Jack missed the point

“But wait, if it is true that German decision making processes strive to save resources – time, budgets, material, manpower – why do the Germans have compared to us (Americans) far more employees for the same work?”

This is a question often posed. Takeovers, mergers, joint ventures, cross-Atlantic projects. So many questions to be clarified. So many details. Germans and Americans. Who does what, how, when, why and with which resources?

An especially sensitive question is “who?”, who will do what work. Will jobs be reduced or increased? Or transferred from one side of the Atlantic to other? Skepticism, mistrust, wariness can spread through organizations. Interestingly, the Germans often ask the same question about the Americans: “Why do they need so many people to do the work we do with far fewer?”

Growth, job opportunities, wealth creation

Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, once referred to the German multinational company Siemens as an overblown employment agency. Perhaps that statement had some truth to it. Then, but not today. Siemens is trim, fit, focused and profitable.

Welch’s negative statement asks a deeper, more fundamental question: What is the purpose of an enterprise, of a company? For some it is to increase shareholder value. For others it is to serve its customers as effectively as possible. For others it is to take care of its employees, their families, their communities. Perhaps the correct answer is a combination of each.

It would be too simple to state that continental European companies are more socially conscious than companies in the Anglo-American economies. Growth, job opportunities, wealth creation also serve the needs of families and communities.

Maybe the difference is that Germans seldom refer to employees as resources. The term ‘Human Resources’ in German is Personal, analogous to Personnel, a term still used in many American companies. Personnel. Personal. From Latin personale, English personal.

Time. Budgets. Material. Those are resources. From the German perspective people are persons and not resources.


Have you ever heard or participated in discussions about which side – American or German – has too many people? Have you ever thought: “We get the work done with less resources”? 

Can the comparison even be made?

Jack missed the point