Where does the pressure come from to address the question of the character of top leaders? Thomas Middelhoff will continue to be invited to talk shows, and Mr. Tönnies would probably have continued like this, had it not been for the corona outbreak. Also at VW had good news : Despite the diesel crisis, the group has increased in almost all key figures. So are top managers inalienable?

Apparently not. Let’s take a look at the following examples: The current generation of top managers suffers from an image problem. The negotiations against AUDI manager Ruppert Stadler with the points: fraud, indirect false certification and criminal advertising have only recently started in Munich. Ex-Bertelsmann manager Thomas Middelhoff is currently in a prison for tax evasion and infidelity, similar to Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn.

Do managers have a free ticket?

The Stadler case in particular shows that even top managers who are often perceived as inviolable are not eligible for a free ticket. These, too, are bound by the laws and norms of society. At the end of the day, the ex-Bertelsmann executive board also wonders: How did it come about that a recognized and extremely well-paid top manager can no longer distinguish between right and wrong? In such cases it is always too easy to attempt a rational explanation. The causes lie deeper. It’s no longer just about money and power.

Change in personality

The trigger is a deformation of the character, triggered by the transfer of almost unlimited power in the company. The managers mentioned came from normal parents and were brought up differently. Over time, however, they have lost their sense of boundaries and the distinction between right and wrong in their own behavior.

Such crimes can often only be explained by the fact that the top managers have a feeling of inviolability. One example is that top managers have violations of company guidelines prosecuted but violate these processes themselves. Two standards are used here. Top managers must always be aware of their role model function. It is presumptuous: one can violate company rules with impunity just because one has climbed to the top of the company hierarchy.


Being at the top of the corporate hierarchy is no reason to disregard corporate rules. Fortunately, this is not a mass phenomenon because most top managers do a very good job.

A current study by the Haniel Group examines the age structure in German boardrooms. The number of board members under the age of 50 is already 23%. Especially in startups, young managers like Daniel Kraus (Flixbus), Valentin Stalf (N26), Dominik Richter (HelloFresh) and Anna Alex (Outfittery) are conquering the media with a special character, authenticity, a pinch of audacity and casual clothing. It seems to be important for top managers to score points with character. I am currently doing a study on this, which will soon be evaluated on the blog. I am currently doing a study on this, which will soon be evaluated on the blog. The survey runs from May to August and can be found here.

Update: This is currently before publication in the magazine for Organizational development . I think it will be released around September.

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I blog about the influence of digitalization on our working world. For this purpose, I provide content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday professional life. I am an executive in an SME and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the Chair of IT Management.

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