25 July 2015

Even top Europe-based CEOs sometimes lack key language skills

Today's editions of various English-language newspapers around the world carried a Bloomberg-syndicated article by David De Jong and Jeffrey Voegeli entitled Global CEOs who lack language skills getlost in translation.

The article tells the stories of the demise of Indian-born British national Anshu Jain as co-CEO of Deutsche Bank AG and American Brady Dougan as CEO of Credit Suisse Group AG.

In May 2015, Jain addressed the annual meeting of Germany’s largest bank saying, in German: “On this day, every word matters,” then delivered the rest of his 2,000-word address in English, his mother tongue. Less than three weeks later, Jain resigned after losing the confidence of investors.

Brady Dougan left Zurich-based Credit Suisse in June after eight years in office and a long struggle with German.

After noting that: 
While their failure to master German didn't cost Jain and Dougan their jobs, it drew criticism in their host countries and deprived the CEOs of a valuable tool for connecting with local shareholders, customers and colleagues.
De Jong and Voegeli go on to make a couple of interesting points:
Many multinationals based in Europe -- including Airbus Group SE, Daimler AG and SAP SE -- have adopted English as their corporate language. They reason this will help integration, ease negotiations on acquisitions and speed globalization of tasks and resources. But English isn’t enough. As the firm’s public face, CEOs are expected to reflect the local culture, including the language, which is important at a time when the growing dominance of English can breed resentment at home. 
What translators and interpreters would like to know is whether these CEOs were aware of their lack of expertise in the relevant languages to the point of hiring interpreters or at least distributing translations of their speeches and whether such strategies would have been effective in the given contexts.

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