A Christmas Story
It is Monday 23 December. Entrepreneur Karl Meier looks out of his office window over the snow-covered production hall. At his company CoolGrill, everyone just calls him the “old man” with reverence, because of his resemblance to the chief detective from the German crime series of the same name. Thanks to orders from the automotive industry, his company with its distinctive car radiators has grown steadily over the last few years and is now active internationally.
Karl is expecting his nephew. Florian enters the office wearing a mint-green Christmas jumper with Father Christmas serving mulled wine from a returnable cup.
“Hey uncle, how are you?”
“Oh give me a break. What a year. The prices of raw materials keep climbing. Sometimes you don’t get any material at all. Due to the semiconductor crisis, customers’ assembly lines are at a standstill and our sales are weakening. I’ve cut my employees’ 13th month salaries for the time being. And what about you?”
“I can’t complain. There’s nothing like returnable bottles. More and more German cities are joining our deposit system. In the meantime, we have more than 80 do-cup-gooder and rebowlutionaries in the company. I’d say it’s going well.”
“Humbug, how can you turn beautiful polypropylene into mundane coffee mugs and bowls. Coolers are much more interesting and lucrative.”
“If you say so uncle! Will you join us for dinner tomorrow night? Will there be food on real china and red wine from real glasses too.”
“Never mind. You’ll only have vegan food again anyway. I’d rather go over CoolGrill’s figures with a couple of sausages and look for potential savings.”
“Well, I definitely save CO² with my vegan Christmas menu. Well, good luck to you in your search for potential savings and Merry Christmas already.”
Florian is about to head out the door when he remembers the six-pack of beer in his hand.
“I almost forgot my Christmas present. Vegan suds from my friends at Brobier. This wheat doppelbock is perfect for Christmas with its clove note and is 100% local.”
Hardly has the nephew left the office when the phone rings.
“Hello, this is Franziska from Entrepreneurs for Future, am I speaking to Mr Meier? Do you have a moment to talk to me about sustainability?”
“Entrepreneurs for Future, what is that? A sect like Jehovah’s Witnesses? Or some weirdos who block our streets on Fridays instead of working on something sensible?”
“Well, actually I wanted to invite you to our next network meeting. There, small and medium-sized enterprises and start-ups will exchange ideas on how sustainable management works. After all, competitiveness and sustainability are not contradictory.”
“Humbug! You just want my money. And this climate hype will surely be over soon.”
“Okay, Mr. Meier. This is probably not the right moment. I wish you a Merry Christmas and a successful start into the New Year! In case you change your mind, the invitation to our next event is of course there.”
After a busy day, Karl leaves the office and starts the engine of his BMW X6 M50i. As he enters the house, he notices small oil stains on the floor in the hallway. Is the cleaning lady starting to lean back now, too?
Karl puts Florian’s six-pack of beer in the fridge. As he turns around, shock hits him in the bones. A ghost in a Frisian mink stands before him. His yellow parka is smeared with oil. The ghost has gold chains all over his body with various ores hanging from them.
“Good evening Mr Meier, my name is Exxon Valdez and I am here to warn you.”
“What do you want to warn me about? And what are those funny chains you’re wearing?”
“They’re supply chains. I’m here to warn you not to neglect the issue of sustainability.”
“Are you going to give me those green wet dreams now too? Are you all trying to ruin my hard-earned competitiveness?”
“Believe me, we also thought they were exaggerating from Fridays for Future. But in the meantime we’ve even had our own studies done and I have to say it really is high time. Well, maybe the three ghosts that appear to you tonight will be a little more convincing.”
It’s been a bit much this year, Karl thinks to himself. Now I’m already seeing ghosts. I urgently need to go to bed. The guy in the oilskin disappears as quickly as he appeared and Karl falls into a deep sleep.
The Ghost of Last Christmas
Karl’s Apple Watch shows 1:30 am as someone tugs at his duvet.
“Hello Karl! My name is August, the Ghost of Christmas Past. Come with me on a little journey.”
Karl follows August outside the door, where a bright yellow Audi C with a chugging four-cylinder is waiting for the two of them. The ghost drives with him through the snow-covered streets of the housing estate. The windows are brightly lit. In one of the houses, Karl is seen as a young man at a drawing board.
“Oh my God, my first car radiator. That was just before I applied for a patent for it.”
The two drive on to Karl-Meier-Strasse. A new factory hall is being built on a huge construction site. Karl can be seen giving the construction workers a mighty rebuke. On the tour with the ghost, the two watch a few more scenes from Karl’s earlier days as an entrepreneur – Karl swearing in the sales team, overtime in production, the first factory in Europe. From scene to scene, Karl’s tone becomes sharper, his features harder and he is seen alone more and more often.
“Listen up August, if only things were like they used to be. Let’s go home.”
The Ghost of this Year’s Christmas
Karl has barely fallen asleep again when a knocking startles him out of sleep once more. Someone is calling his name from outside the bedroom door. When Karl opens the door, he sees a ghost in a cowboy hat.
“Hello Karl, I’m Herbert, the ghost of this year’s Christmas night. Fancy a little spin?”
“In a horse-drawn carriage? Or what’s the cowboy hat supposed to tell me?” grumbles Karl.
“Oh, that doesn’t mean anything. Dieter gave me that hat. He bought it at SXSW. Since he retired, he doesn’t need it any more.”
The two leave the house together. This time they don’t hear the chugging of an engine. Instead, the two look into the narrow LED eyes of a Volkswagen ID.Buzz.
“An electric Bulli? I thought that wasn’t coming out until next year.”
“A CEO is allowed to test drive one before it goes on sale,” Herbert winks.
The bus quietly makes its way to the Impact Hub. It’s Green Startup Night there today. Herbert walks enthusiastically past the many solutions for sustainable food, green mobility and renewable energies. Karl trots along behind with rolling eyes. Just before the exit, a T-shirt with a cactus printed on it catches Herbert’s interest. The start-up wants to draw attention to Sustainable Development Goal #6 with printed second-hand shirts. Herbert likes it and 3-2-1 is a T-shirt of his.
“It’s all humbug! How are you supposed to earn money with such nonsense?”, Karl grumbles on the way back.
Before they reach Karl’s house, Herbert makes a short detour to the house of Luisa, who is busy purchasing for CoolGrill. She is sitting in front of her laptop writing software code.
“I haven’t seen Luisa so full of energy in a long time. What is she doing?”
“Blockchain. She’s part of an open source supply chain tracking project there,” Ghost knows.
“Block-what, apparently the young lady at CoolGrill is underutilised!”
“She’s doing it purely out of intrinsic motivation,” the ghost enlightens him.
Herbert parks the ID.Buzz in the driveway to Karl’s house and opens the door for him. As he gets out, Karl notices two children on the back seat of the bus.
“Oh, I almost forgot about those two. I have an appointment with the works council tomorrow. Could you look after them until evening?”
“What are their names?”
“SDG5 and SDG9. I think those two would be good for you.”
“What kind of funny names are those? That’s just another American hype. Nope, they’re not coming into my house.”
Before the ghost can reply, Karl has already disappeared into the driveway of his house.
The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
Just as Karl unlocks the door, he hears a soft cough. He turns around. A girl is sitting against the wall, holding a cardboard box with the word “Copenhagenize” written on it.
Karl slaps his hands together over his head.
“Unbelievable, now there are hitchhikers sitting around here. Isn’t that Greta? But she’s from Sweden, not Denmark.”
The girl points to a cargo bike at the side of the road. It slowly dawns on Karl that this is the spirit of Christmas to come.
Once again they go down Karl-Meier-Strasse. However, Karl can hardly believe his eyes. The paint is crumbling off the company sign. The building has also seen better days. The silent girl gets off her bike and gives Karl a hand signal to follow her. As they enter the building, Luisa comes crying towards them. They take the lift to the top floor. Karl sees his assistant together with the press officer. On the screen they are drafting a press release:
“CoolGrill closes two more factories – Again 1000 jobs have to be cut”.
The assistant shakes his head.
“So many have already tried to talk to him. We are losing orders by the dozen because we can’t meet our customers’ decarbonisation targets. In the big cities, almost no cars are registered any more because people prefer to use the car-free neighbourhoods with their bikes. But no, we’d rather keep trying to reduce costs.”
Silently, Karl and the ghost cycle back to Karl’s house. When they turn into the driveway, the daily newspaper is already lying in front of the door. The silent ghost picks it up and holds the paper in front of him with a petrified expression. Karl sees his portrait on the front page and starts reading. In an interview, he complains about the lack of political support and that his life’s work has been destroyed. He would sell the company. Shocked, Karl turns to the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. But she has disappeared without a trace.
Shocked by the experience, Karl goes to the fridge and takes one of the beers from his nephew. The small bottle was immediately emptied. Sleep is now out of the question. After an ice-cold shower and a double espresso, Karl downloads the ridesharing app from one of the start-ups in the Impact Hub. After several Brobiers and a sleepless night, driving is out of the question. Before he goes to work, he has something to do.
He finally arrives at his office at noon and immediately summons Luisa to him.
“Hello Luisa, I heard that you develop software on the side. Is that true?”
Luisa answers meekly: “Yes, boss, that’s right. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I knew right away that it wasn’t right.”
“That’s not right at all…”, Karl gets loud for a moment and laughs the next, “Merry Christmas Luisa! Here’s a little gift for your efforts in this crazy year. Special Edition! Could be worth a lot sometime.”
He thrusts a hoodie with a cactus printed on it into the hand of the stunned Luisa.
“And after the Christmas break, you explain to me how this blockchain works. Maybe that could help us at CoolGrill, too. So now I have to go to my nephew.”
Armed with a bratwurst, he stands in front of Florian’s door.
“Hello, uncle. Have you changed your mind after all?”
“Yes, but I can’t do it without bratwurst. Merry Christmas! Do you still have one of those Brobiers? We should definitely talk about sustainability again…”
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Similarities with living or dead persons as well as real events are purely coincidental or perhaps fully intended. If you don’t want to be innovative and sustainable only after the appearance of Christmas ghosts, then feel free to drop by CompanyPirate or contact Tobias Leisgang directly.
Do you fancy another story on the topic of innovation and sustainability? The book Carbon Dreams is currently being written.
Tobias Leisgang has published other posts on the t2informatik blog:
As CompanyPirate Tobias Leisgang inspires on the blog of the same name and in lectures people in companies to tread new paths. He is convinced that successful and sustainable business in the 21st century requires radical change.
Tobias knows the business world very well from his full-time job. Since November 2018, he has been responsible for innovation with external partners at a global automotive supplier – from group to start-up. Previously, he worked for 15 years for an American technology group in roles ranging from developer to head of systems engineering, gaining insight into companies from various industries. The challenges were solved in global teams.