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2005-06-30

Politics as a career booster - ok or not? 

So Brigitte Ederer will be the next chairwoman of the board (similar to a CEO in US business practice) of the Austrian branch of Siemens, an organisation with a staff of 18,000 (DerStandard, [DE]). Ederer, 49, has been on the Siemens board since 2001. For Austrian standards, it is remarkable that a woman gets such a top job in industry, and it seems that no other woman has held quite such an influential business position in Austria before.

In fact, as DerStandard points out in a portrait of Ederer [DE], for her, being the first woman on the job is not new - she has been through this experience several times during her successful career. The interesting bit is that before joining Siemens, Ederer has had a high-profile career too - but in politics rather than industry. In 1995 she became the general manager of her party, the socialdemocrat SPÖ. Even before that, she was a junior government minister responsible for European affairs at the time of Austria's accession negotiations with the EU. She is still best known to the public for her media-heavy charm-powered performance in this function and her promise that every Austrian would save 1000 old Austrian schillings per year if the population would approve accession in the referendum. In 1997 Ederer, who has a degree in economics, became responsible for the finances of the Vienna city administration as a member of the municipal goverment. It was from this job that she switched over to a role on the board of Siemens.

It is said that good links into the political system have often been helpful for getting a top job a Siemens, which does a lot of business with Austrian government institutions and exercises significant influence on them as well. It is also rather clear that Ederer would not have been able to join Siemens at board level in 2001 if it hadn't been for her political acumen.

But what about this latest promotion, to the number one slot? How cynical should we be about it? I am honestly not sure. On the one hand I am quite convinced that Ederer is hard-working, intelligent, and an excellent communicator, and I expect that she will do no worse on the job than any other qualified candidate. For this reason, it is great news that a woman has made it so far. At the same time, would she ever have accomplished the same without her party-political credentials? Probably not. Is this a problem?


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