Supervisory Board Member of the Year: Cristina Stenbeck (Zalando)

No female chief controller focuses more consistently on entrepreneurial spirit, digital expertise and diversity than the Swede, who comes from a family of industrialists steeped in tradition. Chapeau.

For a long time, Zalando was not particularly high in our favour. But in recent years, the online retailer has made great strides – especially at the supervisory board level. For example, board head Cristina Stenbeck (44) hired two successful digital entrepreneurs in Niklas Östberg (41, Delivery Hero) and Jennifer Hyman (41, Rent a runway).

The 9-member supervisory board is thus not only ready for the DAX, but also groundbreaking in several respects. In addition to digital expertise and entrepreneurial spirit, the 55 percent female quota and the low average age stand out. Unlike many Dax supervisory boards, Zalando’s future competencies are apparently more important than past achievements.

In addition, Cristina Stenbeck, who has served as head of the supervisory board since 2019, has reduced conflicts of interest. Thus, she resigned from her positions at the investment company Kinnevik, in which, however, she still holds shares. Her grandfather Hugo Stenbeck was once one of the founders of the Swedish company, which still owns around 21 percent of Zalando.

Dax supervisory board members: minimum age 50?

Entrepreneurial spirit may already have been laid in the cradle of the head of the supervisory board: The Stenbecks are a Swedish industrialist family rich in tradition, and Cristina, who grew up in New York, took on responsibility early on after the death of her father: she became vice chair of the Kinnevik board of directors at just 25, and took over as chair at 30.

The curriculum vitae of the mother of five impressively shows that you don’t have to have fought your way to the top of the corporate hierarchy over decades to be a good board member. But this belief still seems to be widespread: In many boards, the proportion of older men is still very high, and the generation under 50 is often completely absent

Take Fresenius, for example: even after the departure of 82-year-old permanent supervisory board chairman Gerd Krick, the shareholder representatives have an average age of 66. The youngest member – Hauke Stars – at 54 is just as old as the oldest Zalando Supervisory Board member (Mariella Röhm-Kottmann, Head of Accounting at ZF Friedrichshafen).

The situation is similar elsewhere, for example at BASF (average age on the capital side 63, no U-50s). Daimler has at least made some progress: with the additions of Olaf Koch (51) and Helene Svahn (47), the average age has dropped to 61. We now hope that Bernd Pischetsrieder will continue on this path. Because experience is important – but so are a breath of fresh air and digital expertise.