Düsseldorf

After my short trip to Frankfurt am Main, I visited Düsseldorf. I figured out the DB Bahn website, downloaded the iPhone app, and booked a ticket. I took a regional train from the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof and then took one of the faster trains north to Düsseldorf where I met up with my friend Christian. It was nice to have a “host family” even though I was there for less than 24 hours.

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What a cool city. I had never been and I’m ready to return. The city center is a vibrant core with a beautiful setting on the Rhine River. I arrived in the late morning on a Friday after the 2.5 hour trip. It was a big day for business in Düsseldorf because they were hosting the AmCham Germany annual meeting, which I attended. The afternoon session of the meeting featured a strong line up of speakers.

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We first heard from Alan Mulally, President and CEO of Ford Motor Company. Then we heard from Andrew Liveris, President, Chairman, and CEO of The Dow Chemical Company. Both were entertaining and articulate speakers who were clearly comfortable with the mostly German audience. Mulally is American and prior to his Ford role, was a long time leader and career-long employee at Boeing.

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Ford has major operations in Germany and he had interesting thoughts about Euro-American free trade, energy policy, and manufacturing in the USA. He also spoke about Ford’s efforts at building sustainable vehicles that consume less fuel. I’ve followed his career since many of Horst Engineering’s products end up in Boeing aircraft. The crowd was a mix of German business people working for German firms, and a German business people working for US firms with a major presence in Germany. Most of the member companies are large global enterprises, so Ford and Dow were good picks.

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Liveris has spent his entire career at Dow, rising through the ranks to lead one of the world’s largest chemical producers. He is a passionate Australian, who has spent decades based in the US, but traveling the world. Like Ford, Dow has a major presence in Germany and depends on the knowledge economy that Germany well-known for. Liveris unabashedly supports free trade and strong energy policy. Energy is the largest input cost in his company’s products. It is a much bigger factor than labor cost.

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Our final keynote speaker followed a short networking break. That speaker was the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel. She gave a talk and then followed it up with a handful of questions from the audience. She spoke in German, so I had to use a headset in order to listen to a translator, but I was still able to follow closely. She is a dynamo, and I was impressed with her delivery. I enjoy the art/science of public speaking and am always benchmarking good orators. She has a depth of knowledge that few world leaders have.

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Her prior career as a research scientist gives her politics an interesting base of information. I preferred her off-the-cuff remarks and answers to the questions, though her canned speech was still informative. She is famous for her battles with German labor unions and she has supported US policy many times during her tenure. She is also a strong supporter of business, so she was comfortable with the audience. She joked with the leaders of AmCham because after multiple requests, this was the first time that she accepted an offer to speak. It was my good fortune that she chose Düsseldorf.

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We filed out of the conference into a beautiful Friday afternoon. Christian walked me around the city center, pointing out many of the landmarks. The city is seeing a tremendous amount of growth with major infrastructure projects (e.g. new train station, new buildings, etc.) underway. One recently constructed building is the Kö-Bogen development along the banks of the river that was designed by architect Daniel Libeskind. It houses several businesses including the new Apple Store and is an amazing structure. I could have spent all afternoon photographing it in the wonderful sunlight.

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We went into the Apple Store to check it out and ended up getting a fantastic demonstration. I’m in the market for a new desktop Mac to handle my large database of photos. My MacBook Pro needs to be unburdened from the responsibility of running Aperture. The first clerk saw us lingering near the sole Mac Pro on display and approached us. The demo was an explanation and comparison between the powerhouse Mac Pro and the top of the line iMac. I asked a few questions in English which he fielded with no problems, but then asked us if we had time for a demo. We agreed and he went to get Stefan, who was a more senior associate.

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Stefan joined us so our little group swelled to four. He was awesome and I challenged him repeatedly, which only raised his game. At one point, he opened 20 OS X applications at once to demonstrate how fast the Pro actually was. The entire demo lasted nearly 30 minutes and was one of the best in-store customer service experiences I’ve ever had. It didn’t result in a sale, but it sure was impressive.

After the demo, we wandered back to the office, wowed by the experience. Dinner was at Christian’s home with other former US based ex-pat friends also as guests. We had great conversation catching up on business and family. The following morning, I borrowed a bicycle and helmet, and did a 20 kilometer ride along the Rhine. It was really neat to get out of the city heading south and then return on the opposite bank. After breakfast, Christian and I headed to Bad Liebenstein via Wetzlar. The driving experience was fantastic as we wound our way into hill country. All in all, my short trip to Düsseldorf was the perfect appetizer for the main event.

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