Book review

Success through humanness: The autobiography by dm founder Götz W. Werner

Womit ich nie gerechnet habe is the (German) autobiography by the founder of dm, today the largest pharmacy retailer in Europe. Within 35 years, Werner build an organization of 30,000 employees and 2,000 stores in 2008 based on anthroposophical principles developed by Rudolf Steiner: putting the human first, within the organization but also in relation to the customer.

The book is unique because it offers a fascinating insight into a journey of a founder who learned that you can run a profitable, agile and antifragile business while ignoring industries best practices and putting the individual first.

In this book Werner describes his way from a young pharmacist when he started seeing opportunities where others wouldn't to the CEO of a successful pharmacy retailer and describes multiple occasions where the organization needed to be completely restructured. The reasons were never due to a crisis but due to Werner's strive to build a company that serves its employees, customers and the society. By questioning the status quo and pushing for his idealistic views, often answered with strong hesitation by colleagues and friends, he enabled dm to be truly agile: change was achieved by engaging everyone in the organization, which often took years. But because everyone owned the change it never failed to stick. His effort to improve the human factor in the organization proved to be a win-win for everyone: the company never made losses, it holds the highest rating in independent consumer satisfaction rankings, is a highly favored employer and the market leader in Europe.

Werner's legacy is proof that it is possible to build a successful business in a highly competitive market without sacrificing purpose and generosity. A business that includes the human needs and messiness into the business model will be at least as successful as classical meat-grinders. Examples like the Schlecker bankruptcy showed that this approach pays off.

I recommend this book to everyone who is facing problems like high turnover rates, inefficiency due to bureaucracy and incompetence or is, like me, interested in alternative operating-systems for organizations.