"Strength in unity"

ZVEI is celebrating its 100th anniversary 

Carl Friedrich von Siemens and the establishment of the German Electrical Manufacturers’ Association

One hundred years ago, on March 5, 1918, the Zentralverband der deutschen elektrotechnischen Industrie (German Electrical Manufacturers’ Association, ZVEI) was established in Berlin. Now called the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers’ Association, the ZVEI has represented the German electrical industry’s interests in the areas of business and technology policy ever since. But what does this development have to do with Siemens? To find out, it’s necessary to take a look at the role of Carl Friedrich von Siemens, the chairman of the Siemens companies in the early twentieth century – something that’s well worth doing.

Establishment of the Wartime Board of the German Electrical Industry – Electrical companies all at one table for the first time

In August 1914, shortly after the outbreak of hostilities, the Centralverband der deutschen Industriellen (Central Association of German Industrialists, CDI) and the Bund der Industriellen (Industrialists League, BdI) established a special wartime committee, the so-called Kriegsausschuss der deutschen Industrie (Wartime Board of German Industry), in order to offer a united front to the German military and the state’s new dirigiste authorities such as the Kriegsrohstoffabteilung, the government department responsible for safeguarding wartime supplies of raw materials. However, the board’s directors were concerned primarily with furthering the interests of heavy industry. The electrical industry had virtually no influence on its activities and was, accordingly, at a disadvantage.

It was against this backdrop that Carl Friedrich von Siemens entered the fray and forcefully promoted the establishment of a parallel organization within the German electrical industry. And he succeeded. Applying his outstanding negotiating skills, he was able to bring the representatives of the various electrical associations together in February 1916 in order to jointly found the Wartime Board of the German Electrical Industry (Kriegsausschuss der deutschen elektrotechnischen Industrie). Thanks to this board, the companies in the German electrical sector now worked together for the first time to help ensure that raw material requirements were met, raw materials were properly distributed, orders were managed and pricing policies implemented vis-à-vis the government authorities.

As the board’s chairman, Carl Friedrich von Siemens, was determined to leverage the electrical sector’s newly won strength and further develop the organization into a powerful industry association. As a practical matter, however, achieving this aim was still anything but easy. The interests of the large companies and those of the specialist firms in the electrical sector were still too far apart – above all, in matters relating to domestic and foreign trade. "Ashamed at the lack of initiative" within the German electrical industry, Carl Friedrich von Siemens criticized its orientation on short-term profits in October 2017.

They can’t see the dollars they’re losing for the pennies they hope to earn from special policies.

"Strength in unity" – Finally all on the same track

Convinced that there was strength in unity, Carl Friedrich von Siemens nonetheless persisted in his efforts to reconcile the separate industry associations. Finally, in December 1917, a commission within the Wartime Board of the German Electrical Industry was formed under his leadership to draft articles of association for an industry association. Three months later, on March 5, 1918, the association became reality. At a meeting of the members of the Wartime Board of the German Electrical Industry in the Hotel Bristol in Berlin, ten industrialists agreed to establish a “central association,” the ZVEI. Thanks to Carl Friedrich von Siemens’ unwavering commitment, what belonged together had come together at last.

The actual founding of the ZVEI was unspectacular: a document was signed and an entry made in the official association register. The signatories comprised Carl Friedrich von Siemens and representatives of three other companies. Six of the ten signers represented electrical enterprises located in Berlin. Carl Friedrich von Siemens was the ZVEI’s first chairman.

Within a year of the association’s founding, its member companies accounted for 95 percent of all employees in the German electrical industry. For the next 14 years, the period of the Weimar Republic, the ZVEI’s top management team remained essentially unchanged. Joined by Hans von Raumer as managing director in 1919, Carl Friedrich von Siemens headed the association until November 1933. During the subsequent Nazi period, the ZVEI was transformed into a corporate association and forced in line with the new regime.

Reestablished under its old name in Frankfurt am Main only on February 24, 1949, the association soon regained its former strength.

The ZVEI is celebrating its 100th anniversary on March 5, 2018. Founded in 1918 primarily through the commitment of Carl Friedrich von Siemens, the association is still – after an eventful history in a century of extremes – the German electrical industry’s representative in the areas of business and technology policy.

 

 

Christopher Heise

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