What makes firms future ready?
The ultimate goal for any company is to build resilience and overcome adversity, securing future prosperity. How though? While there are any number of recipes for success, sometimes all it takes is serendipity.
Courage and caution in careful measure
With the economy booming and the opportunities for growth seemingly boundless, 107 stock corporation banks were founded in Germany between 1870 and 1872. By the end of the decade, though, two-thirds of these had folded in the Panic of 1873, which triggered an economic depression in Europe and the United States. Deutsche Bank, also a child of this time, had largely stayed away from overly risky deals and decided to focus on its original purpose: to provide financing for foreign trade. This decision enabled it to navigate the ensuing storm; in fact, it emerged from the crisis stronger than before.
The recipe for success? The right amount of daring and deliberation, of courage and caution – something that the bank’s original management team embodied: Georg von Siemens, the enterprising banker with innovative, bold ideas and Hermann Wallich, the experienced financier with a more cautious, considered approach to business. In 1904, Wallich said that 1873 was the year that marked the starting point of Deutsche Bank’s tremendous growth journey – a trajectory that would be unstoppable despite minor, unavoidable setbacks along the way.
A nose for innovation
When inventor Werner von Siemens started an electrical telegraphy business with precision mechanic Johann Georg Halske in 1847, no one could have foreseen Siemens & Halske one day growing into a global corporation. What is it, then, that has driven the company’s success for more than 175 years? The clear answer: having a nose for the technology trends of tomorrow.
One of those forward-looking ideas was for an electric-powered elevated railway to ease traffic congestion in growing cities. As early as 1879, Siemens & Halske presented the world's first electric railroad and realized the Berlin elevated and subway railroad from 1897. Siemens is a master of reinvention and is a global leader in the digitization of industry and infrastructure, modern rail and medical technology. After all, innovations are both a defence shield in times of crisis and a key factor for lasting success.
Sell your strengths
At the end of the Second World War, Deutsche Bank was virtually on its knees. Most of its locations had been damaged or destroyed, deposits and securities were largely worthless, and its foreign business had collapsed.
Resilience research teaches that in times of elementary crises such as this, companies try to secure their survival by rebuilding from within. Deutsche Bank was left with two key assets in this post-war era. First, it had an excellent management team around the exceptional banker Hermann J. Abs along with highly knowledgeable and seasoned staff – technically its human capital. Second, it had its good name: the Deutsche Bank brand. While the bank was prohibited from conducting business under this name for over a decade after the Allied Powers dismantled its business into regional successor institutions, the bank still managed to cash in on its valuable brand. Whenever one of these constituent banks advertised their services during this time, it was always with the addendum “Formerly Deutsche Bank”.
So when Deutsche Bank was reconstituted in 1957, networks and business relationships had already been re-established thanks to the cohesion and strength of its internal organisation.
Two are better than one
Launched in 1998, smart had a strong brand but was making losses. Its survival was reliant on it reinventing itself – but how? In 2020, one of Daimler's biggest shareholders, Geely, a Chinese car manufacturer, proposed a joint venture. The goal: to reposition the smart car as an electric-only, premium-class vehicle.
Daimler and Geely agreed on the cooperation. While Daimler contributed the brand and the design, Geely took over engineering, development and production. It was a win-win situation for both companies: Geely benefited from the established brand name and economies of scale; Daimler above all from access to the Chinese market and Geely’s expertise in direct online car sales.
In April 2022, the partners presented the new smart – an all-electric SUV designed primarily for urban traffic. By working together, Daimler and Geely had reinvented the smart and put it back on the road to success.
Success by serendipity
Is luck a resilience factor? Although hard to plan, making the right decision at the right time is essential not only for companies’ progress but also plays a vital role in everyone’s success. That “right time” or “opportune moment” is “Kairos”. In Greek mythology, Kairos is the god of opportunity. With wings in his feet and always running, you would have to be quick to grasp the proverbial opportunity by the long lock of hair that hung over his otherwise bald head. Any business that recognises an opportune moment before it passes by can achieve success.
How Deutsche Bank preserves its history
Pictures make the past come alive - thanks to our archives, that's possible: For decades, the Historical Institute of Deutsche Bank has been critically examining the history of Deutsche Bank through its own and external research. To this end, it preserves historically important sources.
The Historical Society of Deutsche Bank e.V. has been bringing the history of banking and its political, economic and cultural environment closer to the general public since 1991.
… enjoys the variety that working for Deutsche Bank offers – like being able to work on What Next. Her main focus is on internal communication. She is interested in what the past can teach us and how history can help us craft the tools we need for the future.
In this case, she worked with Reinhard Frost, from Deutsche Bank’s Historical Institute, to unearth a treasure trove of experience.
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