Oliver Blank – representing the German electrical and digital industry in Brussels

Oliver Blank, Head of European Affairs at ZVEI.

The face of the German electrical and digital industry in Brussels holds the title of Dr. phil. in political science, comparative literature, and art history. Does that fit together? When Oliver Blank, Head of European Affairs at the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers’ Association (ZVEI), tells us how he got there, a common thread does emerge.

“I originally wanted to become a journalist and write for the feature section or the business section of the FAZ. I chose my fields of study accordingly.” However, interest then shifted more and more in the direction of politics. After studying for a master’s degree in the US, gaining initial professional experience in an advertising agency, and earning his doctorate, he found his destiny: The interface between politics and business is what interests him. “That’s where you end up pretty quickly with an association.”

Enthusiastic about the electrical industry

His first association employer was the VDMA. At that time, shortly before the turn of the millennium, everything was geared toward information technology and Europe. Blank went to Brussels and co-founded the EICTA association there in 1999, which was renamed Digitaleurope in 2009. He spends four years setting up the structures on the ground. “That was my first European job. That’s how I got into this world.” Things changed for Blank in his private life, too. In 2001, his daughter was born, and in 2002, his son. The young family commutes between Brussels and Frankfurt am Main.

That’s when the offer to join the ZVEI’s executive board in Frankfurt came at just the right time in 2003. At the time, Blank was one of the few people without an engineering background. But it is his skills that are needed, such as strong communication skills and political understanding. After all, he is to build up the European branch of the association.

Oliver Blank soon felt at home in the industry. “What fascinates me about the electrical industry to this day is that it is very much a medium-sized business, and you realize how important small and medium-sized companies are to Europe,” he says. Working with them is “huge fun” for him because their commitment to society is not a fad but has always been part of their motivation. “They are involved in their regions, do a lot in education and training. They’ve been doing what’s now called corporate social responsibility for decades.”

Concern about increasing polarization

When the children grow up, he goes back to Brussels. He sets up the Brussels office of ZVEI. The office grows, expanding its scope under his leadership from Europe to China and, since May of this year, to everything international. “I’ve always been good at pushing new things,” Blank says. He never went anywhere, he says, where there were already ready-made structures. Another professional focus: bringing people together, even those with different views and positions – and thus enabling compromises.

He is therefore very concerned about international developments and increasing polarization. Both the war in Europe and China’s isolation and, not least, the uncertainty about where the US is heading in the next few years, despite all the euphoria about the new transatlantic partnership, are making it more difficult to get people talking to each other. “The global challenges are very great at the moment, and the need for orientation among our member companies is extremely high,” says Blank.

Analyses and forecasts are becoming increasingly important. At the same time, he feels that politicians are increasingly in crisis mode and are less and less able to shape things. Complexity, speed, and a constant prioritization have also arrived in his everyday work. “That wasn’t the case at the beginning of the 2000s. Back then, many EU commissioners didn’t even have a computer on their desk.”

At the end of a busy day, Oliver Blank likes to switch off while cooking. “That’s when I’m monothematic,” he says. In other words, he thinks of nothing but the dish he is preparing. Ulrike Christl

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