The passing this week of the publishing executive Ernst Cramer is a moment to reflect, not only on an amazing life story, but on the possibilities of mixing an ideological mission and a for-profit company. As an article in the Axel Springer (OTC:AXELF) flagship BILD reports, Cramer was born in 1913 in Augsburg.
In 1938 he was imprisoned by the Nazis and and spent six weeks in the Buchenwald concentration camp before becoming one of the last Jews allowed out of Germany to America. His parents and brother were killed in the Holocaust.
In America, he lived in Virginia and Mississippi and worked on a farm before enlisting in the American army and landing with the Allies at Normandy in 1944. When he arrived in Germany as part of the Allied forces, he decided to stay, and rose to a series of significant positions as a journalist and executive within Axel Springer, one of the leading publishers in Europe.
I met him a few times and saw him speak in Germany, Washington, or New York at conferences of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation or the Leo Baeck Institute, and I never got to know him well, but always admired him from afar, not least for the fact that in his 80s and 90s he was bounding confidently up steps and along sidewalks. Most relevant, perhaps, to this audience is the way that Axel Springer unabashedly pursues "corporate principles" as part of the company's articles of association. They are, according to the company's Web site:
- To uphold liberty and law in Germany, a country belonging to the Western family of nations, and to further the unification of the peoples of Europe.
- To promote the reconciliation of Jews and Germans and support the vital rights of the State of Israel.
- To support the Transatlantic Alliance and maintain solidarity with the United States of America in the common values of free nations.
- To reject all forms of political totalitarism.
- To uphold the principles of a free social market economy.
Pursuing such principles may be easier in a media company than in another sort of company. Even so, for those prone to see a "social mission" of a company as some sort of left-wing foolishness that is a distraction from a singleminded focus on the fiduciary responsibility to maximize profits for shareholders, Axel Springer's example is something to behold, and Ernst Cramer's role in forging it is something that a lot of those who admired him are quietly remembering this week as he is mourned.