Tributes

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    When I read in the newspaper that the Otto Group could slip behind its competitors it was immediately obvious to me that Michael Otto and the company’s Executive Board would take immediate action. And this is precisely what happened: the company announced its intention to invest a nine-figure sum in a wide-ranging market offensive this financial year.

    Where did my confidence come from? Well, I’ve known Michael Otto for three decades. I know that he always keeps a close eye on everything that’s going on, that he adapts his approach to suit changing requirements, that he can refocus – and that he does all this without any pomp and circumstance. Back in summer 2012, Michael Otto said with great certainty that in the future there will probably only be two large online retailers with universal offerings: namely, Amazon and Otto.

    My trust in Michael Otto as a business leader and his team comes from my experiences with his father Werner Otto and his sons. Michael Otto has expanded the business into the world’s most successful mail-order company and the second largest Internet retailer. And he’s always done all this quietly, with no fuss and without grand statements and great emotion.

    Werner Otto was lucky to have such capable children. His sons Michael and Alex successfully continued the company’s mail-order, real-estate and development activities. They always supported new ideas if they were promising. All three Ottos always have a good overview of what’s going on in the world and have never forgotten to keep asking questions. The entrepreneurs of the Otto family are great business people – who are acutely aware of their responsibility towards their customers, employees as well as society and nature.

    They’ve created many jobs. And just as important, if not immediately self-evident: they’ve paid their taxes – and that’s a pretty penny, too. This alone makes a huge contribution to public welfare – not to mention that made by their not-for-profit foundations and through donations. Michael Otto has done a great deal for the salus publica, for public welfare – something he continues to do today. There aren’t too many big business leaders out there who have become actively involved in not-for-profit activities to such an extent.

    Michael Otto, following the example set by his father, is always aware of his social and political responsibility. He leads his life in the true spirit of what Article 14 of Germany’s constitution sets out: “Property brings with it a duty. Its use should also serve the public good.” Michael Otto continues to serve as a beacon of how the head of a company who is aware of his social responsibility can also achieve lasting success.

    In conclusion, I would like to wish Michael Otto all the best for his birthday and hope he continues his work for a long while yet!

    Helmut Schmidt
    Bundeskanzler a. D.
     
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    “In politics and society, wrong decisions are made that are a disadvantage to our natural world and environment – decisions which can and must be criticised. But we should not limit ourselves to criticism, wherever we carry the responsibility ourselves: we need to contribute to the solution to the problem as far as possible. If everyone simply waits until other people act, then nothing will happen at all in the end.”

    This is the gist of one of Michael Otto’s fundamental principles, one to which he already felt committed in his younger years, when he first made contact with the Club of Rome, for example, and later as Group CEO when he began to reorganise his company – consistently and step by step – around greater sustainability. This is something I have witnessed on the WWF Scientific Advisory Committee and later as Chairman of the Steering Committee when the Otto Group introduced the FSC Sustainability Seal for wooden products and paper that had been launched by the WWF. Also, on the Board of Trustees of the Michael Otto Foundation for Environmental Protection I was able to support and contribute to the development of Otto’s environmentally sustainable CMIA cotton certification programme.

    For the WWF it was a true stroke of luck that Michael Otto expressed his willingness to take over the chairmanship of the Board of Trustees in the mid-1990s. And for Michael Otto it was also an interesting task – so he keeps telling me – to gain closer insights into the burning environmental issues on our planet through the WWF, as a globally active organisation for protecting nature and the environment. Insights that enable him to think beyond the framework of his own company and have a creative influence on different problem-solving approaches. 

    This combination of entrepreneurial thinking and an genuine affinity with nature, with sound knowledge, particularly of the domestic and African animal kingdoms, that Michael Otto had to offer were excellent prerequisites for moving the WWF forward with sound judgement in its substance and structure. When he first took up office, an important first step was a thorough analysis and strategic consultancy of the WWF in economic terms, carried out by the Boston Consulting Group. This led to the introduction of new organisational structures and decision-making processes which turned out to be an important prerequisite for generating almost four times the income and number of contributing WWF members in Germany since the end of the 1990s. 

    An environmental organisation such as the WWF can only be successful in the long term if it is in principle based on optimism towards the future. This means that, in the face of any devastating news about losses to nature on our planet, we don’t lose heart. We tackle the problems courageously with a view to solving them and having all parties involved sitting round the same table. And it is precisely this approach to life that marks out Michel Otto, whom I have always experienced as a positive, forward-looking person, with a sense of reality, the will to find solutions and an often distinctive sense of humour.

    When working together, reliability, straightforwardness and decisiveness are important qualities for getting major issues off the ground. Here, in the executive body of the WWF, people who could rely on each other came together with Michael Otto and were able to set important courses of action in motion with sound judgement and flexibility, sometimes with surprising speed. And many a time, if an obstructive financial problem arose, Michel Otto was generously able to solve this himself. 

    Such an important solution to a problem happened only a few months ago, in a ten-minute phone call that reached me during a lecture I was giving about the human brain. The students understood and had accepted a brief interruption to the lecture, “It’s about an important nature protection project. Dr Otto is on my mobile phone.” In this telephone call, on the basis of a memorandum that had been delivered to him some hours previously, Michael Otto gave me his generous assurance that he would finance the purchase of a restaurant in a national park to bring peace to this area of disturbance in nature and convert it into an information space and a base with facilities for hikers. I subsequently explained to my students that, with their patience, at just the right moment they had contributed to the financial solution to an important problem in a national park – and this was acknowledged with loud, appreciative rapping on the lecture-hall benches. 

    Dr Otto has been Honorary Chairman of the Board of Trustees since summer 2012 and he continues to have close ties with the WWF as a mentor and supporter. By purchasing 100 WWF Protection of Species Trunks for use in schools and by financing the information space for the ‘Alte Buchenwälder’ World Nature Heritage site, he continues to show his enthusiasm for, and commitment to youth and environmental education issues in the areas of nature and species protection. In so doing, he shows that he does not want to wait and do nothing until − perhaps− the State is ready to take on such tasks, always true to his principle that,   

    “If everyone simply waits until other people act, then nothing will happen at all in the end.”
    The Board of Trustees, the management and the employees of the WWF all wish Dr Michael Otto many happy returns of the day on his birthday on 12th April 2013 and very much look forward to continuing our close ties with him as Honorary Chairman of the WWF.

    Prof. Dr. Detlev Drenckhahn
    President WWF Germany
     
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    I met Michael Otto for the first time in a circle of women and men who met several times in the middle of the 1990s at Lake Müritz to debate how private initiatives could be used to support the economic and social development of the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

    When I first became Federal President, I asked Michael Otto to explain to me in depth the thus-named patronage system among Hamburg’s merchant class. And when I visited the state of Schleswig-Holstein to gain information locally about the cooperation between agriculture and nature conservation, he took the opportunity to personally describe to me the work done by the Michael Otto Institute at the German Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) in Bergenhusen. He revealed an astonishingly detailed knowledge about the life of (and threat to) the storks and grassland birds.

    For many years, though, we have been been exchanging views on Africa, and continue to do so today. As a farsighted entrepreneur, Michael Otto has long recognised the great economic and political potential of this continent. But he also recognises that the poverty there calls on his responsibility as a businessman and a world citizen. In Africa, his name has meanwhile become almost synonymous with 'organic cotton', with the environmentally friendly cultivation of cotton. I am delighted that Michael Otto goes out of his way, even in personal conversations in Africa, to lobby for better framework conditions for private economic investment. In his vision for Africa, cotton and other raw materials should increasingly be processed locally. He knows that the general lack of professional prospects for African youths must be counteracted especially through education, training and jobs.

    Our constitution guarantees the right to private property. And he says: “Property entails responsibility. Its use should serve the good of all at the same time.” Michael Otto lives up to this commitment.

    Entrepreneurs such as Michael Otto are role models and incentives to keep the social market economy alive, for the sake of prosperity in Germany and around the world.

    Thank you, Michael Otto. Ad multos annos!

    Professor Horst Köhler
    Former German Federal President
     
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    Michael Otto has proven as an entrepreneur that business success and social responsibility go best hand-in-hand.

    As Chief Executive Officer, Michael Otto successfully led his retail group over a number of decades. At the same time, he was active as a founder and initiator of social projects. Not least through the example of his own company he stood up for value-driven management and behaving responsibly towards the environment.

    His credible, ethically entrepreneurial action and his exemplary commitment make him a role model for many.

    Dr Otto, my warmest congratulations on your 70th birthday!

    Olaf Scholz
    Lord Mayor Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg
     
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    Dear Dr Otto,
    I value your commitment to ‘Cotton made in Africa’ extremely highly. You were one of the first people to recognise the opportunities for the German business community that lie in our neighbouring continent of Africa. You are a pioneer and have invested in Africa and its people in the area of agriculture which is so central to life there.

    At the same time, you are committed to sustainable development – and success has proven you right: thanks to the Cotton made in Africa initiative, the incomes of some 20,000 farming families in Benin have risen considerably, the region is developing, children are going to school and healthcare is being provided – to mention just a few examples.

    I believe this is precisely the type of impact the German business community can have in Africa through its commitment: it benefits the company and, at the same time, benefits the people there and the national economies in Africa that collect tax revenue allowing them to provide state services: a win-win for everyone. I would like many other companies to follow your great lead − and I personally support your endeavours, as we need a lot more of this type of involvement.

    In the light of the above, I send you my warmest congratulations on your 70th birthday, together with my very best wishes for your health, happiness and success!

    Yours,

    Dirk Niebel
    Member of the German Parliament, Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development
     
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    To me, Dr Michael Otto epitomises the term ‘honourable businessman’ – in the best tradition of our common hanseatic home city of Hamburg.

    To him, business success was and is inseparable from responsibility for society and public welfare. It is a responsibility that he has always lived up to with exceptional steadfastness and phenomenal farsightedness. He was a pioneer of sustainable business management long before environmental protection became fashionable. His experience and active involvement – not least in the 2° initiative – as well as the example of his business success are now more important than ever. To me, Michael Otto is and will remain a great hanseatic role model.

    Dr Rüdiger Grube
    Deutsche Bahn AG
     
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    Dear Michael Otto,

    Robert Bosch, too, would have ‘liked Otto’ – I'm referring here to your company slogan.

    Indeed, there is much to connect you with the founder of our company: entrepreneurial success, but almost even more entrepreneurial responsibility. Just as Robert Bosch was ahead of his times with the voluntary introduction of the eight-hour work day, you, Michael Otto, are a pioneer in sustainability. Your thinking – and this is what impresses me – generates many practical initiatives, for example Cotton made in Africa. Likewise, environmental and climate protection are for you not just Sunday afternoon insights, but you do everything possible to reflect environmental goals in your company’s day-to-day business. It is precisely this fertile restlessness that you also bring into the circle of shareholders at Robert Bosch Industrietreuhand KG. You have been a member of this circle for almost eight years and I have experienced the debates with you on the topic of sustainability many times as very stimulating and engaging. Dear Michael Otto, I wish you the very best on your 70th birthday – sustainably!

    Yours,

    Franz Fehrenbach
    Managing Partner, Robert Bosch Industrietreuhand KG and Chairman of the Supervisory Board, Robert Bosch GmbH
     
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    Dear Michael,
    when your father sent out his first catalogues, my father began publishing the magazine which is now known as BUNTE.

    However, much more connects us than the long and fruitful business relationship that our fathers founded in post-war Germany: in the nearly 50 years that we have known each other, we have experienced probably the most exciting chapters in recent economic history. I remember when we both went to Moscow in 1987, two years before the Berlin Wall fell, after which globalisation reached completely new dimensions. From 1995 onwards, we became aware of the fundamental importance of the digital revolution for our respective sectors. The farsightedness with which you tapped into these new markets and worlds and the courage with which you face challenges from completely new competitors impresses me time and again.

    Your life’s achievements would, however, be inadequately described if we reduced them to your outstanding entrepreneurial successes. It is also your admirable commitment to our society which distinguishes you as a human being, your unparalleled generosity and the conviction that entrepreneurship must always also keep an eye on the common good. Through all this, you naturally maintain your noble Hanseatic understatement, which always makes me think of you when I read Thomas Mann.

    Many happy returns on your birthday!

    Yours,

    Hubert
     
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