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First CEO Hiesinger, then Supervisory Board Chairman Lehner. What’s going on? One attempt at explanation – and five appeals to those involved.

When I heard yesterday, Monday, about the resignation of the Chairman of the Supervisory Board of ThyssenKrupp AG, I was initially speechless. A man like Ulrich Lehner is certainly good for surprises, but he is certainly not someone who acts spontaneously and irresponsibly. So some things must have come together to tempt a hardened supervisory board professional with a Rhineland spirit to take such a step. My conclusion: Hiesinger has turned on the red lamp, now the sirens are howling with Lehner’s departure.

What does this resignation mean for ThyssenKrupp? Is the company now being torn apart? Are jobs in danger? Is it counterproductive if, with Hiesinger and Lehner, the two people who wanted to keep the company together are now gone and leave the field to Cevian & Co.? And what roles do Mrs. Gather and the Krupp Foundation play? These questions arise in this confusing situation. And what we are experiencing is – by no means a gap filler for the summer slump, but a staged, tangible corporate governance scandal.

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nacd summit governance

Although I came to the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) Summit in Washington, D.C., to take part in the discussion about boardroom issues and corporate governance, I must admit I’ve had food on the brain.

From talks about digitalization, to personal conversations, to the summit’s ‘Power Breakfasts’, there has been plenty to digest – literally and figuratively – over the past few days.

Perhaps that’s why a culinary quote attributed to the legendary management consultant Peter Drucker kept floating through my mind during the conference: “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

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German AGM

We’re in the middle of annual general meeting (AGM) season here in Germany – the one time when every shareholder can address the company and get first-hand feedback from the board. In theory, this should be an exciting day for shareholders and board members alike. In practice, however, German AGMs tend to be very rigid affairs that can take up more than a full day.

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corporate governance

As 2016 drew to a close, many people let out a collective sigh of relief that we could finally put a tumultuous year behind us. For better or worse, 2016 was marked by a number of disruptive events. While the world of corporate governance was not immune to these changes, developments in this area are largely on a different trajectory.

In 2017 I see some positive trends continuing, other trends gaining steam, and a few new developments on the horizon.

Competence over connections

It would seem obvious: supervisory board positions should be filled by the most competent candidates. In practice, however, this is not always the case. Often, it’s personal connections that play a more important role when filling supervisory board positions, but in recent years, the competence of candidates has become a more prominent consideration. I am happy to say this trend will continue in 2017.

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digitalization

We’ll hit the ten-year anniversary of the smartphone in 2017. With no signs that the trend toward digitalization will slow any time soon, there’s no reason for supervisory boards not to hop on the bandwagon.

I was reading an article recently that referenced the approaching ten-year anniversary of the iPhone. I was shocked – a whole decade of our lives has been spent in the smartphone era? I looked it up, and sure enough, January 9, 2007 marked the day Steven Jobs unveiled the very first iPhone – an epic milestone that we’ll reach right at the beginning of 2017.

Whether we love or hate the smartphones that have become an integral part of our lives, there is no denying that the devices have had a disruptive effect on par with the invention of electricity or the automobile. The idea of flipping a switch and illuminating a room, or of hopping in a box with wheels and driving to a distant city in just a few hours, was once a mind-bending concept. Neither warrant a second thought today.

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