Hans-Joachim Körber
1946–



Chairman and chief executive officer, Metro Group

Nationality: German.

Born: July 9, 1946, in Brunswick, Germany.

Education: Technical University of Berlin, master brewer; PhD.

Career: R. A. Oetker Headquarters, 1974–1980, senior controller for the beverages division; Söhnlein Rheingold, 1980–1985, manager of finance, accounting, controlling, information technology, purchasing, and personnel; Metro SB-Großmärkte GmbH & Company, 1985–1991, manager of finance, accounting, controlling, logistics, and information technology; Metro International Management, 1991–1996, member of the general directorate; Metro AG, 1996–1999, member of the management board; Metro AG, 1999–2000, spokesman of the management board; Metro Group, 2001–, chairman and chief executive officer.

Address: Metro AG, Corporate Communications, Metro-Straße 1, 40235 Düsseldorf, Germany; http://www.metrogroup.de.

■ In 2001 Hans-Joachim Körber became the CEO of Metro Group of Germany, the fifth-largest global food retailer with over two thousand stores worldwide and $48.5 billion in sales. In his many years of experience at Metro, Körber improved the management style, business strategies, and corporate image of the company to maintain profits in the face of competition from powerful international discount companies, such as Wal-Mart.

EARLY CAREER AS A MASTER BREWER

Hans-Joachim Körber was born in Brunswick, Germany, on July 9, 1946. He attended the Technical University of Berlin, where he studied brewing technology and earned a degree as a master brewer. He later continued his education and earned a PhD in business management. Körber's early business experience was in the beverage industry. From 1974 to 1980 he worked as a senior controller for the beverages division of R. A. Oetker Headquarters in Bielefeld, Germany. From 1980 to 1985 he worked as part of the management team of Söhnlein Rheingold, a wine company in Wiesbaden, Germany. He was responsible for finance and accounting, controlling, information technology, purchasing, and personnel.

Körber first became involved with the company that would eventually become the Metro Group in 1985, when he became a member of the management team for Metro SB-Großmärkte GmbH & Company, a cash-and-carry, self-service wholesale trade company. Körber was in charge of finance and accounting, controlling, logistics, and information technology for six years. In 1991 he joined the general directorate of Metro International Management in Baar, Switzerland. In this role, Körber expanded his responsibilities to include international cash-and-carry activities in six countries.

BECOMES METRO LEADER

In 1996 Metro AG was formed after a merger of the independent retail companies Asko Deutsche Kaufhaus, Kaufhof Holding, and Deutsche SB-Kauf. When the new company was listed on the stock exchange in 1996, it was among the 20 largest companies listed in Germany. That same year Körber became part of the management board for Metro, located in Düsseldorf, Germany. In 1999 Körber became the spokesperson of the management board, and his responsibilities were expanded to include corporate development, corporate communications, and investor relations. After a power struggle with the board in 2000, Körber became the chairman and chief executive officer of the company in 2001.

When Körber took control of Metro, the company had a mixed reputation. It originally had 16 business lines, including food hypermarkets, computer stores, shoe shops, and a textile business; however, only the cash-and-carry and electricalgoods outlets were generating profits. Additionally, the company was facing fierce competition from large discounters, particularly the U.S.-based company Wal-Mart. In 1999 Metro lost its position as Europe's largest retailer when the French companies Carrefour and Promode merged.

In the face of a stagnating German economy and fierce competition from international retailers, Körber streamlined Metro to focus on only six divisions. He also decided that rather than sell parts of the company or merge outright with Wal-Mart, he would give the six surviving divisions two years to achieve their profit targets. He also sought to improve the company's overall profits through internationalization. "We are going for long-term shareholder value with a focus on profitability, internationalization, and critical mass," Körber explained to Bertrand Benoit of the Financial Times (December 20, 2000).

INTRODUCED NEW MANAGEMENT STYLE

Körber also introduced a new management style to Metro. Germany had a tradition of managing by consensus, which Körber believed was a problem because it introduced uncertainty into the market. In contrast, Körber introduced a management approach similar to the Anglo-Saxon capitalist model, with incentives such as stock options for managers and merit pay for shop employees. He also utilized new management tools, such as benchmarking and economic value added, that had not been used before in the company.

Additionally, Körber introduced a more sophisticated form of financial management than had been used previously in the company. He focused finances on capital intensity and cash. He moved the company from German accounting practices to international accounting standards, which included quarterly reporting. He also adopted a comprehensive corporate-governance code.

In addition to changing Metro internally, Körber also improved the company's external image and relations. He focused on improving the recognition levels of the company's brands in Germany and even changed the company's name from Metro AG to Metro Group to establish a uniform corporate identity. Körber believed that this strategy would help keep the company competitive against discounters. "There is too much emphasis on price at the expense of brand advertising and this can only lead to long-term category decline," he explained to the Grocer (May 24, 2003).

Körber recognized that Metro Group would have to look outside of Germany to increase profitability. The German markets were suffering from overcapacity, price wars, and depressed consumer spending. Körber took advantage of the new markets developing in post-Communist Eastern Europe as well as Asia to expand the reach of the Metro group. He followed a specific formula for introducing his company into these new markets. In particular, he first introduced the cash-and-carry wholesale stores because they had very little competition. Then, if the market seemed promising, other branches of Metro would follow, such as hypermarkets, consumer electronics, and do-it-yourself stores. Körber's rapid industrialization led to Metro's development of 2,300 stores in 26 countries by 2003.

CREATING THE "FUTURE STORE"

After only two years as CEO of Metro Group, Körber was able to improve the company's profitability. In 2002 Metro reported a 10 percent sales increase as well as an increase in earnings per share. In 2004 Metro Group increased net profits by 23 percent during an overall downturn in German retailing. Because of these successes, Metro Group renewed Körber's contract until 2009.

In 2004 Körber and the Metro Group were looking to the future with the development of the Future Store. The company built a 41,000-square-foot store in Rheinberg, Germany, as a laboratory to develop new technologies for shopping. The Future Store included innovations such as a computerized shopping assistant, intelligent scales, and computer chips to tag and track products.

See also entry on Metro AG in International Directory of Company Histories .

sources for further information

Benoit, Bertrand, "Aiming for More Cash than Carry," Financial Times , December 20, 2000.

——, "Metro Delivers the Message of the Moment," Financial Times , February 26, 2003.

Weber, Lauren, "When Refrigerators Talk," Newsday , January 12, 2004.

"What Can the Food Industry Do To Counter the Impact of Zero?" Grocer , May 24, 2003, p. 29.

—Janet P. Stamatel

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