23.02.20234 minutes reading time

Are you not at all tempted to go into politics? Or are entrepreneurs better world managers?

I am looking forward to pursuing my own projects, now that I have more time. This includes my engagement for climate protection as part of the 2° Foundation and my Aid by Trade Foundation, for example. I can do something worthwhile here. It’s also political, if you want to put it like that.

In 2007, you gave up being CEO of the Otto Group and switched to the Supervisory Board. When will another member of the Otto family head up the Group again?

I don’t think much of the role of the ‘patriarch who can’t let go’. For me, it was always clear that I would stop being CEO at a point in time which I determined myself. In the Otto Group we place a lot of value on the continuity of business management. By this, I don’t mean that a family company must be managed by the family at every point. To arrange the transition in leadership with non-related managers increases the freedom of action for all participants. I therefore define a ‘family company’ more through the company’s culture than the ancestry of its corporate management. In between my father and me, an unrelated manager also led the company. At the moment, Alexander Birken is excellent casting.

When discussing a possible succession, only your son is ever mentioned, never your daughter. Why?

My daughter has decided that her work lies in development aid. She therefore ruled out succeeding me in the management of the company.

You have experienced the development of the company from the beginning – from poverty after the war to its rapid ascent. Would you have acted differently in society if you had been born as a rich son from the start?

I can’t say. In any case, my family history has shaped my thinking and acting. When we landed in Hamburg after the war, we were bitterly poor. Hunger was part of every day. As a boy, I had to make my own way with all sorts of casual jobs. I think that was good and important for me and influenced my later entrepreneurial activity strongly.

How did you mould your own children in terms of engagement?

It was always important to my wife and me in bringing up our children that they had respect and tolerance towards other people. That they, if they work in business, should never expect more from another person than from themselves, so that they always take themselves as the yardstick. That they also do something for society and not just make demands of it. If we only ever claim our entitlements and never participate ourselves, then our society doesn’t function.

You love nature, and enjoy travelling off the beaten track in foreign lands. Luxurious hotels aren’t your thing, are they?

That is indeed the case. I love adventures in nature. With the people there I find a unique relaxation that I can find nowhere else. I can leave the stress of the daily routine, reflect on my life and come back to earth with both feet on the ground. The value of this is immeasurable. That’s why I would rather ride a horse into the Tian Shan mountains in Kyrgyzstan, or travel with a caravan through Mongolia, than lie by the poolside in a 5-star hotel.

Over the years, you have received many important awards, especially in the areas of management and environmental protection. How important is this to you personally? How critical is it to your work?

I see the awards as recognition of my engagement and as an honour, but at the same time as recognition of the work of my employees. The awards are an additional motivation for things I would do anyway.

What makes you feel happy in general – and is there a conflict with a sustainable life?

My happiness in life is my family. As an entrepreneur, it makes me happy to see the group of companies grow and flourish. Both of these can be brought into harmony very well with a sustainable life. When I travel, it’s not to get a change of scenery, as we like to say, but rather to meet and understand other cultures and ways of life.

Are you ashamed of behaviour that damages the environment?

I'm not ashamed, but I do think very carefully about my behaviour, whether all of it is always necessary and advisable and whether it justifies the price which the environment may have to pay.

What stops you from living in a more environmentally friendly way?

Entrepreneurs have to be flexible, mobile and fast − that applies to the big ones as much as to the little ones. What actually stops me from behaving in an even more environmentally friendly way than I already do is the fact that particular technologies just don’t exist in the market yet which enable us to maintain speed and flexibility on a significantly more environmentally conscious level. Take for example electric cars. The technology is great, but by no means mature enough to be able to replace others wholesale. Above all, it doesn’t let you cross the Atlantic.

Prof. Dr. Michael Otto as


Prof. Dr. Michael Otto as