March 2008: Conscious Capitalism in Germany

Frankfurt. Early one Monday morning in late Feburary, I look out at 70 or so business people, mostly middle-aged men. A few of them look as if they might want to duck out for a second cup of coffee. I myself am wondering how well it is going to go over for an American to preach corporate responsibility here. After all, when Europe pioneered the social side of Conscious Capitalism decades ago, American called it Socialism. That said, the spiritual side of Conscious Capitalism — how managers, consumers and investors embody values like integrity, compassion and purpose – is, from what I’ve seen, of growing interest to Germans.

In any event, I’ve done my homework: I’m armed with German examples of ultra-green consumer trends and great German companies who’ve won the International Spirit at Work Award or a spot on the Sustainable Business (SB) 20. Or rather Joy Moloney has done my homework. Joy (then Van Elderen) my researcher on past megatrends books, is back on board, finding facts and figures still astound me.

Traveling to Frankfurt, I’ve come across some interesting finds, too. In Paris to change planes, I grab a Herald Tribune. There on page one are headlines that will surely concern my audience, “Germany Inc. gets wake-up call: First jail sentence in VW scandal” and “Liechtenstein a ‘tax haven’?” My friend and colleague Sabine Beidemeyer, whom looked forward to visiting in Frankfurt, had briefed me on both these stories People were shocked, she said, that a prominent executive stashed his cash in nearby Liechtenstein. Tax audits revealed he was hardly alone.

It was beginning to look as if Germany were facing its own version of the 2001 U.S. “accounting scandals” which catapulted Socially Responsibility Investing and the Spirituality in Business to prominence.

Back in front of my audience, I hold up the Tribune, read the scandalous headlines and watch several heads nod. Now, I alert them to the French economic journal “Enjeux” whose cover story seems written just for me. My French-born life and business partner Alain Bolea and I often discuss how open the French are to social values, while remaining ambivalent at best to any reference to spirituality. Imagine my reaction then to Enjeux’s cover story: “Comment manager sans perdre son ame,” that is, How to manage without losing your soul.

Bingo. (Or maybe Voila!) Maybe the word “soul” plays better in France than “spirit.”

Between Volkswagen, Liechtenstein, saving your soul, a few German examples and a lot of numbers, I am beginning to come across to the group. Frankly, I’d was a bit nervous (My international experience with spirituality in business not always been great. But I’ll save that story for another time). Today I feel little resistance, if any. This audience is in fact open. They keep eye contact, smile sometimes signal their agreement. Later, many chat with me, share their own stories, say they liked my talk.

This is all great because my news is that I have a German publisher! When I saw seen Sabine last fall at the International Spirit at Work Awards conference in Atlanta, I’d complained about my lack of a German pub.

“I know just the right one,” she said confidently. “I will talk to them.” Next thing I know, I get an offer from J. Kamphausen, who published Lance Secretan’s book – and Eckhardt Tolle’s too. A great company. Thank you, Sabine. I tell you: there is nothing like the magic of my goddess friends!

Thanks, also to Nadja Rossman, my new editor at Kamphausen, whom I met in Frankfurt and who interviewed me in the beautiful and famous “Writer’s Bar,” at the Steigenburger Frankfurter Hof, where I am told, “Everybody” gets together at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Nadja asks me the most thoughtful, amazing questions I’ve ever gotten. She makes me think and pulls out the best answers. You’ll find the PDF of another interview she did earlier this year in the German “exist enzielle,” a magazine for women entrepreneurs. Nadja’s next story will appear in a journal for HR managers.

Stay tuned…