Germany: After three years as Chairman of the German Eastern Business Association, Oliver Hermes, President, and CEO of the Wilo Group, is stepping down from his honorary post effective 1 June 2022.
In his function as chairman of the regional initiative for 29 countries in Central and Eastern Europe, Oliver Hermes always represented the interests of the member companies in dialogue with politicians. This is not only done centrally in the capital Berlin but also quite deliberately in a decentralized manner using many formats distributed throughout Germany.
During his time in office, he strengthened the interests of SMEs in particular in dialogue with politicians, and positioned German companies as experts in future topics such as Industry 4.0. He always praised the affinity to the digital transformation of the Eastern partner countries, which view digital transformation from the “front end”, i.e. the customer side. In addition, he encouraged a stronger integration of Eastern Europe for more resilient, integrated value chains and shaped the idea of developing existing energy partnerships into climate alliances.
Hermes tirelessly advocated a multilateral world order through responsible, peaceful coexistence and increased the visibility of the association in the national as well as international perception.
“We live in politically and economically turbulent times. More and more people are allowing themselves to be seduced by nationalism, protectionism, and populism. At the same time, unimaginable violence is being perpetrated in the midst of Europe. Multinational companies have to deal with the ramifications of a politically motivated ‘decoupling’ from global developments”, says Hermes.
Not only geopolitically, but also economically, companies are facing a turning point, according to Hermes – 30 years of hyper-globalization are coming to an end.
“The closely interwoven global value chains are disentangling at an increasing pace and becoming more regional or local. In the process, an increasing number of German and European companies are getting caught in the middle of geopolitical disputes. The effect this is having on the development of the world economy is becoming more and more inhibiting”, explains Hermes.
In all its manifestations, decoupling means that multinational cooperation will weaken, alliances crumble and economic bridges between states (and therefore between politically diverse systems) topple. The President and CEO of the Wilo Group is certain that while the primacy of politics applies, this development will lead to considerable economic inefficiencies and that tangible and intangible assets will be destroyed.
Besides the terrible war in Ukraine, he considers the power struggle between the US and China the central geostrategic conflict today.
“Trade restrictions, extraterritorial sanctions, technology embargoes, and the politically motivated decoupling of value chains will all have devastating consequences for the hyper-globalized world economy – especially for companies in Europe. They are the biggest losers and must oppose this trend. Everyday companies demonstrate anew how important international cooperation is to the prosperity of all. That is why we must speak out even more strongly for multilateral world order”, Hermes puts forward. He considers it an unrealistic illusion to believe that the world can be organized in a bipolar fashion. On the one hand, the democratic states of the West, on the other hand, all other states with different political systems. “It would be more realistic to work towards a responsible coexistence of the diverse political systems on our planet. Responsible here means formulating ecological, social, and especially ethical standards for joint economic action with partners. It is about time that the European Union and Germany develop viable geostrategy on which companies can base their foreign trade policies. Until then, I consider the current politicization of companies by the media to be very questionable. The question of how to deal with autocracies and dictatorships is actually and for now a political one. Western governments must not shirk their responsibility here”, says Hermes.
“As an entrepreneur and also personally, I strongly condemn the war in Ukraine. It is an unjustifiable attack on the territorial integrity and sovereignty of a state and its people. This war, like all, only knows losers. I am nevertheless of the opinion that economic integration and interdependencies inspire a spirit of compromise and aid in de-escalation, especially in the face of geopolitical conflicts. ‘Change through trade’ has not only been enormously important in the past and has accompanied historically important appeasement and reconciliation processes as well as a policy of détente. For me, it continues to be the order of the day and is by no means outdated!” explains Hermes.
The entrepreneur had seen himself in the tradition of the bridge builder in his honorary office. However, the successes of this work have been massively called into question by the Russian government’s actions against Ukraine. Nevertheless, he says, it was wrong to discredit the German-Russian reconciliation and the economic interdependence that emerged with it after the Second World War as an outmoded view.
“I oppose the delivery of heavy German weaponry to Ukraine. This is especially true against the background of German history. We were responsible with German weapons for the brutal murder of so many people worldwide and in Eastern Europe, of 6 million Jews, 8 million Ukrainians, but also 18 million Russians. Germany must not become a party to the war under any circumstances”, according to Hermes.
The Wilo Group has already experienced two world wars in its 150-year corporate history and has always had a pacifist DNA.
“Our goal is to make people’s lives better through our products, systems, and services. We see it as our duty to decisively counter political threats and regulatory deficits. This is increasingly expected by our various stakeholders, whether customers or suppliers, but also by our staff and shareholders. We are therefore simultaneously both challenged and inspired to take political responsibility”, Wilo’s President and CEO explains. One example of this is the CEO declaration called into being by the UN, “A Statement from Business Leaders for Renewed Global Cooperation”, which he also signed for the Wilo Group.
In the exercise of his honorary office, he has been representing the interests of over 300 member companies in 29 partner countries over the past three years. “Going forward, however, I see it as my highest priority to counteract decoupling and steer my company through these turbulent times. This requires all my strength and energy”, Oliver Hermes emphasizes.
From the very beginning, it has been part of the DNA of the German Eastern Business Association to facilitate dialogue even in difficult situations. With its 13 regional and thematic working groups covering all 29 countries and important key topics in the energy, agricultural, or health economy as well as climate protection, the German Eastern Business Association is very well positioned to take on the new strategic challenges.
“German trade associations, which focus on different regions and are active worldwide, are currently of particular importance. I, therefore, wish the executive board, the headquarters, and the full-time management of the German Eastern Business Association good luck and success in implementing their strategies”, said Oliver Hermes.
Oliver Hermes retains his ties to Eastern Europe and Central Asia through his entrepreneurial activities in general and his position as Honorary Consul of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
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