Siemens' Kaeser on infrastructure: A man in want of a plan in Brazil

COPYING AND DISTRIBUTING ARE PROHIBITED WITHOUT PERMISSION OF THE PUBLISHER: CHUNT@EUROMONEY.COM

By:
Rob Dwyer
Published on:

Have the vision. Create the plan. Go and do it.

paper-blank-ideas-plan-780

It’s hard to say whether it was an inspired or terrible booking. But the presence of Joe Kaeser, president and chief executive officer of Siemens, on an infrastructure panel at the World Economic Forum’s Latin America meetings in São Paulo in March was eye-catching.

Joe_Kaeser-160x186

Joe Kaeser,
Siemens

His apparent exasperation at being asked questions about how to improve international financing for Brazil’s huge infrastructure needs probably chimed with everyone in the room, as well as leading to the obvious question: what was he expecting from a WEF conference?

Because he was a clearly frustrated panellist; maybe his reserves of patience had been drained by a recent meeting that he mentioned with the Brazil’s president Michel Temer. “We need to not talk so much,” he declared, clearly putting the moderator on the back foot.

Every comment was blunt but to the point. The Brazilian government “lacks vision” and “just needs to develop an integrated infrastructure development plan” (spanning all the relevant ministries) and “abundant” money would come from international investors.

It was that simple, and he dared anyone to try to complicate this view.

Develop this plan and he would personally (using Siemens’ money presumably) “invest €1 billion tomorrow” because Brazil is a “perfect opportunity,” with natural resources that could lead it to move up the commodity value chain.

Logistical challenge

Kaeser’s shutdown of complications and nuance led to its own logistical challenge in that the panel still had more than 30 minutes to go.

Another panellist tried to bring up the issue of sustainability.

“That’s part of the plan,” said Kaeser, as if closing that avenue of conversation. One wondered for a moment if the other panellists would at that point simply agree that there had been enough talk already and, while waiting for said plan to be developed, exit the stage.

But the panel did splutter on and even hit fluency at times before Kaeser’s common-sense approach slammed on the hand brake.

At times his exasperation seemed to be channelling previous conversations, because at one point he attacked comments that no one on the panel had made about the “internet of things”, which was “total crap if you don’t have electricity and you need to face reality”. True enough, if tangential.

One couldn’t help wondering if one of Kaeser’s parents comes from Yorkshire, because the famous German tact seemed to have deserted him. Maybe it is just that Brazil’s frustrations had got the better of him. In this, at least, he won’t be alone.

As conferences and seminars take up more of finance professionals’ time, with session after session of well-intentioned comments and fine nuance, perhaps many could do with more injections of Kaeseresque clarity: have the vision, create the plan and go do.