The Richenhagen file Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2008

Born: Cologne, Germany

Education: University of Bonn (Germany)

What’s the best business lesson you’ve learned?

Say what you think and do what you say.

What is the biggest business challenge facing leaders?

I think the biggest challenge is to motivate people.

What was your first job?

As a kid, the first time I earned money, I was helping on a farm harvesting potatoes and made, at that time, $3 per hour. That was around ’65.

I started as a high school professor in Germany. I was an ambitious horse rider and trainer, and one of my clients, who owned a big steel mill, offered me a job. I started as a correspondent in export sales.

What’s your favorite board game and why?

Chess. It’s new every time, and you can play it also with different levels, with young and old people, and I just find it exciting and interesting.

On differentiation: I think differentiation is very important. If you think about what happened to the airlines, they first optimized the business to reduce costs, and they ended up being the same — everybody late, providing lousy service, dirty planes, luggage getting lost and things like that. So if I ran Delta, I would make sure I was always on time, that my planes were clean, that my flight attendants were more polite than others and that the luggage arrived at the destination as scheduled. Then you could outperform your competition. I don’t know why that is so difficult. You do have to do a straightforward analysis, and the problem of many companies is they’re not honest with regard to identifying their weaknesses.

On measurement: I think any company that doesn’t measure and doesn’t have objectives and that doesn’t measure performance against those objectives will fail.