Christi Degen took office as General Manager of the Chamber of Commerce Hamburg last December and succeeded Hans-Jörg Schmidt-Trenz who had been in office for 21 years. Her tenure comes in an eventful era with digitalisation and international competitiveness posing challenges to Chambers of Commerce throughout Germany. Tobias Bergmann, President of the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, who has been in office since April 2017 and his alliance “We are the chamber.” is setting a special course. The new management at the chamber is aiming for greater worker determination, transparency, greater efficiency and more cautious use of resources.
Hamburg News: Mrs Degen, you have been General Manager of the Chamber of Commerce Hamburg for about five months now. Can you draw a first conclusion?
Christi Degen: My conclusion is very positive. The past months have been intense and exciting. Companies in Hamburg have been open towards me and I have gained a good impression of the diversity of commerce here. Developing and implementing the strategy is an important and highly interesting task for the chamber and I’m confident, that its destiny can be guided down the right tracks.
Hamburg News: The chamber’s new management under Tobias Bergmann has not been in office for long. Where is it headed?
Christi Degen: The Chamber of Commerce Hamburg should be a chamber for all of its members – and give commerce in Hamburg a strong voice. That also includes political clout with which the chamber drives issues ahead and a modernised organisation. The latter is now emerging as part of reorganisation measures, which will make the chamber more process-orientated and will put the members in the centre. We are aiming for greater inclusion of members on the committees and in political opinion finding. Our digital services and especially those for smaller companies will be expanded. The perception of these services must be communicated and improved. That also applies to services in political lobbies. We wish to convince large companies that they are still well represented by their Chamber of Commerce.
Hamburg News: The “We are the chamber.” alliance won 55 of 58 seats in elections to the Chamber of Commerce’s plenum in early 2017. Many representatives of large, traditional companies had to give up their seats to smaller firms. How are you going to bring these big companies back on board?
Christi Degen: We are holding many talks. Large and small companies are getting to know each other in our 34 committees and the collaboration on many issues is going well. Apart from new committee members, there is great personal continuity. The committees will play an even stronger role in future and their importance will become more visible. They are the fuel cells of the chamber’s work. Many factual issues are discussed, solutions developed and projects drawn up – the initial impulse for position papers always comes from the committees.
Hamburg News: Are there areas that require action?
Christi Degen: I see four main strategic topics. The chamber will launch projects thereon in the next two years. There is infrastructure for one – this topic ranges from the port to transport solutions. The Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress, for instance, will set new ideas and projects in motion. Skilled labour is another important topic for many member companies. Dual training has always been and remains the most important lever of achievement for our member companies. It should become more attractive to both companies and apprentices as it one of Germany’s locational advantages in the world. For this reason, the president of the Chamber of Commerce has put together a task force to strengthen professional education. I have high expectations on combining training intelligently with academic educational offers.
Hamburg News: Infrastructure and training are just two fields. Are there two others?
Christi Degen: Digitalisation, science and innovation are naturally big fields for the Chamber of Commerce. We need a stronger network of colleges, universities and innovative companies. The mid-sized sector needs greater support with digital transformation. And lastly, internationalisation has traditionally played a big role in Hamburg. The Chamber of Commerce-honorary office, my team and I have plenty to do in terms of strengthening global trade. Our representatives abroad whether they are in Dubai or Shanghai and the HamburgAmbassadors who are part of our international network, do great work. And we want to support this work with new digital offers for instance. And lastly, we are eyeing closer, regional collaboration, which is becoming more important in a globalised world. Hamburg and Copenhagen are natural partners.
Hamburg News: Many thanks for the interview, Mrs Degen.
Interview by Yvonne Scheller