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“It’s about shaping things to come”

An interview with Michael Konopka and Götz Schönfeld, initiators and managers of the 2023 Drees & Sommer Theme Journey

In more and more areas of society, the economy, and politics, “crisis mode” is turning into “situation normal.” Despite this, it’s important not to lose sight of times ahead and think about ways to deal with the challenges of the future. But to do that, everybody should be involved in the discussion and all stakeholders need to work together to find solutions. Aware of this problem, Drees & Sommer have developed a new dialog model based on what they call a “Theme Journey – People, Process, Places.” The aim is to facilitate wide-ranging discussion transcending different sectors of industry. TRANSFER magazine met up with project coordinators Michael Konopka and Götz Schönfeld.

Hello Mr. Schönfeld. How did the Theme Journey project come about?

Götz Schönfeld:
Drees & Sommer realized a couple of decades ago that companies “going it alone” are slowly but surely ending up in the graveyard and success is only possible in the long term if you work on an interdisciplinary level. So we came up with a dialog model based on three pillars – people, process, and places – to facilitate theme-based discussion beyond the boundaries of the construction and real estate industry, across all sectors. This has allowed us to translate what we’ve learned to our own core business.

After the first dialog sessions, we noticed that industry is extremely receptive to exchanging ideas on different topics. The Theme Journey is now entering its seventh year, with 29 partner companies and organizations. This allows us to establish a very broad and diverse culture of discussion.

Hello Mr. Konopka. The subtitle you adopted for your dialog model is “A somewhat different format.” What is this initiative about for you, and in what way is it different?

Michael Konopka:
There are lots of discussion forums these days, in different areas of industry, and it’s right that they’re there. The discussion often revolves around communicating brand values, companies marketing their own products, and the image of their services. With our “somewhat different” format, it’s not about the brand, but the theme or topic. It’s not about extrapolating things present, it’s about shaping things to come. Market communications are shaped by multiple rounds of repetition. We enjoy a culture of very open, constructive, and above all critical discussion with the participants. If you want to find solutions to the burning issues of modern times, you don’t do it by just seeking harmony.

What’s also important is that you mix around the existing network and bring in new guests and stakeholders. The dialog sessions mustn’t be allowed to talk in the atmosphere of a school reunion, or else the guests quickly lose interest.

The topic you want to look at in 2023, with a variety of experts, is: “Different. Successful. Growing. How to succeed with transformation in turbulent times.” What issues will the discussion revolve around and why exactly those aspects?

Götz Schönfeld:
We live in turbulent and crazy times. The global economy has never faced so many and such big challenges. Not only do we face a climate crisis, suddenly we were confronted by a pandemic, which had us firmly pinned down since early 2020, and this resulted in global supply bottlenecks. To make things worse, for a year now Europe has had another war going on within its very own borders, and the consequences for people and the environment are devastating. There’s no foreseeable end to the war. With inflationary and recessionary trends, there’s a risk that the increasing number of environmental disasters will become merely incidental.

The tasks we have to overcome would already be tough as individuals, but in the future we’ll only be able to tackle the entirety of challenges if we work together. So we need to stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity, with people in business, members of the public, politicians, municipal authorities, and different locations.

We were very deliberate about using the three pillars of “Different. Successful. Growing.” as this year’s motto. Given climate change, we can’t afford to think it’s “business as usual.” But there’s still this pressure to make progress and grow. We need the German-speaking economies to be competitive so they don’t lose their appeal versus other countries.

Ultimately, the link between economic success and a future that leaves something behind for our grandchildren is about transforming into a truly sustainable, circular, and resource-efficient economy.

You also have the Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute on board. What are your expectations from this partnership?

Michael Konopka:
The Theme Journey doesn’t just need people involved in business practice, but also specialists from science and academia. Steinbeis stands for knowledge and technology transfer from theory into practice, and it’s in a position to unite both of those – often different – worlds.

Our hope is to see the Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute make a professional contribution to our critical discourse on sustainable transformation. It’s an area in which digital transformation of the economy and society has a crucial role to play. We’re looking forward to a wonderful and successful partnership – and are already excited about the outcome.

For more information on the 2023 Theme Journey and the current schedule, go to: https://www.dreso.com/de/unternehmen/events/themenreise


Michael Konopka (interviewee)
Consultant Business Transformation and Network Management
Drees & Sommer SE (Stuttgart)

Götz Schönfeld (interviewee)
Head of Business Transformation and Network Management
Drees & Sommer SE (Stuttgart)