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The Drägerman

Stefan Dräger, CEO of Drägerwerk AG & Co. KGaA, celebrated a milestone birthday in March. To mark the occasion, he gives a personal interview – about a full and exciting life.

Mr. Dräger, you are now 60 years old. How old do you feel?

Well, that‘s not so easy to answer. On the one hand, sometimes I feel like I’m 30 because I‘m fit and can still do everything I want to do. On the other hand, I have 60 years of wonderful life experiences and those, I wouldn’t give up for anything!


The experiences, is that what you enjoy about getting older?

Yes, and with age, I have a greater composure and resilience that helps me cope with a lot of things. I accept that there are some things I can‘t change which in turn releases energy that I use to tackle the things I can change.

 

Do you consider yourself part of a privileged generation? Today‘s 60-year-olds seem much younger, even mentally, than their parents did at that age ...

Compared to earlier, and possibly even later, generations, we have it pretty good. There is no lack of the basic needs, like food, drink or clean air to breathe. Medical care is also much better today. From an early age, I was aware that my generation would be the one to drain the planet. Only together can we accomplish what is necessary, so that we can leave something of the planet for our children.

 

Do you have any role models?

Yes, but not exactly one-to-one. My father was a role model for me, not in all areas, but in the essential ones. I think this might be the first time I say this, but I wanted to be like him.


What was the first luxury item you bought after your studies?

I already had one during my studies, a real Hungarian PICK salami! I loved it as a child and bought it knowing that it was a luxury item. It cost more than 30 Deutschmarks a kilo.

 

In your office you have some paintings, has art changed your view of the world? 

Definitely. Art brings enrichment into our lives in ways that aren‘t geared towards gain – as is the case with so many things that drive us.

 

What would you like to be able to do better?

Play the piano and be more quick-witted! Some answers to unexpected or even tricky questions sometimes only come to me a day later.


How many kilometers do you drive with your self-built electric car per year?

After 30 years, it has around 30,000 kilometers under its belt. I hope it still manages to circumnavigate the globe.

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Stefan Dräger: “Every generational transition must be planned anew and individually. There’s not just one concept that can be copied.”

What is something your predecessors did that you are still grateful for today?

There are many things! All of them have ensured that today we have a governance structure which protects us from hostile takeovers. This means we can put all our energy into developing the company further.


The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the structural change in the workplace driven by New Work. What challenges do you see in the short to medium term?

You never stop learning! The term New Work must be defined for this purpose. Basically, it is the comprehensive further development of the entire workplace and related relationships. There are bound to be tensions in the future - more agility, increasingly new formations in cross-departmental teams, faster switching between tasks, etc. This is completely contrary to German bureaucracy that has always been imposed on us by various bodies, which is quite exhausting.


Across both divisions, which Dräger product would you never want to be without?

Intensive care ventilators to treat sick lungs and compressed air breathing apparatus for firefighters so that emergency responders can breathe well during missions


Family businesses form the backbone of the German economy and are also innovation drivers. Looking back, what innovation from Dräger are you particularly proud of?

The very first mining rescue device, from 1904 – that was groundbreaking. And an entire profession was named after it, Draegerman!


Let’s talk about environmental protection. Is this failing because the economy is supposed to keep growing?

No, it fails because climate protesters take off on vacation after the protest campaign. But seriously, it‘s not failing because of industry or politics, but because of us. When it comes to concrete action, convenience quickly reigns supreme. Many people don‘t want to turn down their heating, don‘t want to have a wind turbine in front of their door, and certainly don‘t want to take a bike or train to work, even though they could. It could rain, after all.

 

Is there anything that bothers you about capitalism?

In its pure form, human dignity is not sufficiently respected.


There are many ideas for a fairer, greener, yet free-market economy. The proposals for a “softer” capitalism – less market and growth, more controlling state – are often thought of by women: A “more feminine world order”, wouldn’t that have some merit?

This gentler form of capitalism has no gender component. I do, however, see a more feminine component in the future workplace, which will be much more attractive to all young people if it has more of what is commonly called a “female component”.

 

Does Dräger still have catching up to do in terms of female management positions?

Yes, but it remains a challenge because we make technology for life – and unfortunately many girls at a young age are discouraged and denied of their technical competence. But this can be a positive opportunity for us.

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From four to five – and then? Theo Dräger, Dr. Christian Dräger and Stefan Dräger (left to right) at the company headquarters in Lübeck. The transition from the fourth to the fifth generation was smooth - but who comes next?

What qualities would the next Dräger CEO need to have to ensure the "qualified" survival of the company?

There are a few. He or she would have to be able to defend our prices and, in addition to communication skills, also have a portion of quick-wittedness. I‘m not like that! I have never been quick-witted. That’s a limitation of mine to this day. I‘m not extroverted either. And these qualities are becoming increasingly important for the company, externally and internally.


Do you think it‘s possible that artificial intelligence will make academics redundant at Dräger in the future?

Those involved are the best judge of that, whether and where that could be the case. There’s a very good example from accounts receivable. There, the employees themselves came up with the idea of using bots to take over repetitive tasks so that they can devote themselves to more useful things.


When I say ‘Dräger in the year 2030’, what comes to your mind?

We make Technology for Life just like we’ve always done. We’ve expanded our competencies in interoperability as well as systems capability making us significantly more profitable than we are today – an EBIT margin of 10 percent would be great – and we earn money with data-based business models so that they don‘t immediately run aground in the event of minor disruptions. 

 

When will the sixth Dräger generation start at the company?

As soon as one of my children wants to and is old enough. There is a basic interest. We’ve decided to talk about it at a certain point in the future. We haven’t gotten to this point in time yet. 

 

How would you prepare one of your children to join the company?

Every transition must be planned anew and individually. That is a lesson I have learned from my own experience, and others. There’s not just one concept that can be copied. In my case, it was good that I didn‘t start directly at headquarters, but rather in North America. I learned “from the outside in,” so to speak.


If readers only remember one thing from this interview, what should it be?

That there is a difference between people who are interesting and those who can present themselves as interesting. I hopefully belong to the former – in the direction of, what he can do, I can and want to do too!


Is there anything else that is very important to you?

Yes, love! I don‘t mean love between people, to nature or even Hungarian salami – but that love is the basis of everything if we want to achieve something.

 

Thank you very much Mr. Dräger for this interview!



Interview: Björn Wölke    Photos: Arne Wesenberg, Patrick Ohligschläger, Heiko Schaffrath

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