Top vs. flop: Heinz-Hermann Thiele – lateral thinker or lateral driver?


The exchange of blows between Lufthansa’s major shareholder Thiele, management, and the German government shows We need more entrepreneurial spirit in the corporations.


Heinz-Hermann Thiele is a wanderer between two worlds: On the one hand, the owner of Knorr-Bremse is a genuine medium-sized entrepreneur with a patriarchal habitus. On the other hand, the 79-year-old skilfully moves in the habitat of top managers, investment bankers and M&A lawyers, as he recently proved with the increase in his Lufthansa shareholding.

(Family) entrepreneurial spirit vs. corporate culture: conflicts are inevitable. In recent days, Thiele has sharply criticized the government rescue package for Lufthansa. The management around CEO Carsten Spohr should have “negotiated more intensively”, was his message. According to Thiele, the state is not a good entrepreneur.

We agree, but we add: The state can be a good owner if it sends professional supervisory board members to the supervisory bodies. The fact that the German government has announced this in the case of Lufthansa is commendable.

Real entrepreneurs on the stock exchange?

The question remains: Is the quarrelsome Thiele a lateral thinker or an obstructionist? Or is he simply pursuing his own interests – such as a takeover of Lufthansa?

Thiele wants above all to show “how important genuine entrepreneurship is”, the Handelsblatt quotes a companion as saying. This would indeed put the patriarch’s finger in the wound. After all, the problem with listed companies is that nobody thinks like a true entrepreneur:

  • the salaried members of the Board of Management are not, because they can lead a carefree to luxurious life even from their fixed salaries;
  • the investors don’t, because they each hold manageable shares and, in case of doubt, are quickly gone again;
  • the supervisory boards often unfortunately not either, because they are lawyers or auditors, but not entrepreneurs.

We are convinced that this is where we have to start. Every supervisory board includes real entrepreneurs – successful founders or experienced medium-sized companies, for example. That is the best way to achieve more entrepreneurial spirit on the stock exchange. In the debate on corporate governance reforms, which began after the Wirecard scandal, it is therefore important to think about this: How can we demand & promote this?

One thing is clear: the federal government could send a signal and send two entrepreneurs to the Lufthansa supervisory board. Perhaps Heinz-Hermann Thiele could also be appeased in this way.