A society that works for all


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.

5 thoughts on “A society that works for all”

  1. Dear Juergen,

    Not sure if you will see this response since this piece is a few months old. I come from Greece and like you I chose to make UK my home since 1994 when I first came to study Chemistry. Now I am in my second career path after leaving 15y cancer research behind and make a fresh start in West Wales, where a Chemist even with a PhD can do very little. My wife is from Spain and our daughter from Wales which means that UK is an ideal place to be living.

    Brexit: this was a result of a weak government giving a vote on a technical question to the general public, a question that many economists still don’t quite know the answer -i.e. will UK be better of in the long term. A government is in place to make such desissions on behalf of the people such as do we go on war, do we change the pound, do we leave EU. So asking the people for a decission negates the need of the government hence in a way its a healthy thing that a new administration is now in place.

    Someone said that a rainbow of issues was decided on a black or white debate, and he was correct. For instance the card of the immigration was a faulse argument. As long as UK has a deficit of 5% of GDP then it will continue to need 200-300k more people from outside UK (as it has been happening in recent years) to sustain the growth in the economy that allows to borrow under low (due to AAA rating) interest rates. The 6% unemployment suggests that this extra capacity needs to come from elsewhere until the economic policy changes and the deficit is extinct.

    Regarding bad apples: I hope you don’t mind me while agreeing to bring up that SIEMENS has some as well. Please look for Mr Christoforakos who has been the middle man facilitating payments to Greek corrupt politicians from the so called black accounts of SIEMENS so the contracts,could be secured. Indeed SIEMENS was found guilty of these practices and made some settlements to pay a small compensation to the Greek government. Mr Christoforakos is evading Greek Justice staying in Germany, with an extradiction notice in place. Enough on bad apples though..

    Your mentioning to respect: i totally agree. In big urban centres (lesser in rural areas) the vindication phenomenon to those descenting form outside UK is more profound. For instance when I told my next door neighbour in the small village we live that we are packing our bags as a joke (he is a true Welshman) he genuinly did not get the joke. I had to explain to him what I meant to get a laugh. This meant a lot to me as I reallised he saw me not different to anyone else. However I heard a case from a Germany born colleague that he had people asking him in the street why he is not packing his bags. He has been in UK over 20yrs. That made me feel very bad indeed. However I think this is a failure of the UK government who should have stamped down on such occurences through openly supporting (e.g. using the media or constructive debates) those immigrants and economic migrants (not many people appreciate the difference) who are UK citizens and residents for many years to continue to feel safe while educating the public on those raibow issues of the debate dispite decission has been made.

    Sorry to bother you with such a long comment, I am sure that your task for leading the industrial digitisation focus group is an exciting one and you are very well positioned to carry out this task.

    I wish you all the best,

    Dimitris Pletsas

    1. Thanks for your comments Dimitris, you make some very good points about Brexit and immigration, and I agree, to sustain a growing economy, we need higher levels of immigration, and the trick is to positively plan for that rather than pretend otherwise and then be surprised and not well prepared for higher levels.

      Regarding your Bad Apples comment, you are right. Whilst we have a very strong culture of responsible business, we were horrified 10 years ago, to learn of a few bad Apples in Siemens too. I can tell you from the inside, that we undertook a massive program of compliance traning and reinforcement of our core messaging about being a responsible business. Whilst this is largely a culture issue, we also placed an increased level of belt and braces on many of our financial processes. We feel much more confident that bad apples now find Siemens a difficult place to hide!

  2. Dear Juergen, Happy New Year, I trust you are well. I very much agree with your thoughts and also believe balance is key as we move forward. Respect for each other must be a starting point, from there everything is possible. Best wishes, Keith Matthews.

  3. Dear Juergen, For me the learning from your – A society that works for all – is that you have spent time to reflect and then comment.
    To work towards a more balanced approach to important decision making – whether business or personal requires time to listen, understand and then comment or react, this potentially goes against the current trend to react immediately, an aspect of our current social environment.
    Of course speed is good but not necessarily for true or better understanding.
    Time to reflect should enable a more balanced debate and a more positive outcome.

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