Gabriele Siedle on the podium at the Zeppelin University
Head or heart, intuition or cool reasoning - what is it that impacts on the decisions of entrepreneurs and managers? Do owner-managed businesses take different decisions to others? These questions formed the focal theme of an event staged at the Friedrichshafen Institute for Family Entrepreneurship at the Zeppelin University. Gabriele Siedle was invited to take the podium for the opening discussion. Together with the Chairman of Bauer AG, Thomas Bauer, she represented the viewpoint of the entrepreneur. The scientific angle was represented by Helmut Willke, Professor of Corporate Governance, and Marcel Tyrell, who occupies the Chair of Entrepreneurship and Finance.
It quickly became evident that there can be no strict divide between decisions of the head and the heart. To take decisions merely on the basis of a gut feeling would be to act irresponsibly. Intuition can only decide on the basis of sound, deep-seated knowledge. The meeting quickly reached a consensus on this point, although different positions were represented by the members of the panel.
Thomas Bauer, head of a corporation employing a workforce of 9700, complained of the paralysing effect of excessive red tape and the increasing flood of regulations. According to Thomas Bauer, given this degree of regulatory pressure, his employees are hardly capable of taking any decisions without legal assistance. Gabriele Siedle took the view that a degree of courage has always been called for. The need to take decisions should not be considered a source of pressure, but as an opportunity to shape things and therefore a rewarding experience. The real difficulty as she saw it was often not the decision itself, but its subsequent implementation and communication.
Political scientist Willke enlivened the discussion with the controversial hypothesis that in any case no more than five per cent of a company's entrepreneurial activity is actually based on internal decisions. He maintained that the overwhelming majority of business policy is determined by prescribed rules and legislation. It goes without saying that representatives of the family-managed corporations present were unimpressed by this viewpoint. However, Gabriele Siedle did endorse Professor Willke's hypothesis: "We react as the market, our customers and our competitors dictate." What does depend on personal decisions, she maintained, is the ability to recognise circumstances and act at the right moment. What still distinguishes a true entrepreneur is the ability to see this task not as a burden but as a challenge. If these aspects could be set out in regulatory form and executed by committees, according to Ms Siedle, there would no longer be any need for entrepreneurs.
This was a view shared by all those taking part in the discussion, which by this point had quickly extended out beyond the confines of the podium. As to whether intuition or rational thought form the basis for decisions, the key factor is that there are people who are able and willing to take these decisions and that they are given the freedom to fulfil this task.
The panel discussion launched the annual "Family Spring", an event to which the Institute regularly invites family-managed firms and business families. A number of workshops are held which allow a lively exchange with scientists, graduates and students, all of which make a major contribution to the event.
> Friedrichshafen Institute for Family Entrepreneurship
> Program of the 2012 Family Spring
Photos: Bertram Rusch/FIF