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An Inspiring idea from Michael Diekmann, former Allianz Group CEO

Throughout my career, I’ve met, exchanged and worked with some remarkable leaders, whether colleagues from EY or Allianz, or peers from other organizations. I’ve always learned from these interactions. In this series, I’ll share an idea, lesson or experience I’ve learned and translated into my own work.

Michael Diekmann, former CEO of the Allianz Group: « The successful mobility of your family is a condition for your professional mobility ».

Michael Diekmann was CEO of the Allianz Group between 2003 and 2015. Having worked for the Group myself since 1993, I didn’t know him personally until we began a series of interviews in early 2005, with a view to appointing me to the position of Group Chief Audit Executive (CAE) in Munich.

I was already the CAE of AGF (now Allianz France), so I knew the internal audit function well. It was certainly a big step forward, as I would move from 100 auditors to managing almost 900. But apart from the change in dimension, the real challenge was also a personal one. I was based in Paris (France) and was about to move to the Group’s headquarters in Munich (Germany).

As discussions with Munich were progressing apace, my wife Mariella and our four children (aged 15, 14, 10 and 8) and I considered the move: moving with a large family, changing schools and leaving friends behind, moving to a country where none of us spoke the language: it was certainly an adventure worth discussing! And we decided to go for it.

Just as we were finalizing the transfer, I got a call from Michael Diekmann’s office, telling me that he wanted to interview… my wife! I was a little surprised, but of course the three of us went to meet him. The conversation was pleasant. And the transfer was finally approved.

Mr Diekmann later explained. I was to become one of the first non-German division heads (« Fachsbereitsleiter ») of the holding company, which was itself becoming increasingly international. He wanted me to succeed, but he was willing to confirm that Mariella was happy and supportive of the move to Munich. He had the idea that if my family were unhappy, I would have a serious personal challenge to transform and successfully lead the audit function throughout the Group. The message was: « Your family is important ».

A powerful idea and a great lesson.

When I joined the board of Allianz France in 2010, one of my responsibilities was to cover Allianz’s operating entities in Africa, as well as Allianz France’s offices in the French overseas territories (Guadeloupe, Martinique, La Réunion, French Guiana, New Caledonia, and the French Polynesia). We had a large majority of local colleagues, but also a few colleagues on rotation from mainland France for a few years. I always made sure I understood the family background of the candidates for these secondments before approving them.

Thank you, Michael Diekmann, you’ve made it clear that there’s much more to it than the candidate: the family counts!