“An enterprise must serve the people”

“The higher the executive position, the more important a holistic image of the world is,” Heinrich Deichmann argued at the outset of his lecture on March 13 in the well-filled lecture hall on the WHU Vallendar campus.

[Translate to Englisch:] Heinrich Deichmann betonte beim Vortrag unter anderem: „Jeder Mensch sollte von seiner Arbeit leben können.“

The Chairman of the Executive Board of Deichmann, the giant of shoe retail, belongs to what is already the third generation of this German family-owned business. Even his grandfather before him felt a special obligation to the people he served, Heinrich Deichmann recalls. At that time, he wanted to manufacture good and inexpensive shoes for his neighbors and friends in the Ruhr region – for miners who worked hard to feed their families and deserved a high-quality product in exchange for their money.

Meanwhile, nearly 80 years later, the Deichmann company has long since discontinued manufacturing its own shoes. A large share of the roughly 175 million pairs of shoes sold by Deichmann throughout Europe and in the US comes from suppliers in China. As Heinrich Deichmann assured his listeners, his company does not tolerate child or forced labor. The company follows a strict code based on UN guidelines. “Independent auditors carry out unannounced inspections for us at regular intervals,” the family business operator explained. In the event of violations, attempts are first made to identify and eliminate the source of the grievances, but if things fail to improve, the partnership comes to a complete end. Deichmann also makes sure its suppliers pay a fair wage: “Everyone should be able to live from his or her work.”

In his own company as well, Heinrich Deichmann attaches great importance to treating his employees with dignity and respect. Among other things, long before the privately funded “Riester” pension plans were introduced in Germany, the family-owned firm offered its own company pension, had set up a support fund for employees in need, and offered all employees a free health week in Switzerland. The training of approximately 3000 trainees each year is also a contribution toward accepting social responsibility, Deichmann pointed out. “We were also involved in the response to the refugee crisis right from the outset,” the entrepreneur said. “Companies have to pitch in here; the state can’t do it alone.”

In his lecture, Deichmann also emphasized his company’s humanitarian commitment in countries such as Tanzania, India and Moldova. The company’s foundation is building schools and health centers in these countries, helping educate children and young adults, and developing infrastructure. The work of the company’s relief organization reaches a total of 250,000 people in this way. Each of his company’s employees who requests it is welcome to gain an insight into the humanitarian activities of his or her employer. The Deichmann company takes its social responsibility seriously, and doing so certainly costs money, but it also pays. “People like working for Deichmann. A lack of ethics in a company ultimately leads to low productivity and innovation and high employee turnover,” Deichmann explained. His and his family’s worldview is rooted in an ethics that could be derived from Christian values. “Every human being is a fellow human being,” he observed, adding: “Human dignity must not be subordinated to capitalism.”

This lecture was part of the WHU Speaker Series