Gender equality Will we see the first female CEO of a DAX company in 2019?

Germany lags in promoting women to lead blue-chip companies. But hot-shot female execs at BASF, Deutsche Telekom, Deutsche Post, Siemens and Ford may provide a useful corrective.
Quelle: imago/Chris Emil Janßen
Saori Dubourg of BASF.

(Source: imago/Chris Emil Janßen)

Saori Dubourg tops most recruiters’ lists of people likely to become the first female CEO of a blue-chip company in Germany. The executive board member has worked at chemical giant BASF for more than 20 years. She is responsible for the pesticide, construction products and European businesses – sectors that employ 70,000 people and contribute €8 billion ($9.2 billion) in sales annually, accounting for 14 percent of overall revenue at BASF.

Within the company, she’s considered analytical, empathic and socially competent. “She can motivate and lead a team even through a deep valley,” a BASF insider says.

If Dubourg did become the first woman to head one of the 30 DAX companies on Germany’s benchmark stock market index, it may have to be at another company, because Martin Brudermüller just took over as chief executive at BASF last year.

Recruiters are betting that 2019 (or 2020 at the latest) will be a breakthrough year for female executives in Germany, with a woman finally taking the top job at a DAX company.

But the list of women prepared for such a promotion is a short one. Germany lags behind in promoting women to top management levels and has yet to put one in charge of a blue-chip company. It’s become routine in the US, Britain and Sweden for a woman to head a multinational company, but only one in 10 DAX executive board members is a woman.

In the US, for instance, Mary Barra heads General Motors, and Ginni Rometty leads IBM. Emma Walmsley heads British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, and Birgitte Bonnesen is CEO at Swedbank. Curiously, foreign firms often put women in charge of their large German subsidiaries. Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Nike, JPMorgan Chase and Nestlé all currently have women running their business in Europe’s largest economy.

German companies have been improving slowly, a new study by consultancy EY found. As of January 1, a total of 61 women are in the executive ranks of the 160 DAX, MDAX and SDAX companies, 11 more than one year ago. But women still only make up 8.6 percent of the executive boards in those Germany companies. Two-thirds of those companies’ boards are all male, and only eight companies have more than one woman on their board.

Foreign investors are starting to put pressure on German companies to diversify their management. “We are going to call more and more attention to the significance of diversified executive boards,” says Larry Fink, head of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset management firm. He believes that management diverse in gender, ethnicity and experience has a better chance of identifying long-term growth prospects.

In addition to Dubourg, these are a few women already in top positions at DAX companies who are well-positioned for promotions:

Claudia Nemat

(Source: REUTERS)

Claudia Nemat

The former McKinsey consultant leads the technology and innovation sectors at Deutsche Telekom; previously she headed up Telekom’s European business. Nemat is widely viewed as a “first-class” candidate to take over from CEO Timotheus Höttges when his contract runs out in 2024.

Quelle: dpa
Melanie Kreis

(Source: dpa)

Melanie Kreis

The CFO at Deutsche Post is the only German besides Chancellor Angela Merkel on Forbes' list of the world’s most powerful women – Merkel is No. 1 and Kreis is No. 61. She has been instrumental in integrating DHL at Deutsche Post and spinning off Postbank. She is a protégé of CEO Frank Appel, who is under pressure because of ongoing package delivery problems. If Appel is forced out, Kreis could step up.

Quelle: dpa
Lisa Davis

(Source: dpa)

Lisa Davis

The US citizen has been on the executive board of Siemens since 2014, in charge of the ailing power and gas sector and its US business, which accounts for a third of the company’s turnover. She had a meteoric career at Texaco, Exxon and Shell, but she will have to turn around the power plant business if she wants the top job at Siemens.

Quelle: obs/Ford-Werke GmbH/sascha stehmann
Birgit A. Behrendt

(Source: obs/Ford-Werke GmbH/sascha stehmann)

Birgit Behrendt

After years of leading global purchasing, she became vice president of joint ventures and alliances for Ford in Germany last year. Ford is not a DAX company, but headhunters say she would be a great candidate for the top job at a blue chip.

Claudia Tödtmann, Jürgen Salz, Christian Schlesiger are writers for WirtschaftsWoche, a sister publication of Handelsblatt, where this article first appeared. Darrell Delamaide adapted it into English for Handelsblatt Today. To contact the authors: [email protected]