Things have calmed down around Joe Kaeser since he no longer heads the Siemens board. He used to like to polarize and regularly tweet about climate protection, headscarf girls and the then US President Donald Trump. Kaeser is still one of the most influential German managers and heads the supervisory boards of Daimler Trucks and Siemens Energy, among others. But he rarely speaks publicly.
Now the ex-Siemens boss has spoken out and expressed his concern about the state of Germany. The country is at risk of being damaged by its own climate protection efforts. "The risk that Germany will be de-industrialized as a result or that de-industrialization will progress even faster than it is already happening is much, much higher than that we have a significant commitment to the climate here," said Kaeser in the "OMR" podcast with Philipp Westermeyer.
The manager emphasized that the climate problem must be solved worldwide, but Germany can only do little by reducing its CO₂ emissions from the current two to one percent of global emissions. This reduction is immediately overcompensated for by countries like Indonesia, China and India.
"In a comparatively small country that only contributes about two percent, we have to use innovation in this area to build solutions that we then try out in Germany that are climate-friendly, save CO₂ and then export them to the world," said Kaeser. "In this way we will then create the impact on the large consumers and also maintain the export model Germany via the innovation to then also secure prosperity."
When he was still Siemens boss, Kaeser tried to win over the activists of "Fridays for Future" with a hug strategy by offering the activist Luisa Neubauer a seat on a supervisory board of Siemens Energy. Even today, Kaeser considers the climate protest to be justified.
"I think it's good and right that young people take to the streets and get involved because it's their life, their future, their generation and the generations after," he said. He didn't offer the job to Neubauer "because I'm particularly woke," said the manager. He wanted to express "that the diagnosis alone is not a solution".
Back then, Siemens was the perfect target for the activists. That's why he asked Neubauer if she didn't want to work on a solution to the problem. "I said to her: Look, I think what you're doing is great, but you know, if you've made a diagnosis a hundred times and it always comes out the same, which is the climate problem, it doesn't help a hundred more times to make the same diagnosis,” says Kaeser. Instead, you have to work on the "therapy", which he offered her and was surprised that she didn't cancel right away.
"She couldn't help but say 'No' because the activism business model is not compatible with solutions, otherwise the business model is gone," said Kaeser. "That was perfectly clear to me." Of course, the media was happy to pick it up at the time. "This David-Goliath scheme is accepted with pleasure, so the young activist introduces the - yes, how do you say it - old, white man, the CEO of the most well-known company in Germany."
Kaeser sees the German economy under pressure not only because of the climate protection efforts, above all the energy policy and the competition between the systems between the USA and China threaten the German business model. "We have to be careful about the global environment we're in," said Kaeser. Germany is “pretty busy with itself”.
You have to think about the sources of German prosperity, the country will not be able to completely free itself from dependencies such as Russia and China.
"In this respect, we have to carefully design the value chains with a long-term orientation in such a way that there are mutual dependencies, so that neither partner can allow himself to harm the other without noticing it himself," said Kaeser. "I'm not saying it's going to be easy, but that's the job we have as a country now."
Kaeser himself was regularly criticized during his time as Siemens boss because he also did business with dubious regimes such as those in Saudi Arabia, Russia or China. "The ill-fated visit to the Russian President right after the annexation of Crimea, you can make real mistakes there," Kaeser now conceded.
He visited Vladimir Putin in 2014 despite the illegal attack on the Ukrainian peninsula. "It's a constant running the gauntlet, because most of the people you deal with don't govern their country according to Western democratic models," said Kaeser, describing how he dealt with heads of state and government.
Above all, he is concerned about small and medium-sized companies, the large corporations could also position themselves successfully in a world in which China and the USA are increasingly decoupling from each other. "The middle class is guaranteed to be the mainstay of social peace in Germany," said Kaeser. Its development causes him great concern.
Germany lacks a long-term concept for energy supply. In Germany you pay 20 to 30 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity, in the USA it is only seven to ten cents. "No company in the world will do that where 30 cents are needed if there is the alternative of buying at a much cheaper rate in an intact market that also promotes localization," he said.
The ex-Siemens boss asked German politicians to pay less attention to polls and popularity rankings. "I admit it's difficult, but the way our country is going at the moment, we say in every crisis, every smallest crisis: Now we have to help again and even more welfare state and even less personal responsibility, that will go wrong in the long run." said Kaeser. The call for the state is justified in many cases, but not always the tried and tested means.
There is still hope. "We have everything it takes to establish ourselves successfully for the next ten years," said Kaeser. "But it's really at least five to twelve, if not one minute to twelve."
In the interview, Kaeser also commented on the discussion about the Twitter takeover by Tesla boss Elon Musk. He knows Musk "relatively well," said the ex-Siemens boss. They met years ago when Musk was looking for an automation solution for his first Tesla plant in the USA. "I can remember him calling and yelling at me in the middle of the night," says Kaeser.
"Get your ass over here, I wanna see you tomorrow," Musk shouted ("Move your butt over here, I want to see you here tomorrow.") But he didn't fly there, but found out where the problem was. "It quickly became apparent that organized production with the way it dealt with people and problems was not possible," reports the German manager.
"Elon Musk is an incredibly interesting personality because there is a dividing line with him: Above the dividing line is genius and below the dividing line is chaos or something negative," Kaeser describes the Tesla and Twitter boss. “That dividing line is between genius and madness. There is no buffer in between, no neutral in which to move. He's either brilliant at it or he's at it in a way that makes you wonder how people like that can be successful at all.”
However, he admires Musk for still being willing to put everything on one card. "And Elon really has a lot to lose," says Kaeser. “There was no art in Tesla's early days, burning other people's money, half a billion every quarter. In principle, almost anyone can do that.”
This willingness to take risks is now also evident in the Twitter takeover. "Elon Musk always wins his games 8-6 and never 1-0," said Kaeser. "Because he also does a lot of things where you say: Nobody understands." However, the ex-Siemens boss's verdict on Musk's current behavior on Twitter is clear: "Currently he is below this dividing line."
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