Michael Otto: From “Amt für Versandhandel” to an agile corporation


The time of the Supervisory Board as a purely supervisory body is over, said Martin Spilker of the Bertelsmann Foundation’s Competence Center for Leadership and Corporate Culture at the German Supervisory Board Conference (DART). For topics such as ethics and culture would increasingly come to the fore. We expressly agree with this finding: more than ever, supervisory boards must become guardians of corporate values and, in many places, drivers of cultural change – especially since pure control tasks are becoming a domain of artificial intelligence (AI) anyway.

Cultural change: Supervisory Board members are obliged to

Michael Otto, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Otto Group, stands for the new role like no other: “The 75-year-old has ensured that the “Office for Mail Order Business”, as industry experts long ridiculed, has changed profoundly within just a few years. The initial spark came in 2015: After the first annual loss in the company’s history, Otto, his son Benjamin and the Executive Board announced the “Cultural Change 4.0” at a staff meeting. And words were followed by deeds – in the form of flatter hierarchies, more transparency and communication at eye level, which goes hand in hand with a Duz culture. We are convinced that without Otto’s clear backing, a few half-hearted reforms would have been enough. Other supervisory boards should therefore also devote more attention to corporate culture. Cause no AI can do that.