When Ireland gained its independence in 1922, most of the country still had no electricity. Apart from a few major cities like Dublin and Cork, the country was “totally untouched, electrically speaking.”
In 2015, Egypt declared war on power failures, and awarded Siemens its biggest contract of all time. The mission: generate power to serve 45 million people.
Ideas are of little value in themselves. The value of an invention is in its practical application.Werner von Siemens, company founder, 1851
The time of national isolation is over; we must recognize that we have come to depend on each other in today’s world.Carl Friedrich von Siemens, youngest son of the company founder, 1931
Like the German electrical equipment industry in general, Siemens’ international business expanded steadily up to 1913. But the outbreak of World War I in 1914 brought a profound disruption that had especially dire consequences for the international business. Not until 1923 was Siemens able to regain a foothold internationally – at first in Japan, and then in China and Ireland. Yet this stronger international focus would not last long. It ended abruptly once again with the outbreak of World War II. Once again Siemens lost a large share of its foreign markets, patents and trademark rights. The consequences of the war were a serious threat to the company’s survival. The loss of assets was even calculated at twice as high as the loss after World War I. On top of that came the irreplaceable intangible damage: the loss of intellectual capital, of faithful employees and of business partners and customers.
How did corporate management respond? It counted on international growth, and the company underwent a slow but continuous upswing that carried it back into the world markets. In parallel, it recovered not just its confiscated international companies, but its ownership rights in patents and trademarks. The crisis that had threatened the company with almost total destruction had been overcome. Adaptability, trust in its own strengths, and recourse to its technological core competences helped Siemens out, as did the persistence and endurance that had already characterized the company’s founding generation.
Responsible management that leaves sufficient freedom for creativity is based on trust in employees’ ability to do their job and their sense of personal responsibility. That’s the core of the ownership culture that Siemens has kept in mind since its founding. After all, it’s the employees whose products and work sustainably consolidate customers’ and society’s trust in the company. That was already important to the company’s founder. And it’s reflected in a large number of social policy measures that are still in existence and that employees can rely on.
Striking a balance between ecological, economic and social objectives is a guideline of Siemens’ sustainability strategy. It aims to use innovative products and solutions to improve the company’s own environmental balance and that of its customers, in ecological terms. It builds on long-term value added through innovative products and solutions, in economic terms. And in social terms it commits to the well-being of the company’s employees and environs. Principles of environmental protection are equally mandatory for both employees and suppliers.
One way in which Siemens shows how seriously it takes its sense of responsibility is that in 2001, it joined the United Nations Global Compact, the world’s largest and most important initiative for responsible corporate management. On the basis of its 10 universal principles on human rights, labor standards, environmental protection and corruption prevention, the Global Compact pursues the vision of a sustainable global economy for the benefit of all people, societies and markets.
“Whatever we do, it must add lasting value and deliver benefits – for shareholders, for employees, for customers, and for our partners in business and in society.” That appeal by President and CEO Joe Kaeser is closely allied with the conceptual world of company founder Werner von Siemens, who impressively established the prime imperative of his still-young company when he said, “I won’t sell the future for short-term profit!”
Coming equally from the two poles of Siemens history, in this way the past and the present inscribe a forward-looking principle in the company’s DNA: shape the future for the benefit of those you work for, and who are relying on you. Or – as Werner von Siemens wrote to his wife Mathilde in 1854:
There’s a powerful magic in ‘I want,’ if it is meant in earnest and if there’s some conviction behind it!
It looks like you are using a browser that is not fully supported. Please note that there might be constraints on site display and usability. For the best experience we suggest that you download the newest version of a supported browser: