What CEOs can learn from Arsene Wenger

Published on: 1 Aug 2015

    The Indian-born British national, Anshu Jain, co-CEO of Deutsche Bank, has recently (June 2015) resigned from his post. This was not long after the bank was fined for its role in Libor manipulation and heavily criticised to boot.

    A few weeks earlier, as reported on Bloomberg and elsewhere, Jain had had to face a stormy meeting with investors. He began by speaking in German, then said, still in German, that this was so important he would continue in his first language, English.

    At much the same time, Brady Dougan, the American banker who was then CEO of Credit Suisse, and like Jain struggled with German, left his post after eight years with the firm.

    The reasons for the two men leaving were, of course, not due to their inability to speak the ‘parent’ language of their companies as proficiently as they perhaps should have, however as Bloomberg’s report quoted, Kerstin Altendorf, a spokeswoman at the Berlin-based Association of German Banks, said “You have to be understood by your clients, and your clients in Germany speak German”.

    In an international business context, English has come to be considered as the lingua franca by many, but the situation faced by CEOs like Jain and Dougan demonstrates that knowledge of English is not enough. As the Bloomberg article highlights, “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”.

    Arsene Wenger was born and grew up in France. His career in football has taken him around the world and as well as his native French he also speaks English, German, Spanish, Italian and a little Japanese. By any standard (apart, possibly from that of the supporters of Tottenham Hotspur FC), he has been a great success, winning many trophies and remaining in post for far, far longer than the average incumbent at a Premier League club.

    Language skills are necessary for his job. As the manager of Arsenal FC he works with players from around the world, and the club’s annual forays into European competition create the opportunity for him to converse with officials and administrators in many countries. Football is very big business and without a shadow of a doubt, he’s a very successful businessman; whose business just happens to be the world’s most popular sport. The last time we checked, Mr Wenger was still in charge of Arsenal. “ plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose”, as he’d doubtless say in his native tongue…

    Emily Drummond, Translation Project Manager
, Global Connects