In Europe the old school has reared its head once again, as Ulrich Schumacher discovered when his got put on a pike. Schumacher's sudden resignation as CEO of Infineon Technologies suggests that North American- or Asian-style management still doesn't cut it in his society, where unions, reduced workweeks and old ways still hold sway.
Schumacher, an innovative manager on a staid continent, was essentially forced out by one of Germany's top unions, IG Metall, and perhaps even by some Infineon board members with a blinkered understanding of the nature of globalization.
Schumacher brought Siemens' semiconductor businesses out from under the slow-moving mother ship in uncertain times, then took it public at the end of the bubble. Such corporate disaggregation comes easily in North America; not so in Europe. When he and I sat down at a convention center in Munich and talked about the spinout, Schumacher's one big frustration was his inability to offer true stock options to incentivize his workers, to bring to bear management practices that would really let Infineon do a little open-field running.
Infineon stuck by its memory-market guns even as entire nations such as Japan were heading for the hills.
So why did this happen now, when Infineon's stock is double what it was a year ago? Perhaps because Schumacher took tough steps to cut costs and hinted more than once that Infineon might move its headquarters away from expensive Germany?
German unions have conceded much in recent years, especially in the automotive sector, where low-cost, high-quality labor forces are emerging in Eastern Europe. But you can only shake up the gang so much before something gives. Labor still carries a lot of political clout with the liberal German government, and Schumacher's head looks good above the union fireplace.
The old school in Europe should savor it while it lasts, however, because globalization is here to stay. Anyone who thinks differently is in for a rude awakening. Adapting-not parading someone's head down Marienstrasse-is what's needed. Yes, offshoring is a visceral issue (thanks for the flame mails making that abundantly clear after my Lou Dobbs rant). But trying to stop it is a nonstarter.
Schumacher was brash and, from the sound of it, a little prickly to work with. He'll make a great manager in North America.