Interview: A strong partner for Eastern Europe and Central Asia

KLU is expanding its network in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and recently gained a strong partner to help it do so. The German Eastern Business Association (OAOEV) represents German companies and has connections to the highest diplomatic and economic levels in Berlin, Moscow, Warsaw and Bishkek. OAOEV executive committee member Prof. Peer Witten explains how the association works and why a new generation of Eastern European experts is needed in logistics and supply chain management.

Prof. Witten, could you please briefly describe the objectives of the OAOEV, and its political and economic significance?

Peer Witten: The German Eastern Business Association represents the interests of German companies in 29 countries throughout Eastern Europe – from our direct neighbors Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, to the Baltic States and Southeast Europe. Special emphasis is placed on the Russian Federation and Central Asia. About 350 member companies are represented in the OAOEV, including all DAX companies and many successful medium-sized enterprises.

The German Eastern Business Association enjoys an excellent reputation in politics. For example, there is an annual meeting with President Putin and important meetings with state presidents, prime ministers or ministers during their visits to Berlin. In addition, we organize delegation trips to explore opportunities and risks with business and politics on the ground and, if necessary, to exert influence on development.

What are your responsibilities at the OAOEV?

Peer Witten: I am a member of the executive committee, which shapes the strategy for the OAOEV in close cooperation with the executive board and management, and I am Hamburg's representative. As Honorary Consul of Montenegro, I am particularly interested in Southeast Europe and especially the Western Balkans. As a former logistics executive board member and now a member of the supervisory board of the Otto Group, which is very active in Eastern Europe through its subsidiaries (e.g. EOS, Bon Prix and others), I know about the logistical challenges in these countries.

What is the Working Group on Logistics and Transport Infrastructure (Arbeitskreis Logistik und Verkehrsinfrastruktur)?

Peer Witten: For safe and efficient logistics, a functioning transport infrastructure, i.e. road, rail and air, as well as sea and inland waterways with efficient ports, is an indispensable prerequisite. The OAOEV Working Group on Logistics and Transport Infrastructure, which I chair as spokesperson, deals with precisely these issues.

Why do you think cooperation between KLU and the OAOEV is useful and potentially fruitful?

Peer Witten: KLU has developed into an internationally highly respected institution, which not only delivers excellent performance in research and teaching, but also emphasizes the proximity and relevance of entrepreneurial practice, preserving the spirit of its founder, Klaus-Michael Kühne. The Working Group on Logistics and Transport Infrastructure provides an excellent platform for cooperation with KLU. The OAOEV's broad network of contacts in Eastern Europe will help to expand KLU's reputation in the region and to make it even better known to talented students. Finally, joint projects and events help to strengthen the scientific and business cooperation with KLU in Eastern Europe.

What new logistical importance is attached to the OAOEV's target regions in view of the Chinese "Belt and Road Initiative" (BRI)?

Peer Witten: If China wants to strengthen its ties with Europe using the strategically designed "Belt and Road Initiative" (BRI), then the focus is naturally on the regions of Eastern Europe. Though not exclusively, this will primarily be about the expansion and further development of logistics infrastructure. China is particularly active in Southeast Europe, for example, by building a highway from the Adriatic port of Bar in Montenegro to the Serbian capital Belgrade. But China is also involved in Belarus, for example in the development of a major logistics hub known as the "Great Stone Project."

For the countries of Eastern Europe, China's commitment is a great opportunity to rapidly expand their infrastructure. China not only offers favorable long-term loans, but also technical know-how and a huge workforce. On the other hand, for Eastern European countries the major concerns are incurring long-term debt and committing themselves to these measures. There is also a very interesting study on this aspect, released by the OAOEV last year.

What role does the education of a new generation of Eastern European transport, logistics and supply chain management experts play in this context?   

Peer Witten: Especially in competition with China, it will be necessary to attract as many qualified specialists and experts from Eastern Europe to Germany as possible. That is why it is extremely important that we're able to offer academic training with a high level of practical relevance. The German Eastern Business Association will be involved in recruiting qualified scholarship holders from Eastern Europe for KLU.

Short vita
Prof. Peer Witten was a member of the Otto Group executive board, where he was responsible for worldwide logistics, for 21 years. Today, he is a member of the supervisory board and shareholders' council of the Group. He is also active on other supervisory and advisory boards, in some cases as chairman. In an honorary capacity, Prof. Witten was chairman of the executive board of the German Logistics Association (BVL, Bundesvereinigung Logistik) for many years. He has been chairman of the Board of the Logistics Initiative Hamburg, the largest logistics cluster in Europe, for more than 10 years. In addition, Peer Witten is honorary professor at the Otto-von-Guericke University of Magdeburg, honorary consul of Montenegro and OAOEV executive committee member.

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