The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday
Management practices and Nazi Germany
or dictatorship. The early Middle Ages were their golden age, mythologised with malevolent brilliance in the final act of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.
Aryan Eden, the Führer sought not subjects but “companions”; the Nazis abandoned “administration” (too French) for a community bonded by blood, “managed” by the Führer and “free to obey”.
A number of able technocrats became associated with such ideas, most of whom served in the SS: Reinhard Höhn, Werner Best, Wilhelm Stuckart, Otto Ohlendorf. They reinvented themselves and carved out prosperous careers in the post-war Federal Republic, aided by powerful networks of ex-Nazis. By 1953, Höhn was director of the German Society for Political Economy, promoting his management methods. In 1956, it opened a campus modelled on Harvard Business School in the “picturesque” city of Bad Harzburg in Lower Saxony. By the time of Höhn’s death in 2000, some 600,000 managers had passed through its doors. Seminars directed by Höhn at Bad Harzburg were attended by managers from German business giants such as Aldi, BMW, Bayer, Telefunken and Krupp, as well as US firms, including Ford and Colgate, and even the “reigning queen” of the sex shop, Beate Uhse.
Höhn’s creed of “management by delegation of responsibility” was outlined in best-selling books. His aim was to eliminate class struggle from both economic and political society. Peaceful social relations would be made possible by the cultivation of communitarian harmony between “leadership” and “personnel”. Yet, as Chapoutot contends, it is wise to be wary when a former SS officer presents a “non-authoritarian model” of management. The model persists, not least in Germany. In 2012, an Aldi distribution centre manager wrote of “an oppressive culture of monitoring and constant harassment”. Chapoutot quotes a passage from one of the retailer’s handbooks as evidence of a firm obsessed by “objectives” and “time frames”, fuelling a system of “total monitoring and fear”.
It is an astonishing continuity: from the social Darwinism of the Victorian age, to modern supermarket logistics, via the Nazis – all fine-tuned by men such as Höhn into a management creed of “freedom” and “autonomy”, when it is anything but.