In many countries, the image we have of German business and management is one of efficiency, formality and organisation. My view was shaken a few years back when I experienced the chaotic programme of work on the railways in and around Berlin, with chaos in stations and no help or communication apparent for confused travellers. Then we had the Brandenburg Airport fiasco, one of the best case studies in my Bad Buying book! It finally opened last year, 10 years behind schedule and billions over budget after a whole spectrum of incompetence, bad planning, fraud, and financial mismanagement had been demonstrated during its construction.
Another more recent story shows that less than perfect side of German management. Patricia Schlesinger was the €300K a year the director (CEO) of Berlin-based RBB, one of nine regional public broadcasters in the country funded by the taxpayer. But she resigned this week after a series of accusations about money wasted, conflicts of interest and improper procurement – in fact, the word “embezzlement” is even being used. Berlin’s public prosecutor is looking at accusations she used RBB funds to pay for lavish dinners at her home and private use by her husband of her company car and chauffeur.
Wolf-Dieter Wolf (crazy name, crazy guy…), chairman of the RBB board, also stood down. He is linked to some of the accusations and is seen as being complicit in her behaviour. Perhaps most extravagant was the €658,112 spent on refurbishing her office, according to The Times – shades of Fred Goodwin, the ex-Royal Bank of Scotland head. When the new RBS HQ opened in 2005 there were reports of over-the-top office furnishings and his own “scallop kitchen” (denied by his lawyers, we should say)!
In Berlin, the parquet flooring for Ms Schlesinger’s office cost a mere €16,783, and (here comes a Bad Buying link) complaints by the internal compliance department that no other quotations for the work had been sought were overridden.
The accusations began in June with a report by the news site Business Insider that Schlesinger’s husband, Gerhard Spörl, a journalist, had been awarded a consultancy contract by the state-owned trade fair company Messe Berlin. That contract was allegedly signed off by the company’s supervisory board chief, the same Wolf-Dieter Wolf. Was this an example of nepotism and favouritism? Then other consulting-type contracts emerged with little evidence of proper procurement, with accusations of Schlesinger and / or Wolf in effect favouring their friends.
Of course, this apparent arrogance and disregard for rules is something we see frequently and is not limited by geography, sector or type of role. (The Bad Buying book has quite a few examples, as you might expect). The boundaries between disregard for the organisation’s money or rules and outright fraud are also sometimes difficult to define exactly. However, there seems to be a character trait that means some people just feel they deserve more, they deserve to be treated differently and the rules don’t or shouldn’t apply to them. Boris Johnson comes to mind, as does Carlos Ghosn, now an international fugitive after running Nissan and being accused of using corporate expenditure for his personal benefit.
But back to the German broadcaster case, and I’m trying to think of a good way to close this article. I mean, if only there was a word for that feeling of pleasure we get from someone else’s misfortune, particularly when they think they’re better than you…!