SUPERVISORY BOARDS Germany's Most Powerful Bosses

An exclusive Handelsblatt survey of Germany's most powerful board members indicates several problems. There's a gender and generational imbalance as well as serious potential for conflicts of interest in business.
An exception to the rule: Ann-Kristin Achleitner.

This year's ranking of Germany's most powerful board members indicates one thing above all: The individuals on the top 30 list are still overwhelmingly older men, many of whom previously served as chief executives. Besides bringing up questions about gender and generational change, the list gives rise to criticism about internal conflicts of interest, when a former chief executive becomes a supervisory board member.

The exclusive Handelsblatt list of Germany's 30 most powerful supervisory board members is based on a survey conducted by the University of Göttingen of all 160 DAX , MDAX, SDAX and TecDAX companies.

Only four women made Handelsblatt's list of the top 30 this year. Then again last year, there were only two women on the list.

Gender equality isn't the only issue facing supervisory boards. There's also a lack of young blood. The average age of Germany's top 30 supervisory board members is 64.

"Fresh air in the supervisory boards would do many organizations good, but we find little willingness," Michael Ensser, who heads German operations for the consulting firm Egon Zehnder, told Handelsblatt.

There's still a lot of room for improvement. We expect much more. Manuela Schwesig, Minister for Family Affairs and Women

Additionally more than two-thirds of the top 30 previously served as chief executives. In Germany, supervisory boards select and supervise chief executives. They also dictate companies' overall strategy.

In 2012, Germany introduced a cooling off period in which departing chief executives had to wait two years before becoming supervisory board members at the same company. Despite the law, 7 percent of supervisory board members previously headed executive boards at the same company, raising questions of conflicts of interest.

There has been some significant turn over though. Of the 30 top supervisory members from the same list in 2012, only 14 made the short list this year.

Still, as Michael Wolff, a professor at the University of Göttingen who helped compile Handelsblatt's list, said, change is "coming more slowly than many people expected."

This year, the University of Göttingen evaluated 1,044 supervisory board seats occupied by 913 men and women. Each individual's personal reputation and network was evaluated as well as the quality of the supervisory boards they're on.

With seats at four different companies, Werner Brandt tops Handelsbatt’s list this year.

The former chief financial officer at SAP is the supervisory board chairman at the media company ProSiebenSat.1 and has seats at Qiagen, Lufthansa and the lighting manufacturer Osram.


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Henning Kagermann – who has seats at insurance company Munich RE, Deutsche Post, Deutsche Bank and BMW – is the second most powerful supervisory board member in Germany.

Though men dominate this particular top 30, female business leaders have made some progress. Of the 160 companies analyzed by Handelsblatt, 22 percent of supervisory board seats went to women. The figure rises to 28 percent among blue-chip DAX-listed companies.

Sari Baldauf and Ann-Kristin Achleitner are new additions to the top 30 list. Ms. Baldauf was a manager at Nokia and has seats at Daimler and Deutsche Telekom.

Ms. Achleitner is a professor of business and economics and has seats at supermarket group Metro, industrial gas supplier Linde and Munich Re.

Under German law, publicly-listed German companies are required to fill 30 percent of their supervisory board seats with women. Since the rule was implemented this year, the number of women on supervisory boards has risen by 3.9 percent.

"There's still a lot of room for improvement," said Manuela Schwesig, Germany's minister for family affairs and women. "We expect much more. If there isn't we will have to reconsider if we need to act," she concluded, having said she would not rule out the need to tighten up related legislation on female quotas.


Dieter Fockenbrock is Handelsblatt’s chief correspondent for companies and markets. To contact the author: [email protected]