Dr Christoph Jermann has been interim managing director at HSBA since January 2023. He was appointed in a time of transition and from the very first moment he has spread confidence and driven solutions with calmness, level-headedness and professionalism. Until the new president-designate takes office, he will continue in his role alongside Chancellor Alexander Freier and hand over his office to Professor Tim Goydke as planned at the beginning of October. We talked to the doctor of philosophy about his proximity to the thought leaders of antiquity, his understanding of good leadership and the importance of teamwork.
Dear Christoph, you are an experienced manager, you were at the NIT Northern Institute of Technology Management for a long time and most recently at the Asklepios Medical School (AMS) before you accepted the interim position at HSBA. Are the challenges and expectations of an interim manager different from those of a permanent position in the long term?
Yes, they are different. Performance is work through time. As a managing director, you are always under pressure to deliver, and to do so at high speed. As interim managing director, I experience this to an even greater extent. On the one hand, expectations are high; there is a reason why you are called in and appointed by a supervisory board as interim managing director. On the other hand, there is very little time available from the beginning, not a few years, but only a few months. That has consequences. In other words, you have to find your feet very quickly. First of all, you have to familiarise yourself with your closest colleagues and the whole team and gain their trust; secondly, you have to quickly gain an overview of the most important and urgent issues; and then you have to keep track of what is actually at stake, even with quite complex issues, and in which direction a solution could lie and the issues should be dealt with. And even after the short familiarisation phase, things continue at a high pace. What makes the whole thing manageable are professional and nice colleagues, which is a given at HSBA across the board, and is the fact, that as an interim managing director you can and must focus more on the most important challenges than a normal managing director, so you are more limited in the breadth of the issues tackled as well as in the depth of the work. I enjoyed being the managing director of private non-profit higher education institutions for twenty years. But after half a year as interim managing director, I have to say: this is also fun, especially at such a great university as HSBA!
When you first introduced yourself to HSBA staff, you used a philosophical quote... "follow the strongest argument, no matter who it comes from". This reflects your level-headed, respectful leadership style well. Can you elaborate on that a bit? Where does the quote come from, why did you choose it as a guiding principle, and can one really manage to stay true to this motto in a position like yours?
Thank you for the compliment! I did my doctorate in philosophy on Plato, the sentence mentioned is not a literal quotation, but the two and a half thousand year old idea of always looking for the strongest argument and then following it goes back to Plato's teacher Socrates, to whom Plato set a monument in his dialogues that has had a profound influence on Western intellectual history. First as a management consultant and then as the managing director of educational institutions, I was asked from time to time whether I could benefit in any way from my philosophy studies. Absolutely! There is a lot to be said for that. The conviction that it is good to always look for the strongest argument that can be found in the time available and to follow it, no matter who it comes from, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, became a central maxim of life for me early on, which also determines my dealings with people in general and especially my behaviour as a supervisor. It is of course possible (and also easier with increasing experience and age) to remain true to this motto in a supervisor position, indeed it is particularly important here. Because this attitude is a source of transparency, predictability, reliability of behaviour, rationality and quality of work as well as respect and appreciation in dealing with others, be they employees, colleagues or superiors. My experience shows that people feel and appreciate all this. There is little I am as proud of in my time in a position of responsibility as the people I have been able to recruit and retain as team members and the feedback I have received as a leader and cooperation partner.
Actually, you could have retired and sat back since the middle of last year, when you left the AMS management. But that doesn't seem to be your disposition at all. First you continued an e-learning project for the Asklepios Group for another six months, and since January and until the end of September you have been with us at HSBA - and we are all very happy about that. Do you already have an idea of how things might proceed for you then?
First of all, it will be very difficult for me to leave my office and say goodbye to HSBA and all I have grown fond of. But that's the deal. What follows is not quite certain yet. What is certain for me is that I want to continue working as long as I am mentally and physically fit enough to do so and don't start getting in the way of others. The more contemplative phase, in which I devote myself more to books and writing, will then come of its own accord and soon enough. I will certainly take more time from October than I currently have for organising a conference and commemorative publication in honour of my most important philosophical teacher. And perhaps at least one of the requests I have on the table from two German states will turn into a real project to establish a new university or a branch of a foreign university. In any case, I am open to new challenges, just as I will always be grateful for the request last autumn for me to step in as interim managing director at HSBA.