Exposing liars and manipulators: Klaus Zumwinkel or when managers make mistakes


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Text comes from: Gescheiterte Titanen: Welche neuen Manager unsere Welt braucht (2015) of Carsten Knop, published by FAZ Verlag, Reprints by friendly permission of the publisher.
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Again and again you come across lies, loss of trust and manipulation in management. Klaus Zumwinkel's case was a deep one. What is behind it and how did it come to this?dhl

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Carsten Knop carsten-knopCarsten Knop is an economics editor at the Frankfurter Allgmeinen Zeitung.

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A name that creates trust

Those who thought they knew Klaus Zumwinkel well described him as a person to be trusted. There was talk of concluding contracts by handshake. The man was considered a calm, happy person: without financial or other worries, healthy, mentally on the ball. Until then he was also the longest-serving Dax CEO - and one of the last members of the “Deutschland AG” network or “Rhenish Capitalism”.

That was what Zumwinkel had nicknamed "Buddha". In his 18 years of service as CEO of Deutsche Post, Zumwinkel not only polished the company's brand, but also his own: People believed in the “Zumwinkel” brand. He was the man you trusted.

The end of a networker

This is the only way to explain why Zumwinkel was considered one of the German managers who were best connected in politics and business. Trust is important in such circles. There is often a lack of time to collect and process all information about the other party.

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It takes a long time to set up and describe such networks: For example, Zumwinkel sat on the Supervisory Board of Lufthansa AG, but also on the Supervisory Board of Arcandor / Karstadt.

The Supervisory Board of Deutsche Telekom was in front of Zumwinkel; He also supervised Postbank and the investment bank Morgan Stanley. Until the end of 2003, Zumwinkel was on the supervisory board of Allianz, one of the germ cells of the old Germany AG, and until August 2003 member of the supervisory board of Tchibo Holding AG. In addition, he sat on the board of the Federal Association of German Employers' Associations and was president of the Research Institute for the Future of Labor. This network was the capital of the old brand Zumwinkel. And suddenly it was used up.

Shocked managers

The shock that this triggered in the German world of managers, one can not imagine big enough - especially since he triggered many people who could have evaded their taxes in a similar way, the pressing questions about a self-report. Today, however, we know for sure that at least the then Bayern manager Uli Hoeneß did not bring about a rethink.

Too often, measurements are taken with two standards. That also applies to the then post boss: In his own function as the head of the supervisory board of Telekom, however, Zumwinkel had taken a hard step when he put Ricke out at the time in November 2006. At that time, his allegations to Ricke were that past investments had not paid off and promises had not been kept.

With two dimensions

At the time, Zumwinkel formulated this criticism without conveying a sense of compassion. Even without the discussion about possible tax evasion, the Post-Supervisory Board Zumwinkel could have long since measured the criteria that applied to Telekom and Ricke. Zumwinkel's investments in America have not been profitable either - on the contrary, his withdrawal was preceded by a retreat that ended an adventure that cost many billions of euros.

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His promises with a view to the conquest of the American market, he has thus also not redeemed. Zumwinkel wanted to go more praiseworthy than Ricke. But all senior politicians he knew were on dark Thursday morning in Cologne-Marienburg and the day after no help. The net stopped.

Nevertheless, the top decision maker for 2008 was the only one to receive a bonus. Such developments have helped to make the managers' reputation so bad. First, the regret is missing in case of mistakes, then there are high severance pay. In the case of Zumwinkel, there were pension entitlements totaling 20 millions of euros, which he paid out, as well as bonus payments - more than 480.000 euros for two months.

From Zumwinkel to Hoeneß

Auch dem ehemaligen Manager des FC Bayern München, Uli Hoeneß, half sein eigenes, engmaschiges Beziehungsnetz Jahre später nicht mehr. Im Gegenteil muss er mit einer Haftstrafe von drei Jahren und sechs Monaten für seine Steuerhinterziehung büßen  (von der er seit Anfang 2015 allerdings den größten Teil als Freigänger mit einer geregelten Arbeit bei seinem Fußballverein verbringen darf). Denn das Landgericht München sprach den Präsidenten des FC Bayern München im Frühjahr 2014 in einem der spektakulärsten Steuerverfahren in Deutschland in sieben Fällen schuldig.

The court judged the voluntary disclosure to be incomplete, ie not exempt from punishment: the presiding judge said that the voluntary disclosure, which Hoeneß had submitted a year earlier, was “not only unsuccessful, but was clearly insufficient”. On the basis of the tax office could not even make an estimate. Hoeneß was responsible for that. His tax advisor had not simply forgotten “some note”.

Make pure table in time

The court also did not deny Hoeneß the claim that its bank should have done all business on its own. The Economic Criminal Court estimated the tax damage at 28,5 million euros. For the punishment it does not matter whether further evaluations of bank documents from Switzerland should yield even higher amounts.

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The court also left open whether the voluntary disclosure had come too late. The judges assumed that Hoeneß had shown himself for fear of his account being exposed by the magazine “Stern”: “They were driven out of fear of discovery.” After all, Hoeneß would have had years to clear the table beforehand. Indeed, the Zumwinkel case was years back at that point.

Decisions based on intuition

Not infrequently, decisions based on intuition must be made. In this environment, Klaus Zumwinkel experienced his best moments. Different chancellors accompanied with him the conversion of the post office from a public agency to Companywhich is his lifetime achievement, later the post office of the post office, then also the takeover and the later IPO of the Postbank - last the fight for a highest possible minimum wage, which makes the competitors a profitable letter business in Germany impossible.

Zumwinkel has tackled such difficulties - and solved in his sense. He has confirmed the trust placed in him again and again. He had even begun to prepare his orderly withdrawal from the post of CEO of Deutsche Post. Which manager already has this foresight? And then the tax investigation went off.

When the tyrant rings once

Then the tax investigation went off at his house in the Cologne district of Marienburg. It was not yet light on this 14. February in the year 2008, as put on the bright polished trademark Zumwinkel the shadow of the suspicion of tax evasion. His excellent connections to politics did not protect Zumwinkel from this access.

And his numerous manager friends followed the news breathless: Is he still in his house? Is there a warrant? Has Zumwinkel just been picked up in a silver police car? How long will he have to stay with the prosecutor in Bochum? And last but not least: what exactly happened?

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The biggest mistake of his life

Zumwinkel had become a compact disc with customer data of the Princely Bank in Liechtenstein to the fate, which had been leaked to the German authorities. On this CD - and many more should follow - there were names of other rich German, which in the following years have pushed up the number of self-reports. In the case of Zumwinkel, it was about untaxed interest income on the attributable capital of a foundation in the Principality between Switzerland and Austria.

In court, it became clear that Zumwinkel cheated a staggering 2001 euros at the state treasury between 2007 and 970.000. After all, Zumwinkel called tax evasion the “biggest mistake” in his life. He even reported “personal threats, letter and phone terror, house sieges, and reenactments”. The judges had no sympathy: In 2008, the Bochum district court sentenced Zumwinkel to 24 months in probation and a fine of one million euros. But Zumwinkel did not want to live in Germany anymore, he has since moved to London.

The scope of the decision is misjudged

Zumwinkel committed another mistake a few weeks before the house search. Since it would be ridiculous 4,73 million euros, which the post office boss released from a stock sale, whose time missed any intuition. Shortly before that, Post's share price had risen sharply as a result of the political decision to introduce the rather high minimum wage, which had significantly increased the value of the shares. At the same time, it was also clear that the minimum wage would cost many employees of private competitors of Swiss Post their job.

In this situation, Zumwinkel was - supposedly or actually - "not aware of the scope of the decision," as he conceded at the time after the share business became known. That could be assumed afterwards for the handling of money in Liechtenstein. For example, Zumwinkel was not only the first board member of a company to be represented by its shares in the Dax share index, which was carried out by the police in front of cameras.

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