After three years as chairman of the East German Business Association, Oliver Hermes, Chairman and CEO of the Wilo Group, steps down from his honorary post as of June 1, 2022.
Oliver Hermes, Chairman and CEO of the Wilo Group. (Image source: WILO SE)
In his role as chairman of the regional initiative for 29 Central and Eastern European countries, Oliver Hermes has always represented the interests of member companies in dialogue with politicians. This is not only done centrally in the capital Berlin, but also quite deliberately in a decentralized way using numerous formats spread all over Germany.
During his mandate, he strengthened the interests of SMEs, particularly in the dialogue with politicians, and positioned German companies as experts on future topics such as Industry 4.0. He has always praised the affinity with the digital transformation of the partner countries in the East, which envisage the digital transformation of the “front end”, that is to say on the customer side. Furthermore, he encouraged stronger Eastern European integration for more resilient and integrated value chains and shaped the idea of transforming existing energy partnerships into climate alliances.
Hermès has tirelessly advocated a multilateral world order through responsible and peaceful coexistence and increased the visibility of the association in national and international perception.
“We live in politically and economically turbulent times. More and more people are being seduced by nationalism, protectionism and populism. At the same time, unimaginable violence is perpetrated in the heart of Europe. Multinational companies have to deal with the ramifications of politically motivated ‘decoupling’ from global developments,” says Hermes.
Not only geopolitically, but also economically, companies are facing a turning point, according to Hermès – 30 years of hyper-globalization are coming to an end. “Tightly intertwined global value chains are unraveling at an increasingly rapid pace and becoming more regional or local. In the process, a growing number of German and European companies find themselves caught in the middle of a geopolitical conflict. The effect this has on the development of the global economy is becoming more and more inhibiting,” explains Hermès. In all its manifestations, decoupling means that multinational cooperation will weaken, alliances will crumble, and economic bridges between states (and therefore between politically diverse systems) will crumble. The Chairman and CEO of the Wilo Group is certain that if the primacy of politics applies, this development will lead to considerable economic inefficiencies and the destruction of tangible and intangible assets.
Besides the terrible war in Ukraine, he considers the power struggle between the United States and China to be the central geostrategic conflict of today. “Trade restrictions, extraterritorial sanctions, technology embargoes and the politically motivated decoupling of value chains will all have devastating consequences for the hyper-globalised global economy, especially for businesses in Europe. They are the big losers and must oppose this trend. Every day, companies again demonstrate the importance of international cooperation for the prosperity of all. This is why we must defend a multilateral world order even more strongly,” argues Hermès. He considers it an unrealistic illusion to believe that the world can be organized in a bipolar way. 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 for a responsible coexistence of the various political systems of our planet. Responsible here means formulating ecological, social and above all ethical standards for joint economic action with partners. It is high time for the European Union and Germany to develop a viable geostrategy on which companies can base their foreign trade policies. Until then, I consider the current politicization of corporations by the media to be highly questionable. The question of how to deal with autocracies and dictatorships is in fact and for the time being a political question. Western governments must not shirk their responsibility here,” says Hermès.
“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, knows only losers. I am nevertheless of the opinion that economic integration and interdependencies inspire a spirit of compromise and help de-escalation, especially in the face of geopolitical conflicts. “Change through trade” has not only been extremely important in the past and has accompanied historically significant processes of healing and reconciliation as well as a policy of detente. For me, this continues to be on the agenda and is by no means outdated! explains Hermes.
The contractor had seen himself in the tradition of the builder of bridges in his honorary function. However, the successes of this work have been massively called into question by the actions of the Russian government against Ukraine. Nevertheless, he says, it was wrong to discredit German-Russian reconciliation and the economic interdependence that emerged with it after World War II as an outdated vision. “I oppose the delivery of German heavy weapons to Ukraine. This is especially true in the context of German history. We were responsible with German weapons for the brutal murder of so many people in the world and in Eastern Europe, 6 million Jews, 8 million Ukrainians, but also 18 million Russians. Under no circumstances should Germany become a party to the war,” according to Hermès.
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 improve people’s lives through our products, systems and services. We see it as our duty to decisively counter political threats and regulatory deficits. It is increasingly expected by our various stakeholders, whether customers or suppliers, but also by our employees and our shareholders. We are therefore both challenged and inspired to take on political responsibility,” explains the CEO of Wilo. An example of this is the CEO statement set up by the UN, “A Statement from Business Leaders for Renewed Global Cooperation”, which he also signed for the Wilo Group.
In his honorary role, he has represented the interests of over 300 member companies in 29 partner countries over the past three years. “Looking forward, however, I consider it my highest priority to counteract decoupling and guide my business through these turbulent times. It takes all my strength and energy,” Oliver Hermes points out.
From the very beginning, facilitating dialogue even in difficult situations has been part of the DNA of the East German Business Association. With its 13 regional and thematic working groups covering all 29 countries and important key topics in energy economics, agriculture or health as well as climate protection, the German Business Association ‘Est is very well placed to meet the new strategic challenges. “The German trade associations, which focus on different regions and are active worldwide, are currently of particular importance. I therefore wish the board, headquarters and full-time management of the East German Business Association good luck and success in implementing their strategies,” said Oliver Hermes.
Oliver Hermes retains its ties to Eastern Europe and Central Asia through its general entrepreneurial activities and its position as Honorary Consul of the Republic of Kazakhstan.