Sonett – an enterprise in 'responsibility ownership' 

A foursome as of recently: Executive managers Gerhard Heid, Beate Oberdorfer, Oliver Groß, Andreas Roth (from left to right)

A foursome as of recently: Executive managers Gerhard Heid, Beate Oberdorfer, Oliver Groß, Andreas Roth (from left to right)

Since 2014, Sonett, manufacturer of organic soaps and detergents, has been 100% a Foundation enterprise. It belongs neither to a private person, nor a family, investors or any other kind of shareholders. But what is the real meaning of this? And what happens to the profits? 

Executive Manager Gerhard Heid explains: “Essential feature of a foundation is its capital being tied to a specific purpose, the company’s objective, i.e. it does not serve self-interest of individuals or groups. The foundation’s Board of Directors is bound to the immaterial objective of the company and, following this spirit, appoints the executive management, respectively the entrepreneurs.” 

The executive management, i.e. the entrepreneurs, to a large extent, are to be independent in their management. The foundation’s responsibilities are limited to maintaining the company’s orientation, appointing the executive managers and to the decision on how to use the financial gains. The executive management is per se ‘responsibility owner’ since it is also member of the Foundation’s Board of Directors. This entails a possible conflict of interests between enterprise and foundation being excluded. 

Beate Oberdorfer emphasises: “We consider Sonett an organism. A principle of all things organic and thus of everything alive is the interaction of polarities, e.g. male – female, offer and demand, idea and materialisation. Even though an enterprise must be organised, Rudolf Steiner’s saying is still valid: “An organism cannot be organised, it develops.” In order for an enterprise to develop organically, this principle has to be represented foremost at the head of the company. “This means to behave as partners within the company’s management. In this context it is not the form that counts, but an actual spirit of partnership,” Beate Oberdorfer continues pointing out: “Organic leadership cannot function by either democratic or republican ways, and, above all, not autocratically. Leadership in the spirit of partnership does not mean superficial harmony or dividing up tasks according to professional knowledge, but rather to consciously interact and compensate differences. The complete opposite must be wanted. Reciprocal sensitisation is an essential element, becoming reality in hard-won unanimous decisions.” 

“We do not see much sense in introducing systems of cooperation and partner-ship in our enterprise, if these have not become reality at the company’s head. If successful, this force de vivre will spread to the immaterial, conceptional as well as the most banal daily company structuring,” according to Gerhard Heid. “The entire organisation does not only gain in shape but also in impact. Its effect extends as far as to the quality of the products and the responsibility regarding our raw materials, the working hand in hand in our plant, cooperation with our suppliers and, above all, the relationship with our customers.” 

Sonett’s profits are intended for three objectives: The larger part stays with the company for investments, a second part is given yearly as endowment to the Sonett Foundation, increasing the foundation’s property. And the third part is distributed to the staff. The Sonett Foundation invests its entire foundation capital into the Sonett business, thus obtaining continuous interest earnings. 

The Sonett Foundation pursues non-profit objectives such as financing water research at the “Strömungsinstitut” (Institute for Flow Analysis) in Herrischried/Black Forest, supporting seed science, soil fertility, and the fight against pesticides. The foundation’s task also involves cooperation and financing of therapeutic education as well as the promotion of new art and of research in the humanities and practical areas. “We do not, however, consider these promotional duties a one-sided ‘generosity’ but rather a socio-organic motivating force for interaction between commercial and intellectual life,” as Executive Manager Gerhard Heid points out. “Intellectual life must be freed from its role as beggar, for an essential part of the business profits, in principle, belongs to intellectual life, i.e. to education, research, therapy, art and everything new in the world.” 

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