In an interview, Messe München CEO Klaus Dittrich talks about what really matters
By Stefan Schmortte (Messe München Magazine 02/2017)
Klaus Dittrich, companies must make a profit. Why is it important for them to have other values as well?
Klaus Dittrich: It goes without saying that businesses must be profitable, but at some point, it is important for them to take stock and ask themselves what they stand for. Values are a formal framework for the company’s activities and help it to distinguish right from wrong. For this reason, we have not imposed our values from above. Instead, we have worked together with all our employees to formulate them. You cannot simply specify some values; they need to make their way into the hearts of the employees
Trust, team spirit, dedication, responsibility, and innovation: These are the values that Messe München has given itself. Which of these is most important to you personally?
Klaus Dittrich: Definitely responsibility. Some of our customers invest millions of euros in staging an exhibition for four, five, or six days. We need to take responsibility on behalf of our customers, but, of course, also on behalf of our shareholders, our employees, and society as a whole.
Other companies have very similar values, such as integrity or reliability. What is special about these values if everyone is saying the same thing about business ethics?
Klaus Dittrich: Messe München isn’t just any company. It is owned by the Free State of Bavaria, the City of Munich, and the local chambers of trade and commerce. In a certain sense, it belongs to the citizens of Munich. I think our ownership structure gives us a very special responsibility. In addition, our sustainable business model helps us on the international stage. During the acquisition process for trade fairs in other countries, we have found on several occasions that our competitors, some of which are listed on the stock exchange, have put much larger amounts of money on the table. But when customers opt for our offer, it is because they see us as a highly reliable and trustworthy partner. This shows that our values have a genuine financial impact.
Making Munich more attractive as a business location and contributing to public well-being are the two challenges that the company has set itself, in addition to the values we already discussed. How would you sum up what has been achieved so far?
Klaus Dittrich: We commissioned the Leibniz Institute for Economic Research to identify the effects that the activities of Messe München have had. The hotel and catering sectors, taxi drivers, and retailers in the area all benefit from trade fairs and congresses. This amounts to around 2.6 billion euros per year, and in the years when we hold Bauma, the construction trade fair, it can be as much as 3.6 billion. This means that every euro we earn can bring an additional ten euros into the region. As a result, Messe München with its 750 employees makes a significant contribution to the local economy.
That sounds like the old saying: We learn from our mistakes.
Klaus Dittrich: Yes, it is an old and highly traditional approach. Fundamentally, the whole discussion is about the moral of the honorable salesman. Immanuel Kant gave the best explanation of it in the form of his categorical imperative. In simple terms, it means: Do as you would be done by. That is a very good principle and we at Messe München try to live by it every day
What about the company’s own figures?
Klaus Dittrich: In 2016, our revenue exceeded the 400-million-euro mark for the first time, reaching 428 million euros. It was a record year. This means that we have been in the black for seven consecutive years and haven’t had to rely on financial support from our shareholders. As part of our Strategy 2021, we aim to achieve an average annual turnover of 420 million euros over the next five years, both in Munich and on the international stage, which is where we currently believe there is the greatest potential for growth.
This increases the scope of your responsibility. How can you meet these requirements in China, Turkey, or India?
Klaus Dittrich: We cannot change the political situation in these countries, but our industry exhibitions do have an influence. One example is IFAT, the largest environmental trade fair in the world, which we have successfully staged at two locations in China: in Shanghai and in Guangzhou, 900 miles further south near Hong Kong. This enables us to contribute towards improving the environmental situation in the Far East.
We are one of the greenest exhibition sites in the world
And what contribution are you making to sustainability here in Munich?
Klaus Dittrich: When we began work on planning and constructing the new exhibition center in the mid-1990s, one of our objectives was to build a facility that met the requirements of all aspects of sustainability. With more than 2,500 trees and 70,000 shrubs and bushes, we are one of the greenest exhibition sites in the world. We make use of photovoltaic and geothermal systems and in our new C5 and C6 halls we will be collecting rainwater in underground trenches to reduce the impact on the drainage system.
These are the environmental considerations. And the common good?
Klaus Dittrich: Our workforce is currently made up of more than 60 percent women. Maintaining the right balance between family life and work is very important to us. This also applies later in life, when elderly parents may need care. We see these things as part of our responsibility. When tens of thousands of refugees began arriving in Munich three years ago, we made our buildings available within just a few hours to give people at least a roof over their heads. By the way, we also employed three refugees, who are now very successfully completing apprenticeships at Messe München.
It is said that young people in particular don’t choose their employer solely on the basis of the salary on offer. How important a role do Messe München’s corporate values play in the recruitment process?
Klaus Dittrich: The salary must be right, but money isn’t everything. There have been several cases where employees took a pay cut when they moved to us because the work at Messe München excited them so much. In the conversations I’ve had with young people, I’ve discovered that it is very important for them to work for a company that really suits them. Of course, this is also true the other way around. We are increasingly looking for people who will fit in with our culture. I believe that there is some truth in the famous saying by Jack Welsh, the legendary former CEO of General Electric: “We hire people because of their skills and we fire them because of their personality.”
A company's Failure to live up to the the values it has set for itself can lead to huge financial damage.
The annual report of a very large automotive group states: ‘We understand corporate social responsibility as being the ability to bring our business into line with the long-term objectives of the global community.’ After the diesel scandal, these words sound rather hollow ...
Klaus Dittrich: .. Indeed. But I believe this will be an important lesson for many people. A company’s failure to live up to the values it has set for itself can lead to huge financial damage.
For the greater good: Messe München CEO Klaus Dittrich does not only see the company’s corporate responsibility within a regional context but also on an international level.