Messe Berlin never rests. The dispute over the Ifa eased after a top-level meeting at Pentecost, but the circumstances surrounding the recruitment of the head of the trade fair, Martin Ecknig, almost two years ago, raise questions that primarily concern the chairman of the supervisory board, Wolf-Dieter Wolf, and the state of Berlin as the owner of the company, represented by Economics Senator Stephan Schwarz.
The “position profile” of the CEO of Messe Berlin, one of the “ten trade fair companies with the highest turnover and growth worldwide”, was described on several pages in June 2020 by the personnel consultancy Odgers Berndtson. At that time, the Chairman of the Supervisory Board, Wolf, was looking for a successor to Christian Göke, who, after eight years at the helm, had asked for his contract to be terminated on December 31, 2020.
The “main tasks” in the job, which is worth around 700,000 euros, include the “presentation of Messe Berlin in the public, economic and political environment” and the “management of corporate communications”. Under the heading “Professional requirements” then, among other things, “Proof success in the management of a comparable business area, preferably in the live event area” and “Professional competence within the trade fair industry” are mentioned. That should be the case with one of the largest trade fair organizers in the world.
Apparently there were no candidates who completely filled out the profile. The chairman of the supervisory board, Wolf, a Berlin real estate entrepreneur, opted for a real estate manager from Siemens, Martin Ecknig.
Apparently, Wolf wasn’t really convinced of his choice, because at the end of 2020, i.e. before Ecknig started at the trade fair on January 1, 2021, the chairman of the supervisory board arranged for the management of the state-owned company to hire a media trainer for Ecknig. An expensive tutoring program at a time when Messe Berlin is being brought through the pandemic by the state of Berlin with amounts in the high double-digit millions.
Over the decades, Wolf has held various offices as a sports official, in the baths, as a friend and sponsor of the opera and state ballet and in the supervisory bodies of trade fairs and radio. A broad network and good political connections are necessary conditions for profitable real estate transactions in Berlin. Wolf has been Chairman of the Board of Directors of Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB) since 2013 and Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Messe Berlin GmbH since 2017. Wolf is said to have a friendly relationship with Klaus Wowereit: the gentlemen appreciate playing Canasta cards together.
So Wolf chose Martin Ecknig, who was not familiar with the industry, as the new head of the trade fair. Four candidates made it onto the shortlist, but Wolf suggested Ecknig and the Supervisory Board followed him. Wolf and Ecknig are said to have known each other for decades, and Wolf is said to be the godfather of one of Ecknig’s children. He does not comment on personal relationships, Wolf told the Tagesspiegel. And he also didn’t want to say anything about the media trainer he had been looking for and found for Ecking, since he was on vacation until the end of June. The fact is: The RBB administrative board chairman Wolf, as chairman of the supervisory board of Messe Berlin, initiated the commissioning of the husband of the RBB director Patricia Schlesinger.
The now 72-year-old former “Zeit” and “Spiegel” journalist Gerhard Spörl trained the new head of the fair for a total of around 100,000 euros. Business Insider first reported it. Spörl told the Tagesspiegel a week ago that he had worked as a “consultant” and was just putting the finishing touches on a commemorative publication to mark the 200th anniversary of Messe Berlin.
Just like Messe Berlin, Spörl doesn’t want to say exactly what he taught Ecknig. The state-owned company “usually does not publish any details and details about our business relationships with third parties”. But “of course, Messe Berlin adheres to the specified legal requirements and regulations when awarding contracts,” the company said on request.
In a paper dated November 29, 2020, Spörl describes his work as a “pilot” for Ecknig, who will organize the transition to the new job in the coming weeks. For the introductory period up to December 31, 2020, a daily rate of EUR 1,500 plus VAT has been agreed; from February 1, 2021, there will be EUR 2,000 per day for Spörl. For this he should improve Ecknig’s security in appearance and coach him for interviews and appearances on television. Spörl also wants to support the new trade fair director, who was born in Berlin in 1967, in setting up a network in the city.
So far, so normal, obviously the contracting parties think. But there are doubts about this assessment among the company’s own staff: In the Wolf/Spörl case, an employee of the trade fair contacted the company’s ombudsman because the process seemed offensive to him. Whatever the outcome, the end of his term in office is in sight for the 77-year-old Wolf. The state of Berlin recently appointed Alba CEO Eric Schweitzer, former IHK and DIHK President, to the supervisory board of the trade fair company. By next year at the latest, Schweitzer Wolf will replace Wolf at the head of the committee.