on the competitive labour market,” says Birken, who wants to further expand this competitive advantage. Two and a half years ago, he launched a cultural change aimed at ending silo sinks, strengthening personal responsibility and motivating all employees to focus on the long-term well-being of the entire company – including social responsibility.