Second in command of the $97-billion chemical engineering major BASF, with 110,000 employees across more than 100 countries, Martin Brudermüller, vice-chairman of the German behemoth, says the company is taking deliberate but gradual measures to make its leadership as diverse as possible. He says it is in line with the company’s corporate philosophy of transparency and openness with little elbow room for personal egos as the company attempts to make a transition with a leadership that’s inclusive rather than autocratic and thus more acceptable to the younger generation of leaders. Excerpts of an interview:
Are there specific leadership traits at BASF?
Cooperative, open, responsible and entrepreneurial —CORE — summarises our values. One important element of our leadership style is diversity. We are trying to capture all the capabilities of people and bring all the different perspective into decision making.
How do you ensure the diversity?
It has all the aspects. It has the aspect of nationality. It has the aspect of gender. It has the aspect of different educational and professional background. You can imagine, as a German company, the German part is a bit over exposed in the company. It will take some time to develop diversity. To safeguard the credibility, you have to give it some time. In the last six years, we have dramatically increased the share of people with local background in the Asia Pacific region. From very much a German-driven company we changed into an organisation where two-third of people in managerial positions are local people. Except one managing director in Japan, all country heads in the region are local.
Would you say then that corporate values differ in terms of geographies?
I think it is very much (dependent on) the person, to have these values and to really live it. If you want to have a kind of corporate culture, everyone in the organisation should share the same values. They can be partly flavoured by local culture. But an Indian, Chinese, American and Pakistani share the same ideas and values on how we deal with each other and on treating others with respect.
How do you ensure openness and transparency?
We have open feedback culture. This is very important. One core value is openness. So you should be able to withstand criticism. All our leaders will have to go through what we call a 360 degree evaluation system. That they are evaluated not only by the people whom they are reporting to but by who report to them as well. We do this regularly. At a certain level upwards it is mandatory. This is the only way to ensure that people stay open.
But won’t that lead to ego clashes, as generally, senior leadership dislikes being appraised by subordinates?
I think the autocratic style (of leadership) is really over. Young generation particularly does not like military kind of style. In every large organisation, you have responsibilities. You will have a person at the top. I think people don’t have a problem with that. But what is important is how a boss is making decisions. We should create an environment where everyone can speak up. People will be happy if they can bring in some personal hue in the final decision even if it is not their idea that finally got accepted. For that reason, I think it is more involving, inclusive leadership style that is widely accepted now.
You mention personal hue — does that indicate leadership needs to have an emotional quotient?
We need leaders with higher social competence and higher emotional competence, not only let’s say just educational qualification. We need people with more holistic personality. This is the direction the companies should adopt to choose their leaders.
Is that the way you would describe yourself as a leader?
I am definitely not perfect. But I would say I am an open person. I am emotional. I have been with the company for 23 years and I know this company in detail. I know its heart beat. I am a people person. And I love talking to them.