Dr. Uwe Schroeder-Wildberg
Chairman of the Executive Board of MLP SE
We spoke with Dr. Schroeder-Wildberg about #FutureGoodGovernance.
The interview was conducted before the outbreak of the Corona Pandemic.
A ship needs a captain. There is much talk about new leadership concepts, about participation and freedom. How much leadership does a company need in the future and how much agility can it tolerate? How do you envisage corporate management in the future?
In the future, too, every ship will need a captain to stay in the picture. His most important task is to make his team strong and more powerful. Agile working methods help the captain to help the crew to achieve better solutions. Leadership will even become more important, but the requirements are changing. Anyone who manages a company is a pilot, a facilitator and at the same time an inquisitive questioner. And he decides when agility makes sense – and when it does not. One point that seems banal but is anything but self-evident should never be lost sight of: that the type of leadership should always suit the company, the people and the situation!
The world’s Greta’s have also drawn attention to companies and their fields of action. What challenges do you expect in terms of social responsibility and thus sustainability in the company?
It is crucial that companies act with conviction and on a long-term basis – and that the solutions fit the business model. Otherwise, there is a danger that in public debates – as correct as they are at heart – attempts will be made to achieve short-term PR effects. This does not do justice to the issue, any more than it does to the increasing number of rules and laws that lead above all to one thing: more bureaucracy. Only companies that live up to their responsibility will find long-term acceptance in society.
Trust is good, control is better. Today, it is still primarily a matter of figures and compliance. However, artificial intelligence is also changing perspectives and thinking. How can you imagine a future system for monitoring the board of directors? Will there still be a supervisory board watching over the management or will the ‘monitoring’ be replaced by a technically highly equipped external service provider?
Not everything that seems to be or becomes technically possible is also goal-oriented. No bot in the world can replace the personal conversation. Of course, data can be used better thanks to technical innovations. But managing a company is all about strategies and concepts. And this is where the conversation between the supervisory board and the management board remains very important. A good axis between the CEO and the chairman of the supervisory board remains crucial for the long-term and sustainable development of a company.
Companies are subject to a constant process of change. What challenges do you expect for your company in the next 10 years? How will they change your company? What will change in terms of employment and employee qualifications?
The speed of change is greater than in the past, but there has always been constant change – many people forget that. However, in today’s world nobody can predict the next ten years in detail. In the last few months in particular, the Corona crisis has once again triggered a huge surge of change. It is therefore important to have a clear line, the strategic thread, in order to be able to classify external influences, new developments and challenges. Since we do not always know what is coming, the ability to find solutions is becoming increasingly important for everyone in the company. How and when do I apply which method to arrive at good solutions? This question is becoming more and more important compared to the classic expert knowledge.
There is much debate about centrality vs. decentralization, agility and core competence in organizations. Will there still be companies in today’s sense of the term in 20 years’ time? What changes in terms of corporate organization and financing do you expect or would you like to see?
For me, too many contradictions are built up in this discussion. It is not always just about inventing something new. It is about optimising the existing, ensuring stable operations and, on this basis, pushing the new in a targeted manner. In other words: to act extremely flexibly on a stable framework of values. In many cases, companies do not have to reinvent themselves for this. But it is about enabling them to find the right balance.
Car manufacturers are becoming mobility service providers, food producers are becoming lifestyle providers, media houses are becoming data science companies. Where will your industry develop? Will industries – as we know them today – still exist in ten years’ time? What will happen then?
A clear yes and no. Of course there will still be industries and companies. But the boundaries between industries will become even more permeable than we already see today. Cross-industry cooperation can increase the share of value added. That doesn’t make sense in all cases, but in many. The financial industry has defined itself through products for many decades – this has always been too short and is now more so than ever. A holistic and networked view of the client is crucial – this is what we mean when we talk about MLP as the discussion partner in all financial matters.
Today, corporate leaders are being asked by various parties about the purpose of the company or the specific mission of the company. How do you meet this demand? What positive or critical lessons have you learned from this? What advice do you give a CEO from another industry on how best to approach this topic?
I do not want to give advice to colleagues. But I am convinced that everyone can learn a lot from the other industries. Because the challenges are very similar on an abstract level – the solutions are sometimes very different. But the most important thing – and I’m not saying anything new here – is to understand your customers. And to really understand them. Some time ago, I myself conducted many conversations with passers-by on the street as part of a design thinking process on the positioning of MLP, in order to gain a better understanding of our industry. That was challenging, but above all very instructive. And it has brought much more than anonymous market research.
The so-called stakeholders, particularly the (institutional) shareholders, are exercising their ownership rights and obligations much more strongly than just a few years ago. It is therefore no longer enough to tick off the requirements of a code (“comply-or-explain”). Internationally, the intensive and permanent communication/interaction of stakeholders with corporate management is gaining ground (“apply-and-explain”). What trends do you see here and how do you assess them?
As a company, you cannot not communicate – otherwise you lack acceptance in society. This statement applies more than ever. Communication, especially proactive communication with all stakeholders involved, is becoming increasingly important. For this you need to know the important stakeholders for your company and seek dialogue. It’s all about convincing others of your own way with good arguments. In fact, this cannot be achieved by ticking off the appropriate guidelines in a code. As a rule, both sides benefit from each of these discussions. A CEO cannot delegate the task of being the top communicator and networker either – because this is one of his very own and increasingly important tasks.
#FutureGoodGovernance is currently still comparable to a crystal ball in many areas. Which future aspects of good governance are particularly important to you? What would you wish for if you had three wishes? Where do you see the political challenge? And what responsibilities will companies and their managers have in the future?
First of all, I would like to see more trust in the social market economy and regulatory thinking. Secondly: clear and comprehensible rules. And thirdly: no overregulation. This is where politics must start – for everything else, companies and their managers are responsible and will find good solutions.
Thank you very much for the interview!