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«Working Paper 12-003 July 22, 2011 Copyright © 2011 by Geoffrey Jones and Christina Lubinski Working papers are in draft form. This working paper is ...»

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Managing Political Risk in

Global Business:

Beiersdorf 1914-1990

Geoffrey Jones

Christina Lubinski

Working Paper


July 22, 2011

Copyright © 2011 by Geoffrey Jones and Christina Lubinski

Working papers are in draft form. This working paper is distributed for purposes of comment and

discussion only. It may not be reproduced without permission of the copyright holder. Copies of working

papers are available from the author.

Managing Political Risk in Global Business:

Beiersdorf 1914-1990 Geoffrey Jones Christina Lubinski 1    Abstract This working paper examines corporate strategies of political risk management during the twentieth century. It focuses especially on Beiersdorf, a German-based pharmaceutical and skin care company. During World War 1 the expropriation of its brands and trademarks revealed its vulnerability to political risk. Following the advent of the Nazi regime in 1933, the largely Jewish owned and managed company, faced a uniquely challenging combination of home and host country political risk. The paper reviews the firm's responses to these adverse circumstances, challenging the prevailing literature which interprets so-called "cloaking" activities as one element of businesses’ cooperation with the Nazis. The paper departs from previous literature in assessing the outcomes of the company’s strategies after 1945. It examines the challenges and costs faced by the company in recovering the ownership of its brands. While the management of distance became much easier over the course of the twentieth century because of communications improvements, this working paper shows that the costs faced by multinational corporations in managing governments and political risk grew sharply.

Keywords political risk, multinationals, expropriation, trademarks 2    Managing Political Risk in Global Business: Beiersdorf 1914-19901 The Management of Political Uncertainty As firms began making direct investments on a substantial scale during the second half of the nineteenth century, by far the greatest challenge was to create managerial structures which operated effectively over substantial geographical distances. Chandler’s classic analysis of the growth of managerial hierarchies, and Wilkins’s pioneering studies of the first generation of US multinationals before 1914 were among the building blocks of the large literature exploring how these managerial innovations were constructed.2 Subsequent research showed how the European equivalents of these pioneering multinational firms often opted for socialization strategies of control in preference to managerial ones.3 In contrast to the challenges posed by physical distance, those posed by politics and governments were much less formidable. Although exporting strategies were disrupted by tariffs, government for the most part imposed few restrictions on firms because of their nationality. The spread of Western imperialism and the aggressive imposition of Anglo-Saxon property law on most of the world first by Great Britain, then by the United States, more or less ensured an open field for most Western businesses seeking markets or minerals in the world.4 The era of high receptivity to foreign business changed dramatically after the outbreak of World War 1. Both sides expropriated the corporate assets of firms located in enemy countries.

In 1917 the Communist Revolution in Russia resulted in the expropriation of all foreign property. During the interwar years the spread of nationalistic and fascist regimes meant further

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newly independent post-colonial governments, resulted in further expulsions or hostility towards foreign firms. In the broadest sense, the management of distance was replaced by the management of governments as a central challenge faced by firms. Business historians and political scientists have begun to explore how firms responded to these growing political risks. It has been shown that corporate strategies ranged from seeking to build strong local identities to divert nationalistic pressure, to participating in coup’s to overthrow foreign governments perceived as hostile.5 The peculiarities of twentieth century German history meant that German-owned firms were especially vulnerable to political risk.6 Two World Wars and four fundamentally different political systems, including the Nazi regime (1933-1945), meant that German firms were exposed in an extreme fashion to the impact of politics and governments on business. Their resulting strategies, especially during the Nazi era, have been examined in detail in studies of Schering, IG Farben, Bosch, Deutsche Bank and other firms. It has been shown in particular that many firms devised elaborate organizational structures for their international businesses, which were designed to circumvent real and potential hostile governmental interventions.7 They were not alone. Even Swiss companies such as Roche and Nestlé, despite their neutral and politically stable home country, opted in the interwar years to place their international businesses in separate affiliates located variously in Panama, Lichtenstein, and the United States, often for taxation reasons, but also because of concerns about political risk.8 A number of historians have termed the German strategies "cloaking". Cloaking has been defined as "the art of concealing the true ownership of a company from authorities."9 There has been considerable debate about the intentions of such "cloaking" activities. In a strongly

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some researchers have seen cloaking as one element of businesses’ cooperation with the Nazis.

They have argued that German firms camouflaged their foreign assets in an attempt to improve Germany’s economic position and ultimately to help the Nazis pursue their political goals.10 This strategy has been seen as supported by the Nazi government. Cloaking has, therefore, been seen as one element of the Nazi government’s economic preparations for war.11 The same argument has been made by some studies dealing with neutral countries that profited from Germany’s cloaking activities, and thereby directly or indirectly supported the Nazi government.12 This interpretation has, in turn, been contested by researchers including Koenig, Kobrak, and Wuestenhagen, who have identified commercial reasons behind such cloaking activities.13 They have argued that German firms used cloaking as a technique to reorganize their business,14 to avoid taxation, to facilitate the circulation of capital and material between countries, and to protect assets from interference by foreign governments.15 Attempts by German companies to hide their assets abroad from their own government, in particular during the Nazi regime, have received limited attention so far.16 Most insightful in this respect are the contributions in a volume edited by Kobrak and Hansen.17 While the intentions of cloaking have been debated for companies as diverse as Schering, Bosch, Krupp, Siemens, and Deutsche Bank, there is surprisingly little evidence on the question if and how organizational designs worked in the challenging business environment of wars, foreign exchange controls and expropriations. Kobrak and Wuestenhagen stress the importance of Swiss holding companies that were placed in the hands of trustees who pledged to return the shares.18 The success or failure of these cloaking strategies after World War 2, however, has hardly ever been a topic in research.

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pharmaceutical and skin care company in Germany that found itself especially exposed to political risk for two major reasons. First, its Jewish ownership and management meant that it faced considerable threats both abroad, as a German company, and at home during the Nazi era, as a Jewish company. Second, the firm’s main competitive advantage lay in its brands and trademarks. The transfer of such intangible assets to other companies posed a major challenge which was potentially much more serious than the loss of physical properties through expropriation. Section 2 explores how the firm’s loss of assets during World War 1 shaped its future strategies towards risk management. Section 3 shows how the firm sought to respond to political risk in both its home and host economies during the interwar years. The firm’s reliance on trust as a managerial tool is particularly striking. Section 4 departs from the previous literature by exploring the results of the firm’s cloaking strategies during the post-war decades.19 Section 5 concludes, and discusses the implications of this research for wider debates on corporate responses to political risk.

The Early Years of the Ring: Learning About Cloaking (1918-1938) German utility companies had established holding companies in Belgium and Switzerland during the two decades before 1914, primarily for capital-raising and fiscal reasons, and sometimes with the explicit wish to make their ventures look, for example, "Swiss."20 In the aftermath of wartime expropriations, many other German companies began exploring the opportunities of "cloaking".21 Beiersdorf, founded in Hamburg in 1882, was no exception. The company was built on the invention of a new type of medical plaster, or band-aid as it is more commonly known in the United States, by the pharmacist Paul Beiersdorf and the physician Paul Unna. In

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latex produced from tropical trees, which made the band-aid resistant to the skin's moisture. In 1890 Paul Beiersdorf sold the small manufacturing business for family reasons to Oscar Troplowitz, a young Silesian pharmacist who was financially supported by his uncle and fatherin-law to be Gustav Mankiewicz. In 1906 Oscar’s brother-in-law Otto Hanns Mankiewicz became a partner in the firm.

Oscar Troplowitz expanded the business and its range of products. He was savvy in marketing and distribution, and had a talent for brand-building.22 In 1905 he developed one of the world's first commercial toothpastes and branded it Pebeco. The toothpaste developed quickly into Beiersdorf’s bestselling brand. This laid the foundation for Beiersdorf’s wider business in beauty products, and triggered a shift in the product portfolio from purely therapeutical to prophylactic products.

In 1911, Beiersdorf launched its iconic skin cream, using the brand name Nivea, which was already employed for the firm’s bar soap.23 The launch was accompanied by an innovative marketing campaign based on print advertisements and posters. Troplowitz addressed the selfimage of women in Nivea advertisements and employed a well-known poster artist to design an elegant "Nivea woman." He thereby suggested to female consumers that Nivea would make them feel more beautiful.

The successful building of brands such as Pebeco and Nivea was responsible for Beiersdorf’s rapid growth. While the company had growing research capabilities derived from its heritage in pharmaceuticals, it was by brand-building that it persuaded customers to pay a premium for its products rather than those of competitors. This brand-building was accompanied

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owned distribution companies and exclusive distributors.

Already within the first decade of its existence, the company manifested international ambitions. In 1893 Beiersdorf entered the US market and signed an exclusive contract with Lehn & Fink. This US company, founded in New York City in 1874, had already successfully introducing Lysol, a branded disinfectant, to the United States by importing it from Germany.

Otto Hanns Mankiewicz had worked for Lehn & Fink before becoming a partner in Beiersdorf.

The agreement between Beiersdorf and Lehn & Fink stipulated that the German firm delivered exclusively to the American partner, which in return restrained from selling similar or identical products by competitors.24 In 1903, Lehn & Fink received a license to manufacture Beiersdorf Dentifrice, which was changed to Pebeco in 1909.25 After 1909, Canada was included in the licensing agreement.

At the turn of the century, Beiersdorf extended its initiatives to Great Britain and Austria, where affiliates were founded in 1906 and 1914 respectively.26 Beiersdorf’s products were also manufactured under license by local firms in Buenos Aires, Copenhagen, Mexico, Moscow, Paris and Sydney.27 On the verge of World War 1, exports made up 42 percent of Beiersdorf’s total sales.28 The best-selling product was the toothpaste Pebeco, which was successful in many countries and became the market leader in the US. The planned introduction of Nivea cream to foreign markets, by contrast, was frustrated by the outbreak of World War 1.

The war put an abrupt end to Beiersdorf’s international activities.29 German businesses lost most of their foreign investments, which were either sold or seized for reparations. In the US, the Trading with the Enemy Act of 6 October 1917 called for the sequestration of all enemy

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billion.30 By the end of the war, Beiersdorf’s business abroad had ceased to exist.

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