This bang from Braunschweig can be heard far beyond the German borders: Against Martin Winterkorn , the former boss of the auto giant Volkswagen, as well as some employees, charges are allowed with the suspicion of commercial and gang fraud. A crime that is usually associated with other groups of offenders such as clan criminals, while managers have to deal far more often with accusations of infidelity towards their own company.
With the suspicion of gang-like offenses, the former VW boss is now playing in a league with the former Wirecard managers, which is really no advancement. Questions arise: What is going on in German top management? Are you breaking all the dams and losing your last inhibitions when it comes to customers’ money?
Not a German phenomenon
Tabloid escalations are seductive, but they distort reality tremendously because they hide almost any differentiation. Apart from the fact that the presumption of innocence naturally applies to every accused until the verdict, the processes surrounding the Wolfsburg diesel scandal and the insolvent apparent giant from Aschheim are very different. While Volkswagen cheated on cars that at least actually existed with exhaust emissions, creative Wirecard minds simply invented large parts of their sales in order to be able to tell a growth story for the financial markets.
In addition, criminal misconduct in top management is not a German phenomenon. Fraudsters in the executive chair can be found almost everywhere. Just think of the former regent of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi auto empire, Carlos Ghosn , who was stranded in Lebanon on the run from the Japanese prosecutors. And the range of allegations against the Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong ranges from infidelity to bribery. Trick and cheat is an established business model around the world.
A basic pattern: the boss is always right
For all the differences, however, there is a pattern that appears to underlie many of these incidents. It is the self-assurance of the perpetrators that they can somehow get away with their scam, be it with large-scale fraud against millions of customers or shareholders. Those who are at the top can do (almost) anything. Scruples are also inappropriate when it comes to business and jobs. What is right becomes a matter for the boss.
However, where the end justifies the means, the environment of the powerful is usually quickly cleared of all too warning voices. What became known as the filter bubble or echo chamber with the advent of social media was already known as yes-men in the analog world. In the case of top managers, these are people in their immediate environment who no longer dare to openly express criticism and instead bet on opportunism as a career turbo.
The final stage of such a strictly patriarchal leadership style, as Winterkorn is said to have practiced in Wolfsburg, is reached when employees do or leave things a priori, because they assume that this is in the interests of the top manager. The clarification of the question of whether he then ordered frauds himself or “only” should have suspected that something could not be rightly done, then becomes a tedious matter for public prosecutors and courts.
From the former corporate culture of Volkswagen, that of the financial start-up Wirecard , which cheated up to the Bundesliga, will certainly have differed considerably. However, even in this so far still extremely opaque case, there are some indications that its boss and major shareholder Markus Braun at some point only lived in his own world and perceived the balance sheet fraud, which is unique in this country in its dimensions, extremely distorted.