I have always been fascinated with the zeitgeist. In the world of anti-bribery and anti-corruption compliance, one rarely has the chance to observe the zeitgeist in action. However I think we are now seeing it play out in Germany in a public way. It all involves the Made in Germany brand, which I would have said speaks to quality, excellence and honesty.
Foremost is the Volkswagen emissions-testing scandal. It has gone from the most trusted car manufacturer in the world, to an organization which seems not to know its left hand from its right hand, or even where either hand resides. This is much more than a death from 1,000 cuts where information dribbles out on a daily basis; this is a company which cannot seem to make clear what cars, in what countries, or even what engines, may be part of the scandal.
Now we have one of Germans’ most respected figures, Franz Beckenbauer, under investigation by FIFA. Beckenbauer was a star on the West German winning World Cup team from 1974, then a coach of the German World Cup winning team in 1990, and finally was in charge of organizing German’s 2006 World Cup hosting. He was named in the World Team of the 20th Century in 1998, the FIFA World Cup Dream Team in 2002, and in 2004 was listed in the FIFA 100 of the world's greatest living players. If Germany ever had soccer royalty, Beckenbauer has been it. He is under investigation over allegations that a slush fund was created to buy votes to award Germany the hosting.
In the face of all this the Financial Times quoted Ulrich Grillo, president of the BDI (the German global industry association), who insisted that the German national brand would not damaged by “the unacceptable behavior of one company.” He added, “I don’t think that this single case, however big, significant, and unacceptable as it is, is damaging the whole image of the brand Made in Germany.” Anticipating what may lay down the road, he pleaded for fair handling by the United States in any criminal probe. In a call to German politicians he “warned regulators in Germany against reacting to the crisis by imposing new rules on industry.”
But here is where the zeitgeist comes in. Even Grillo recognized that compliance is the answer. He urged companies to check their “management processes, including compliance and control systems.” He suggested the question to ask should be, “Are we doing everything right?”
When you have the president of a national industrial association saying compliance is the answer, the zeitgeist has arrived. You need to sit up and take notice.