January 21, 2020
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The Frankenwein Flavour

It's business first and pleasure later in Franconia, home to some of Germany's big business houses

The Frankenwein Flavour

IT'S an area I travel to four, maybe five times a year, visiting a TNC partner who is located there. Situated due south of Nuremberg (known for the trials following World War II), the region is a virtual glossary of some of Germany's large international business houses: Siemens, Staedtler, INA, Sylvania, Weiler, Adidas, Puma. All have their corporate headquarters here and may have large factories that adjoin.

A veritable hub of industry and commerce, with milling crowds, hustle and bustle, clank and noise, soot and grime. And with the denizens of the area you would expect an ever-present underlay of the palpable tension that accompanies big business, the slightly-hounded look that is a result of the precarious, gut-wrenching games of the corporate rat race.

Yet as you drive out of the airport at Nuremberg and hit the autobahn, these expectations are, rather happily, belied Wheat fields of amber and golden brown shimmer and sway as a soft breeze wafts over them. Deep, dark forests of pine, edged by green meadows on which, if you look sharply, you can spot the odd grazing deer or two. Clusters of houses with sloping tiled roofs, each with a church spire that pops out from amongst their centre. And quietude that, once you get out of the audible reach of the auto bahn and its roar of high-speed vehicular noise, lulls and soothes.

Big business. Large office blocks. Mammoth factories. They are there, yes. And they blend into the landscape, large enough to stand out, yet in some manner merging into the tranquility of the setting, as if loath to disturb the even, gentle rhythm of their surroundings They can afford to be located in a pastoral setting and yet not sub optimise their business in any way, because the roads are good and transportation hassle-free, communication systems foolproof, connections to any place in the world are within easy reach from the local airport and most importantly, almost all inputs that a business would want to purchase locally are easily available.

Significantly again, unlike India where a posting to Bhopal or Bhiwadi, Gwalior or Ganjam would be viewed as a punishment tenure from which one ought to escape at the earliest opportunity, people actually like living in the area. They have the luxury of a house with a garden, whether large or small. No apartments, no semi-detached rows. And urban pleasures, an evening at the theatre or the opera at Frankfurt or Munich, are just a couple of hours away on the autobahn.

This is not to assume that business, even in these placid environs, is any less aggressive or predatory. Yet the physical surroundings seem to soften the jagged edges, helping people to cope better with the tautness and the accompanying stress of the workplace. 

"I'm not being Teutonic," the senior company official tells us across the negotiating table after he's taken and held unbudgingly on to a particular stand. He then goes on to reaffirm in serious tones, the rationale behind his arguments. That's what the German businessman is all about: blunt, clear, organised in his thinking, logical about all that he says and does. And he takes himself and his commitments earnestly and seriously. Negotiations within this frame are solemn, sombre affairs, little lightness and next to no hum-our. All that's conserved for hours after the work-day, when the glassy-eyed gentleman who stares you down during the day is a warm, concerned, gracious host who plies you with food and drink and drives you 400 km on a Sunday afternoon to taste wine and countryside cooking. And you're surprised when, barely a week after you reach home, negotiations having ended in an impasse, you get a communication from the Customs authorities in Delhi. The next day, a fancy case containing two bottles of Frankenwein, one red and one white is delivered to you, a gift from the bloke you thought the most intransigent during the meetings in Germany. And Frankenwein is delightful, light-bodied and dry with a hint of fruitiness that increases palatability manifold.

That Germanic races are special, German engineering skills unmatched, German systems and methods of organisation the best there are, are to every functionary, simple, well-understood truisms. Yet often enough, despite size, dominating international presence and technology advantages that are wide and deep, corporations are astoundingly insular in outlook and demeanour. Travelling is considered a less-than-pleasant chore, the Third World particularly disconcerting. Persuading a specialist technician to visit India is a tedious task that often ends in failure. Postings abroad are disliked and resisted. As was once told to me by one of the more urbane and well-travelled of the lot, "International business? We aren't a German company. We're not even Bavarian. We're Franconian if you consider the way we think and respond." Franconia being the small, culturally-spirited enclave where the company has its residence.

The Second World War is a subject that still provokes sensitivities, especially when you are a stone's throw away from Nuremberg, the final seat of Nazi humiliation. Yet the person showing you around Nuremberg, tall, blond, as German-Aryan looking as they come, shows a passing glint of pleasure when you ask to see the great stadium where during the mid-'30s, each September saw the giant rallies that the Nazi party used to hold, rallies that paved the way for the Third Reich.

 It's only of late and rather reluctantly that German business has started to look seriously at India. The move is as much out of compulsion as out of innate desire, for with shortened working hours, high wages, strong unions and exceptional living standards, Germany is pricing itself out of reach in areas of mass production. It will have to depend on countries such as ours, which combine skills that can effectively utilise advanced production technology with moderate labour costs.

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