Lord Watson, Mitglied des House of Lords und Chairman der Business-Plattform Vienna–London, Vinzenz Stimpfl-Abele, Kontinental-Europa Chairman und Dragana Rasic von DWC in einem offenen Gespräch in der DWC Business Lounge.
Lord Watson: A little bit of my background. First of all I have always been fascinated by Germany and I wrote books about Germany after the “Wiedervereinigung”. I wrote a book called “The Germans, who are they now”, or in German: “Wer sind sie heute”. Actually it’s amusing, I was interviewed on television in Munich. There was this CSU-Abgeordnete and he didn’t talk to me at all. He just said: “Warum müssen wir uns von einem Engländer diese Frage beantworten lassen, das ist unmöglich”. So I interrupted him and replied “Ein Ausländer kann eine ganz andere Perspektive haben, das ist vielleicht auch wertvoll”. It was not a successful interview!
Vinzenz Stimpfl-Abele: But that leads us to our topic.
Lord Watson: So viel dazu. My knowledge of Germany preceded, that of Vienna and when I got to know Vienna I was immediately struck as an Englishman by one critical similarity between Vienna and London. They have both been imperial cities and their architecture reflects that. But in both cases the empire has disappeared.
Vinzenz Stimpfl-Abele: In some cases partially and in other cases totally. Unfortunately in our case completely.
Lord Watson: I don’t accept that, really, because when you start looking at it, the influence of Vienna is fresh. Look at the role the Austrians played in helping to bring down the wall in Berlin. By helping to open the Austrian-Hungarian border, that really was effective. I never saw it from an Austrian perspective, I was totally involved in Berlin. It was because the DDR couldn’t stop its people going through. That was the beginning of the end of the DDR.
Vinzenz Stimpfl-Abele: Very true.
Lord Watson: Because the whole thing that enabled the DDR to exist was, that they had effectively sealed the country. And I knew that, because I made a documentary for BBC called the other side of the wall. The first documentary that the BBC had ever made in the DDR and it was before the UK recognized the DDR. They allowed us to film in Eastern-Germany for three weeks but we were not allowed to leave it. We could send our camera man through once a week with the film rushes. I had to stay. And that was an experience, because I was actually staying in East Berlin and you could see West Berlin, but you couldn’t cross over. I only was there for three weeks, but just think about people who have been there for 30 years.
Vinzenz Stimpfl-Abele: Three weeks in some sort of prison.
Lord Watson: So, coming back to Vienna. Because Vienna is very different from Berlin and even regarding it was an occupied city, it’s a totally different thing. I feel that the influence of Vienna and Austria is pretty strong. The end of the Cold War has given Vienna a new hinterland, the hinterland is suddenly back there and today technology is giving to us all a new hinterland. This is how Vinzenz and I met.
Vinzenz Stimpfl-Abele: About a borderless internet.
Lord Watson: We started to talk about this idea and what struck us, was the way cities and countries are now linked. At the end of the day it’s all about younger people and people in business and how they are interacting in a different way. It’s really impossible to think about communications now being either online or offline. They are both. So when we started to think about a platform we sorted out this combination right from the beginning. The idea is essentially very simple, that we can provide online and offline. A platform which will enable companies, individuals and institutions, service centers and universities to interact with each other on a platform which exceptionally will be online, but actually could provide information offline too, why not? For example, If we are talking about elements of medical research and the link between medical centers in London and in Vienna, it could combine an event and the event could be followed by more dialogue online. The idea of having an event and everything else stops - that you have some sort of statement which goes out - is completely out of date.
Vinzenz Stimpfl-Abele: One aspect regarding the parallel elements of these two cities. I think one element of both cities is, that both cities are hubs to really important economic areas.
Lord Watson: Yes.
Vinzenz Stimpfl-Abele: Talking about London, we are talking about England, Great Britain. The English speaking world. Talking about Vienna, Vienna is perfectly positioned as a hub not only to the DACH region, (Germany, Austria and Switzerland) but also to the eastern and southern eastern European area.
Lord Watson: Absolutely. You know, instead of having a lot of trial and error, you start at a stage harbor. Our platform is trying to offer this possibility and starting activities in a new market, on a very solid ground. The solid ground is not only provided by ourselves or our platform, we have the economic chamber, we have the Industriellen Vereinigungen and we have similar organisations on the British side. What we are doing is, taking over tailor made solutions - tailor made solutions as well as economic questions, strategic questions and of course communication questions. We also can provide a solid network in both cities, in both countries. That happens not in an anonymous way but in a way where we present ourselves. It’s a kind of one-stop-shop. You have a challenge, you have a target, you have an expectation played via this platform and you will find a solution.
And commercially, if we provide this platform, we will charge for it. We are not a kind of charity, but we will do that in a very transparent way. Significantly different from Google is, I will give you a very obvious example, if you google up Vienna and London and you question the best restaurants. The answer depends on how much money they actually paid to Google. It’s not transparent, but Google presents this as objective. That’s not really accurate and so we will be quite transparent about people who want to use the platform and want to pay to use the platform. If we have an editorial section about something different, it will be identified as an editorial. It's encouraging that the European Comission has highlighted and fined Google for this very lack of transparency.
Vinzenz Stimpfl-Abele: This is a really relevant aspect of this platform, that it is a kind of very specialised Google, not only for business companies, but as well as for non-profit organisations. Trying to get links, trying to find a hub, trying to find a network to extend their activities. So as said to a certain extend it’s a specialised transparent Google.
Dragana Rasic, DWC: We have some questions, thank you. What is your general attitude to "value-oriented economics"? How do you define this term?
Lord Watson: Value-oriented? That’s one of those phrases; I mean, everything has to be value-oriented and value-adding, it prompts the question what is value and to whom? A lot of people look at what happened to globalisation and they think, well I knew to whom value is given. But it hasn’t actually benefitted me and that was a feature of the Brexit outcome. There are places in Britain that have been left behind, left out. No value has been added to them. So I believe, you have to start thinking about value in a different way. Value is not just money, value is positive life, it’s the nature of society. It’s the ability of a society to be tolerant and generous. Society which becomes increasingly divided, is not a value-adding society and it’s not actually a value-focused society. Now lots of companies fully embrace this. If you are a Chief-Executive of a public company, your life is determined by quarterly results. If quarterly results are poor, the non-execs board can get very uneasy and in the end they will take you out. It’s all about adding value and sustainability to society.
Vinzenz Stimpfl-Abele: A couple of years ago, it was completely clear that if you had a company producing goods on a really high level, there will be a company somewhere else producing similar goods at a cheaper price. It was also clear, that the quality of producing similar goods was low. Everyone knows, that it's possible if not even likely, that somewhere else a company produces the same goods, offering the same service at a lower price, but more or less ensuring at least the same quality. That adds value to that company and its shareholders.
Lord Watson: To be quite specific about it. I am a consultant to a number of big German companies. One of these companies is Thyssen Krupp. If you look at Thyssen Krupp in big areas, they are directly challenged by the Chinese by their price policy. The German instinct is to move up the value chain. So they produce special alloys, special steel which can only be produced in Germany. Unfortunately they need to run faster and faster to stay in the race, why? Because education levels in China are enormously high. So it’s going to be harder and harder to win that race.
Dragana Rasic, DWC: So, what would you say. Are there cultural differences in "value-oriented economics"?
Lord Watson: Yes, well I believe there are. Very fundamental differences and the Trump election is a good example. At the end of the day, why did Trump win? He won, because the white American working class didn’t believe that Hillary Clinton could do anything to move forward, and that politics would be unchanged. Within a week I was pretty sure that Hillary would lose.
Vinzenz Stimpfl-Abele: I had a very interesting discussion a couple of weeks ago. The discussion was about added-values, and a lot of people who run their own agencies told me the following: the problem with their clients is, that they believe the word 'added-value' means to give more for less money. What we are trying to achieve is, for the clients and partners of that platform, that added-values has nothing to do with delivering more for less money. Loading up your brand, your product or your services with added-value - which is worth been called added value - makes it necessary to identify yourself with a brand and to conform yourself with the strong and weak side of the brand. Nowadays the main issue is to be cheap, quickly and pretend to be attractive.
Lord Watson: It can be seen in the advance of robotics. Banking and Lufthansa are two classic examples for that. I remember the time, with Lufthansa at Düsseldorf Airport. I arrived there, and in front of me there was an enormous crowd. Why? Because Lufthansa had closed all their Check-in points, the people stood in front of the automatic Check-in computers and had no idea how the computers worked.There needs to be more information to help people. The accountants thought, they had saved money but their passengers paid the price.
Vinzenz Stimpfl-Abele: I fully agree, Austrian Airlines is a daughter of Lufthansa. It was clear for everyone, that service went down. That was the result.
Lord Watson: Yes.
Vinzenz Stimpfl-Abele: Wouldn't you say it's calculated - the money they saved?
Lord Watson: Yes, well the same thing is happening to banks, supermarkets and restaurants. I have always been amused, I adore the retailing industry. I have been consultant to TESCO and lots of those retailing companies. Of course they all reach a point, where their accountants on the board say, you need to downsize staff and they do it. Then they suddenly realize – for example the convenience stores in towns – customers want conversation, they want contact. They don’t want to deal with a machine.
Dragana Rasic, DWC: From your point of view, how can we maintain and expand jointly-developed values?
Lord Watson: I really do believe in dialogue, dialogue exchange is different from just downloading data. We all know a lot about each others data. In fact, we can google it! But actually you need dialogues. You may ask any database 'what represents value' and you will get a data founded answer. But to be true, it misses a lot of other facts.
I will mention a totally different example. Vienna and London, both cities are huge cultural centres and therefore both of them do have an enormous amount of museums. Running museums has become quite competitive, like running football clubs. The museum directors, who lead them well, get moved on. In fact, these cultural centres, especially museums, are learning from each other the whole time. I believe their way is fundamental. There are important topics to consider - for example - do the cultural centres want their exhibitions to be increasingly interactive? How do you attract pupils and their schools, so that they visit the museums? These are all elements, where we need to communicate and talk to each other. Health issues are the same type of topic.
Vinzenz Stimpfl-Abele: Yes. I believe too, the main issue is the dialogue, it’s about getting to know one another. If you understand each other, only then will you be able to call and to learn the way of how the situation is. One example: Great Britain and especially London can learn from Austria the way, how to establish smaller mid-size enterprises. This is one topic where they can benefit a lot. This is nothing you can google. This is something you have to talk out. There are reasons why these differences might occur, and these differences can be sorted out, by talking to each other.
Lord Watson: Yes.
Vinzenz Stimpfl-Abele: And let’s say this learning effect combined with visual elements that’s what a platform is about.
Alan John Watson, Baron Watson of Richmond, geboren 1941, ist britischer Politiker (Liberal Democrats), Vorsitzender und Aufsichtsrat zahlreicher britischer und internationaler Konzerne, als Mitglied des House of Lord ist ihm die Verbindung Großbritanniens mit Europa auch nach dem Brexit ein großes Anliegen.