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Business

Mannesmann Retrial Revives Debate About Business Ethics

A German federal court's call for the Deutsche Bank boss' retrial two days ago has reopened the debate about what kind of behavior Germans should demand of their business leaders.

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Some politicians say a manager's priorities need to go beyond stock prices

Politicians who are calling for Josef Ackermann's resignation, and business bosses who would rather have the courts stay out of economics, appear evenly divided on what the Deutsche Bank head's retrial means for German business.

Social Democrat and Bundestag Vice-President Wolfgang Thierse, in an interview with rbb radio, called the court's verdict a "public demand to discuss business culture and business ethics in this country" with the goal of changing managers' behavior.

The idea of a code of conduct has made a number of appearances this year as German companies including DaimlerChrysler and Deutsche Bank who announced record profits while laying off hundreds of workers. Thierse suggested a set of rule to create a correlation between managers' performance and the compensation they receive to ensure they work in their company's best interest.

Politicians call for Ackermann's resignation

Mannesmann-Prozeß, Josef Ackermannn

Ackermann has to prove he was working in Deutsche Bank's best interest

Thierse said he wanted to see whether business leaders would implement voluntary ethics guidelines after seeing the case's results.

"If that does not happen, and two or three years from now we face the next problems, then I would be for making the rules mandatory," he added.

Nearly all Germany's political parties called for Ackermann to step down, at least until the case against him is closed, fearing Germany could end up labeled as a socially irresponsible country that permits predatory business practices without regard for the nation's employees.

The judges made it clear "that no stock can be given to the immorality that has spread over top levels of business," former Social Democratic Party General Secretary Klaus Uwe Benneter told the n-tv news station.

Ackermann and five co-defendants are accused of charges of breach of fiduciary duty when they rubber-stamped 57 million euros ($68 million) worth of golden handshakes after the Mannesmann-Vodafone takeover battle in 2000.

Dangers for German business

EU-Kommission stellt Bezeichnung Made in Germany in Frage

Business leaders fear court decisions could hinder innovation in Germany

But not everyone agrees that politicians should become overly involved in the business world.

"Politicians would be well advised to restrain themselves," Christian Democratic Union deputy chairman Wolfgang Bosbach said of the calls for Ackermann's resignation. "This is an issue for the Deutsche Bank, the supervisory board and its chairman."

German business leaders added that the country stands to lose in a globalized world if courts are able to get involved in corporate decision making.

"The judgment shows that we in Germany have a backwards case-law," Jan Pieter Krahnen of Center of Financial Studies in Frankfurt told the Berliner Zeitung. "It could mean a real set-back for the German economy's power to compete."

Ackermann has run Deutsche Bank according to an Anglo-Saxon model that puts investors' concerns first in a country where the state and employees' interests are normally given the most importance, according to Krahnen.

Seen by many as a leader who was able to improve Deutsche Bank's international position -- and bottom line, the retrial decision could scare away foreign investors, afraid their success could be directly followed by lawsuits.

During the trial, Ackermann, who earned 11 million euros last year, said Germany needed to "wake up" to the reality of bonuses, such as those paid to Mannesmann executives.

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