Hermann von Siemens
When Hermann von Siemens succeeded his late uncle Carl Friedrich as “Head of the House” in 1941, World War II was nearing its peak. Siemens was enmeshed in an all-out war economy; independent business activities had become nearly impossible. He succeeded in guiding the company through these precarious times. After the war ended, Hermann von Siemens led the reconstruction of the company, which had lost some 80 percent of its assets. The core focus was on reentering the world marketplace and building up new business fields.
“My two grandfathers left me a legacy that has set the direction for my whole life: a love to scientific research.”
Hermann von Siemens, 1945
Hermann von Siemens had not just one, but two renowned grandfathers: Werner von Siemens and the physicist Hermann von Helmholtz. Both of these men were role models for him, and their passion for science had a decisive influence on his choice of careers. After finishing high school, Hermann decided to study chemistry. In 1918, after he had earned his doctorate in chemistry, Hermann began working in the physical chemistry laboratory of Siemens & Halske.
As designated successor to his uncle Carl Friedrich, Hermann von Siemens worked in a wide variety of business fields and departments within the electrical engineering company. Beginning in 1929, he took on leadership and management duties, and in 1937 he assumed responsibility for the technical-scientific development work of the entire company. In 1941, in the midst of World War II, 56-year-old Hermann became “Head of the House.”
Hermann von Siemens led the electrical engineering company during the latter years of World War II. Even before the end of the war, he and his closest advisors made the pioneering decision to decentralize the company.
He himself was not able to take part in building up these “exile governments” in the western and southern regions of Germany: Because of his role as a member of the Supervisory Board of Deutsche Bank, he was arrested in 1945 by the Allied Forces and imprisoned for two-and-a-half years.
As a result of World War II, Siemens lost about 80 percent of its assets. In Berlin alone, about half of its buildings and factories were destroyed. Initially, employees produced primarily items for everyday use such as coal shovels, cooking utensils, and stoves. Gradually, Siemens once again began producing simple electrotechnical products such as lamps and radios.
At the beginning of May, Hermann von Siemens returned to the company leadership as Supervisory Board Chairman. By that time, thanks in large measure to the tremendous commitment of the employees, the reconstruction of Siemens as a company was relatively well advanced. By the end of 1948, around 68,000 employees were already working for the company again.
VIP visit – in 1952, Hermann von Siemens welcomes German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer to Siemensstadt.
On the one hand, Hermann von Siemens remained true to the company’s traditional strategies. On the other hand, he was willing to venture down new paths and invest in innovative business fields such as semiconductor, data, and reactor technology. By the time he stepped down as “Head of the House” in 1956, Siemens was once again one of the leading electrical engineering companies in Europe and in the world.
Those who study the history of companies are witnesses to exciting developments; they delve into a succession of highs and lows, successes and failures, economic and social changes. And they become acquainted not only with the founders but also with the people who successfully develop the companies, who guide and lead. This is exactly what unfolds in the new book from the Siemens Historical Institute. Through 13 detailed portraits, the book relates how the more than 170-year history of Siemens is interwoven with the history of Germany, Europe, and the world. From the founder, Werner von Siemens, to Carl Friedrich von Siemens to Joe Kaeser, it is clear that the company needs people at the top who lead with courage, drive, and a sense of responsibility, who are not afraid to face the challenges of the times and to shape the future.
Following in his great forefathers’ footsteps – A passion for science and research
Training on the job – Preparing for the role of “Head of the House”
In the midst of war – Responsibility in hard times
Return to normalcy – The immediate post-war period
“Somewhat leaner, but tougher” – Return to leadership of the company
Innovative fields for the future – Engineering in semiconductors, data, and reactors
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