Remembering Lothar Späth: Former AICGS Trustee, Minister-President of Baden-Württemberg, and Successful Corporate Leader
AICGS was honored to have Lothar Späth as a member of its Board of Trustees from 1997 until 2009. Dr. Späth died on March 18, 2016.
I had the honor of knowing Lothar Späth since early 1982 when I was working in Bonn for the German Marshall Fund. After living in Tübingen for three years and having gotten familiar with the Swabian lifestyle, Lothar was the embodiment of the style, the language, and the entrepreneurship so characteristic of Baden-Württemberg, the state he governed for thirteen years. He was known as the “modernizer” and an independent voice less driven by political party discipline and more by opportunities to explore new horizons. And that included opportunities for himself when he considered challenging Helmet Kohl for the chancellorship in 1990. But shortly after that he left politics to become the head of Jena Optik after unification. Ultimately, he became part of the story of reconnecting the two sides of Germany.
My memory of Lothar is of someone who loved dialogue and debate. He was full of ideas that he then transformed into books on a regular conveyor belt, and he transported himself into the media as the head of a talk show appropriately called “Späth am Abend” for several years (and where I was privileged to appear now and then). He would enjoy kibitzing with people in the corporate sector as well as with those in the political world. And he enjoyed constant efforts at comparing the challenges in Germany with those in other countries, particularly in the U.S. When I asked him to join the Board of the Institute in 1997, he was quick to respond that here was another opportunity to strengthen the debate and the dialogue between two countries he truly loved.
He had a knack for knowing exactly how to read his audiences no matter where and what they were. He had a ready set of jokes about his beloved state. One of them was that the reason the car industry had to export such expensive cars was to make sure that the Swabians were able to have enough money to purchase the expensive wine produced there.
By the time he left his political career and was already busy making another in the corporate world, Lothar was nicknamed “der Cleverle,” which all Swabians knew meant that he was one smart guy who knew how to turn opportunity into success. He helped the Institute in numerous ways during his tenure with us. He leaves both a legacy and benchmark for all those who follow in his footsteps on both sides of the Atlantic.
Dr. Jackson Janes is the President of AICGS.