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For taking responsibility for goals, Ludwig Askemper, Managing Director of Mondelez Austria, recommends taking the paralyzing weight off the word. Instead of repeatedly stressing that goals “must” be achieved, teams also want to be motivated with a perspective for the future. Especially in difficult times, it is, therefore, worthwhile to already look at future success.

Some plans work out, others don’t: My original plan was to fly to Vienna and meet Ludwig Askemper, Managing Director of Mondelez Austria. Our schedules did not let us do that, so one Saturday we sit down to skype. And it has something to do with responsibility that made us say, “Okay, our Plan A doesn’t seem to work for the near future. So let’s instead go for Plan B and hold our conversation via Skype, rather than postponing it or even giving up our plan.” I certainly didn’t want the latter! I’m really happy that Ludwig is taking the time to talk to me at the weekend. 

Mondelez is a global player and is literally on everyone’s lips with brands such as Milka, Oreo, or Cadbury. Ludwig – who incidentally grew up in a large family on a farm, as he tells me – returned to the company as reorganizer in a challenging situation at a time when he actually wanted to withdraw from the corporate world to devote himself to other interests. First of all, I want to know how it came about that he assumed responsibility once again. When a leader is expected to accomplish a turnaround, that task usually is not a walk in the park.

“My former boss called me and asked me to help him,” Ludwig says. “Now I always enjoyed working with him and owe him a lot. That’s one of the main reasons why it didn’t take me long to say: Okay, I’ll do it. I’ll make it my responsibility – even and particularly in a challenging situation. I had already achieved several turnarounds in other places before. Not as your typical tough troubleshooter but because of the way I deal with teams and unite them behind an idea. In addition, confectionery has a long tradition. Many have fallen in love with it, and for me, too, that was a motive to take responsibility. After all, I knew it was really about the matter per se and not a demonstration of power or emergency management. Otherwise I wouldn’t have done it. My experience in sales was what helped me to envision the turnaround. Many leaders aren’t really close to sales and therefore know little about the technical aspects. I’m certainly one of the few in such a position who, at the start of their careers, would drive from shop to shop for years and sell products. I knew that would help me.”

“It’s this anticipation of looking back – to already picture now how it will be when I’ve accomplished it.”

I really like that story. Curious about details, I want to learn more about three points. My first question is: How exactly does Ludwig assume responsibility? My second question is: Why is that important to him, and what’s the reward for him personally? And my third question is: How does he manage to get others to assume responsibility, too? “It’s just a wonderful feeling for me to help other people get back on track when things aren’t going well. Even more so when the challenge is so great that it becomes a once-in-a-lifetime experience, as it is now here in Vienna. I often imagine meeting the people I work with again years later, and they’ll say, “Do you remember, back when …” It’s this anticipation of looking back – to already picture now how it will be when I’ve accomplished it – that already feels like victory to me.” I can relate to that last point particularly well! It’s not a coincidence that the anticipation of the future takes up that much space in this book. And what about the responsibility of others?

“To answer that question, I need to reach back a bit. Specially in difficult situations, when we’re getting closer to the turnaround, the 20-60-20 rule is time and again confirmed with regard to the people: 20 per cent immediately understand what needs to be done and ca cry out, Hooray! On the other hand, there are 20 per cent who understand it but don’t want and sometimes can’t do it. They don’t care about responsibility for the whole matter but only about their own short-term interests. And then there’s that large block of 60 per cent who wait and see what happens. My approach has always been to try to get as many people as possible – and especially the right people – on the side of the first 20 per cent.

Ludwig Askemper

My ultimate goal is to arouse entrepreneurial enthusiasm. People should just enjoy doing business. If that’s the case, then they will also enjoy assuming responsibility. But as I said, there are those people who want to prevent the turnaround. Although that’s actually incomprehensible. Yet I don’t fight them but rather try to awaken the ambition of those who do want it. It’s about being able to say at some point: Wow, that was quite the mountain, but we did it! And not just that: We want to have a great time together and experience exciting moments in a team on our way there. You can make the working hours very exciting for yourself and others, and do it in a way that makes it a pleasure to go to work.”

“As soon as enthusiasm comes into play, the seriousness that often accompanies the word ‘responsibility’ is gone.”

Many people don’t necessarily associate enthusiasm and joy with difficult situations or even with a turnaround. I like the fact that, for Ludwig, enthusiasm, especially in difficult situations, is the key to accomplishing the turnaround! That means that the greater my joy, the more I enjoy taking responsibility. “Yet I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on the term ‘responsibility’ and, above all, not constantly talk about it,” Ludwig adds thoughtfully. “‘Responsibility’ was one of the five principles of a company I was in for a long time – and that’s way too much for my liking. ‘Responsibility’ is a big word. It shouldn’t have that much weight and it shouldn’t be a burden. Of course I assume responsibility, and of course I have to get things out of the way. But after that, it’s much nicer to think of the perspective, the excitement behind it, the journey that awaits you. As soon as enthusiasm comes into play, the seriousness that often accompanies the word ‘responsibility’ is gone.” So it’s better not to talk about “responsibility” all the time but to willingly take responsibility – and then focus on working on that one big goal with enthusiasm and joy. I consider that a very valuable message at this point.

About the book

This interview is an excerpt from the book „DO EPIC STUFF! – Leadership after Change Management”, published by Campus Verlag. Transformation expert René Esteban explains together with senior leaders of today’s business world how to achieve challenging goals together. Learn more about the book and order it directly.

About the author

René Esteban is the founder and CEO of the consulting company FocusFirst GmbH. With his team he supports executives in the global corporate environment to achieve their most challenging goals with focus and inspiration – and at the same time to develop the corporate culture towards more empathy and humanity.

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René Esteban
Founder, CEO