ITN: From your point of view, what is the most important message of your book?
Götz W. Werner: Everyone is an entrepreneur, an entrepreneur of life. The mission of a life entrepreneur is to shape his or her own biography. In order to form an idea of what it means to be in charge of your own life – life is endlessly fascinating – you can read the biographies of other people.
ITN: What is fascinating about your insights into the business world is the high value placed on humanity, sustainability and social values. How can we succeed in persuading more leading business figures that social responsibility and business success are not mutually exclusive?
Götz W. Werner: What I have observed is that the reason many companies enjoy success is that they have a ‘social conscience’. Long term success cannot come at the cost of the wider world. We all depend on the community at large. The question is whether we are aware of that fact.
About Götz W. Werner
Götz W. Werner is the founder and Supervisory Board Member of the dm pharmacy chain. He was managing director of the company for 35 years and is regarded as a pioneer of integrated corporate thinking. His autobiography, titled “Womit ich nie gerechnet habe” (What I never reckoned with) was published in autumn 2013. Götz W. Werner was appointed professor at the University of Karlsruhe in 2003 where he headed up the Interfaculty Institute for Entrepreneurship until 2010.
ITN: How much idealism is behind your demand for a basic wage?
Götz W. Werner: An unconditional basic wage is an idea. If you observe people who are confronted with the idea for the first time you can see how it affects them emotionally, how it raises questions in their minds. The more people there are addressing this question openly, the quicker it will become part of the general consciousness. The basic idea can be traced back to Friedrich Schiller’s “Augustenburger Briefe” from 1873: “Even with a warm bed and a full stomach, man is still so small, but he must have a warm bed and plenty to eat if his better nature is to hold sway.” – Schiller hits the nail on the head.
ITN: Let us take a closer look at the subject of sustainability. Is this something you grew up with? After all, you were confronted with the principles of sustainability from an early age through your father, who owned a pharmacy and health food shops.
Götz W. Werner: Everyone grows up with the principle of sustainability. We are born so that we can develop and grow. We search for meaning and purpose in our lives and ask ourselves how we can find it. We want to understand the world, to change it and leave our own mark on it. In order to do so we make decisions that we must at some point justify to ourselves; which brings us to the subject of sustainability.
ITN: Why do many large, global companies, particularly in the low-cost retail sector, only interest themselves for subjects like sustainable practices when it is almost too late? An example is fast fashion production in Bangladesh.
Götz W. Werner: That is a question of awareness. They often only ask themselves how and neglect to ask why. If you do not ask why then you cannot know about the consequences of your actions. In doing so, you deny yourself the opportunity to learn through insight – and are forced instead to learn out of catastrophes.
ITN: Acting responsibly – to what extent does that apply to consumers? Have you always assumed that your customers will act responsibly?
Götz W. Werner: Every company has the customers it deserves. Or: We reap what we sow. If you analyse advertising messages you will notice that the approach adopted by many companies is targeted below the belt. At dm, it was written into our marketing strategy that we target a loyal customer base of responsible shoppers.
ITN: At the end of your book you leave some questions open: Can a company operate in a sustainable manner if its purpose is to persuade customers to buy products they do not need?
Götz W. Werner: No, that is not possible for a company over the long term.
ITN: What future is there for sustainability in business?
Götz W. Werner: Awareness of this connection is still in its infancy. However, as people’s desire to act in a way that is humane and kind to the environment grows, the likelihood is strong that things will change in this respect.
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