Reflections on Rathenau and Our Blogging Experience

Our thinking about Emil Rathenau definitely evolved with our extensive research on him and his historical background. At the very beginning, all we knew about him was his Jewish identity and his excellent career as a successful business leader. During the process of writing the blog, we came to know many other aspects of Rathenau. He not only contributed greatly to the electrical industry in Berlin, but also promoted modern capitalization and globalization. We learned about his business model and how he integrated his Jewish identity with the holistic German society. We realized that in addition to improving German people’s living standards through industrialization, Rathenau also greatly contributed to a universal and inclusive German culture through marketing champions and product designs. Through Rathenau, we realized that German companies, such as Rathenau’s, have an ambition to develop globally and how Jewish entrepreneurs had to continuously reconcile their Jewish identity with the German society. We chose to write the blog about Emil Rathenau because we were interested in German businesses and Jewish entrepreneurs’ development of modern companies. Additionally, we focused on Rathenau because we wanted to learn more about Rathenau’s leadership in AEG, which had developed into a multinational cooperation. As we learned more about Rathenau himself, we also learned more about the people he worked with/ came into contact with and how Rathenau influenced society. Two particular people stood out as important to note.

The first person of whom Rathenau’s influence should be noted is his son, Walther Rathenau, who was also born in Berlin. Walther Rathenau was a famous industrialist, economists, writer and Weimar-era politician. He joined the board of AEG in 1899 and led the company as chairman after his father’s death in 1915. Influential in politics, Walther Rathenau was a statesman and served as Foreign Minister of Germany during Weimar Republic. He interacted actively in AEG’s management and collaborated with Peter Behrens, the designer and architect for AEG. Because of Walther Rathenau’s Jewish background and his father’s prominent reputation and immense wealth, he acquired a deeply divisive and disputed reputation in the political world. Walther was one of the founders of the German Democratic Party (DDP), with his moderate liberal view. By negotiating on Germany’s behalf to end World War I, Walther infuriated German nationalists when he insisted that German should follow Treaty of Versailles and fulfill all the obligations he negotiated for. Under the anti-Semitism backdrop, the Nazi Party declared him part of a “Jewish-Communist conspiracy”. On June 24th, 1922, Walther Rathenau was assassinated, two month after signing of the Treaty of Rapallo, a treaty which renounced all territorial and financial claims between Germany and Russia after WWI. Through research, we found that, although there had been some struggles with his Jewish heritage, Emil Rathenau was not deterred by his Jewish identity when pursuing business expansion. He was still able to lead AEG from a small company to prosperity despite anti-Jewish sentiments. But Walther Rathenau faced a completely different political and social environment, where anti-Semitism was overwhelmingly prevalent. Walther was a continuation of Emil by working with his father and leading AEG. At the same time, however, the comparison of Walther’s life experiences with that of Emil shows the prevalence of anti-Semitism and how German society was distressed by economic woes, which in hindsight led to the rise of Nazi Germany.

The second person we learned about when researching Rathenau’s life was Rathenau’s business partner in AEG, Werner von Siemens. Originally, Rathenau and Siemens were competitors, however, despite that and contrasting business styles, they joined forces to create a monopoly on electricity. Siemens’ business style was highlighted as being different from Rathenau’s. Siemens desired to run the company in a family-based style. His style was against taking risks in business and relied on its own knowledge in new markets to analyze risks. This contrasted with Rathenau’s risk-taking “Manager Entrepreneur” style. It was this difference in business management style that led to the dissolution of their partnership and the end of the relationship between Rathenau and Siemens. However, without working together, neither Rathenau or Siemens would have been able to succeed and build a business a prosperous and influential as AEG would become.