(This article originally appeared in German in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Saturday, March 28th, 2015 and has been translated)
Crazy! Great! Really!
So that's what it looks like, the inofficial stock price of Deutsche Bahn: a red graph with lots of sharp spikes. Inauguration of CEO Rüdiger Gruppe: it's going up. Staff shortage at the Mainz rail control centre: the line drops sharply. Every day, Deutsche Bahn asks the German people what they think of it. Unless there is a volcano outbreak on Iceland or a strike at Lufthansa and everybody's just glad they can at least go ahead by train, the answers are rarely exuberant.
Ulrich Klenke has specifically retrieved the file from his computer's trash. For more than four years, he was Head of Marketing at Deutsche Bahn, responsible for reversing the downturns into upturns. Now hers clearing his office on the seventh floor of the Berlin Bahntower to become CEO Germany at the Ogilvy advertising agency. Which is slightly unusual — normally, advertisers switch to the industry and not vice versa. So why does one of the highest-ranking managers of a 300,000-staff company give up his job to become the boss of an agency with but 700 people? Not for image reasons, says Klenke.
Part of his answer is in his appearance alone. The 43-year-old is not one you would instantly allocate to a combine; he is much too lively and open for that. Talking about his new assignment, he doesn't say he was tempted by the challenge to utilise his long-standing experience in the strategic development of an international leading mobility and logistics brand to create sustainable value added for the agency and its customers. Klenke simply says, "Bang! It simply fit." And grins from ear to ear.
Ogilvy has for some years been in charge of the advertising for Deutsche Bahn — the partners know and like each other. When the previous CEO Thomas Strerath announced his transfer to Jung von Matt in last autumn, Klenke's name was soon on top of the Ogilvy managers' wish list. As it happened, Klenkc was, after seven years at the Germany company, looking forward to something new. A dozen interviews in hotel lobbies and via Skype later, the issue was settled - a big surprise for the industry. Klenke likes it. Too many good people had left the agency scene recently he says. "I'm an example for someone going back into advertising — without having to.
For his goodbye party in a brewery at Berlin' Potsdamer Platz, he chose the German evergreen 'Heute hier, morgen dort' ('Here today, tomorrow there') by German singer-songwriter Hannes Wader — Klenke plays the guitar, the "six-string" as he calls it slightly irreverently. effe name of the song suits his CV. It started with Klenke intending to study medicme. But then his father saw an advertisement Of a university of cooperative education and ordered information material. "Probably because the education had to be paid for," his son supposes. So it happened that he moved from the Bavaläan region of Upper Palatinate to Stuttgart, Germany, to work at Daimler and study Business Administration at said school simultaneously.
After Daimler's merger with Chrysler, he worked in America for a while, before former Mercedes Manager Tonio Kröger lured him to join the Berlin advertising agency DDB with him. There, Klenke consulted, amon$ others, to Deutsche Bahn — to which he shortly afterwards transferred to help manage the Intended IPO. The first briefing from Bahn CEO Hartmut Mehdorn was right to his liking: "Advertising' got to be fun; thank you very much." Klenke had fun, that's for sure.
Asked what it feels like to advertise a product that is constantly picked on by everybody, his first answer is a loud laugh; then, free of irony, 'Crazy! Great! Really!" Where else, he asks, could one see whether advertising works so well? Under his aegis, for instance, the 'chief ticket' was invented, sold exclusively via Facebook - a novelty in 2010. He was also the mastermind behind the multiple-award winning recruitment campaign "Not a Job Like Any Other" and the green energy offensive. It took him a while to understand the company with all this decision-making paths. However, he never despaired of it. "Any company that size, it's most simple at the very top and at the very bottom." He had the advantage of being able to start at the top.
It's going to be the same now again. Ogilvy is part of WPP, the largest and most strictly organised advertising holding in the world. In an organisation like that, it helps that Klenke does not regard CFOs as enemies. The personnel consultancy that last year assessed the Deutsche Bahn's top managers, described him as a most winning character. However, the consultants also remarked that he might occasionally throttle his missionary zeal.
These days, the manager nimbly jumps about between different meanings of 'we'. Sometimes, he is referring to the Bahn C'We are already selling more than 50 of our tickets online. on other occasions, to Ogilvy ("We need to strengthen our technology. He likes the stipulations of his new contract; for instance, the ideal of the honourable businessman and dictate to treat the staff properly. This may sound like a matter of course; however, in advertising, it isn't.
Although Ogilvy is among the most renowned brands in the industry, it is not going to be easy for Klenke. Only recently, the agency had to pass on the prestigious Media-Markt account to the competition; moreover, Head of Strategy Larissa Pohl announced her leaving for Jung von Matt. Of course, that's not good for the agency, says Klenke. But he also knows: for him it's better that the bad news are out before he moves in behind his desk in Frankfurt.
One goal Klenke failed to reach at Deutsche Bahn: he was unable to raise the zigzag graph above the zero line; he did not manage to encourage people to say more good things than bad things about Deutsche Bahn. At one point, he had almost been there; but then the GDL union went on strike again. "I would have run through the Brandenburg Gate naked," Klenke says, grinning. "It's not going to happen now."