In this blog, I reflect back on 2016. I shot a selfie- video version, to help focus my thoughts, and you can listen to that here. It’s worth a watch, just for the breathtaking scenery, which for me, makes the perfect place for some considered thought. If you prefer the written version and a little bit more behind my thinking, then please read on.
2016 was certainly an incredibly eventful year to reflect on. It made me think back to
the last time that I felt the same tense political atmosphere and where the British people were so disenfranchised with the way the economy is working for them.
This quickly took my mind to the mid-nineteen eighties. I was a student at that time in Nottingham, a region that, like many other parts of the UK, where much of the working population had developed a deep resentment towards the political leadership. The headlines were dominated by the ugly scenes of the miners strike and Thatcherism. It was a horrible and in many ways a terrifying time. People were genuinely concerned about their livelihood and their future. At that point of my education, I was clear, that I would return to Germany or Austria after my studies, where economic prospects appeared brighter.
In many ways what we have witnessed in 2016 was similar. The Brexit debate unearthed a deeper level of dissatisfaction from the British working majority, than many had appreciated. It certainly had not been as visible as it was with the angry protests and strikes of the 1980’s. It was a more subtle and quiet protest.
And in 2016 things were of course also very different in other ways to 1985. Back then, the economy was struggling to recover from the recession of the early nineteen eighties and unemployment was at record high levels.
In 2016 the economy has actually been doing rather well, recovering positively from the recession of 2009 and unemployment levels are at a record low.
So, I have reflected on why it is, that the British people feel so disenfranchised.
The answer to that question is clearly not a simple one. The Brexit debate showed how complex and how divided the nation had become.
I don’t intend to go over the issues of the debate again, as that won’t help us. The British people have decided that we will Brexit.
But one thing about the polarized debate that I think most of us will agree on, is that we have, again, like in 1985, reached a point where there is a very high disregard and mistrust of political and business leadership.
And that has certainly made me reflect; how have I become one of those business leaders that is associated with not being trusted?
That is definitely not what I hoped for when I set out on my career path. When at comprehensive school in Leeds in the early 1980’s, I was told that anyone from any background (and mine definitely wasn’t privileged) can achieve, and create a success for themselves, if we work hard enough. That spurred me and that is what I set out to do, and by the end of my studies, I was determined to stay in the UK (instead of taking what looked like an easier option of returning to Germany) and try and help make a difference to a nation that needed every help from as many youngsters that were positively motivated as possible.
So,I’ve worked hard for 30 years and I do have a nice lifestyle, but somehow, I feel I can’t be proud of that. In today’s climate it is frowned upon by many as ‘elite and greedy’. Yet I have never seen my journey as motivated by greed. My drive has been the hope of being able to make a difference; helping create a better organization, for the people who work at Siemens, supporting the broader communities, including our local suppliers and society, where we have our factories and operations. Financial reward for myself and the organisation being a positive by-product of that. And I am clear in my mind, that only an organisation that acts responsibly towards society in its broadest sense, can be a successful one. And through that it will be profitable, which in turn is required to be responsible; to allow it to invest for the long term, in skills, innovation and to support its communities. So over the long term only a profitable organisation can be a responsible one.
And when I meet with other business and political leaders, there are very few, that I meet that don’t share the same values as mine in this regard. They, like me want to make a positive difference to their organizations, they care about their people and they care about society. Of course we don’t get it right all of the time and there are some bad apples among us too, and it is those stories that we read about in the media, and that distorts our view.
So, the first thing that I really wish for as we go into 2017 is that we see a little bit more balance and we see more reflection before making our judgements. Unfortunately, that is not easy in a world where emotional and sensationalized headlines tend to define opinions, instead of a more factual and balanced debate.
And that brings me to my second wish for 2017; a nation where everyone takes more responsibility. Business leaders, to focus on delivering value for society, creating local jobs and investing in the future. That is why I have decided to support the IPPR commission on economic justice which you can read more about here. Politicians should focus less on playing the person, that we see through the very often public and personal attacks, and to play the ball, which is to make the best possible economic success out of Brexit. Getting that ball in the net is now in the common interest of us all, including our European neighbours. And the media needs to reflect too, to help us have a much more balanced and thoughtful debate, as we all work out the best way to get that ball in the net.
And for all of us – the citizens of the UK, what I would love to see for 2017, is a debate that is much less polarized. More respect, towards each other, whether we’re born in Great Britain or whether we have come here from Europe like I did to add value and create a positive life for myself in what has now become my home. Or indeed to those that came here from anywhere else in the World. I don’t mind people disagreeing with my opinions or thoughts, but I don’t expect to be called a Nazi, or a European that has no place in British society. The last time I heard such language was back in the horrible 80’s in my comprehensive school, and there is no place for such ignorance and intolerance today, that has sadly been stirred up again by the Brexit debate.
I’m wishing for a much calmer and respectful discussion about what we all want; a better economy and a fairer society that works for all. Britain will always be a highly diverse nation and only tolerance of each other and everyone taking a responsible position towards society as a whole will help us create that.