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Nobility among the Austrian economic elite in 2008.
PHILIPP KOROM & JAAP DRONKERS
Last update 12 October 2009
Paper presented at the invited workshop ‘Nobility in Europe during the 20th Century:
Memories, Loyalties and Advantages in Context’, hosted by the European University
Institute, Florence, 15-16 June 2009.
Nobility among the Austrian economic elite in 2008
Philipp Korom & Jaap Dronkers Abstract This article deals with 16642 members of the Vorstand, the Aufsichtrat and the Geschäftsführung (managing board, supervisory board and management) of the 5000 largest Austrian companies by turnover, who are recorded in the Austrian Company Register 2008. Referring to Hueck (2002), various issues of Genealogisches Handbuch des Adels and indicators of noble descent (such as the title “von”) we figure out whether managers belong to one of the German and Austrian noble families.
Applying quantitative methods only, we scrutinize further whether the Austrian nobility has maintained some of its advantages regarding entry into economic elite positions in the 21st century. The main result is that Austrian nobles have a six-fold larger chance of becoming a member of the Austrian economic elite in 2008 than non- nobles, a full century after the revolution of 1918. Noble members of the Austrian economic elite deviate from non-noble members in the following aspects: they work in corporations with a higher turnover, hold more often an academic title, are on the average three years older and less often female. However, they do not form any informal network within the economic elite. The comparison of nobles according to their social status within the nobility suggests that ranks have lost their significance completely in the 21st century, and that Austrian nobility has thus become a more homogenous social category.
1. Austrian nobility in the 21st century In the second edition of her book “Austrian Nobility today” Walterskirchen (2007) postulates a comeback of the descendants of nobles as an informal class (informeller Stand) in the sense of Saint Martin (1993, 13-17). In her opinion the official recognition of the Association of Austrian Nobles (Vereinigung der Edelleute in Österreich, V.E.Ö.) in 2006, a successor of the Vereinigung katholischer Edelleute in Österreich, which was banned under the Nazis in 1938, marks a historical watershed.
For the first time in the history of the Austrian Second Republic there exists again an official representative body for nobles in Austria.
Together with related evidence for the enduring socio-economic advantages of the Dutch, German and French nobilities (Schijf, Dronkers & Broeke-George 2004;
Dronkers 2008; Saint Martin 1993), the u-turn of Austrian official politics towards the nobility gives us cause not to dismiss the nobility as a historical fossil, but to rather investigate the hidden class-linked advantages (or disadvantages) of the Austrian nobility, which was officially abolished in 1919 when the newly elected National Assembly passed the “law on the abolition of the nobility, the secular orders of chivalry, male and female, and of certain titles and dignities”. That the main aim of this law was to put an end to the power of nobility in the Austrian-Hungarian societies became clear, at the latest, in 1920, when the law on the abolition of nobility was elevated to the constitutional rank of Federal Constitution Act. Today the law can only be abolished if at least two thirds of all members of the National Council vote against it (Olscher 1971). Given the neutral or negative attitude of all parties towards 2 nobility, a reestablishment of some of the former symbolical rights of the Austrian nobility can be regarded as unlikely.
Since 1918 the Austrian nobiliary legal system has differed in an important aspect from the German one. While following the German constitution of Weimar former titles became part of names and stopped being regarded any longer as class designations, no Austrian citizen is allowed to have any noble titles such as “von” and “zu” in his or her name. However, spokespersons of the V.E.Ö. have announced that they will appeal to the European Court for Human Rights in order to overturn the proscription not to use titles of honour (Walterskirchen 2007, 29) – a law that is in any case frequently broken in a country that is rightly known and criticized for its obsessive usage of academic titles.
To test the assumption of consistent advantage we focus on nobility among the Austrian economic elite at the beginning of the 21st century. Having included the 5000 largest Austrian companies by turnover we are aware that our study interprets the term “elite” in the broad sense. Not all of the nobles considered here dominate the dominant organizations (Giddens 1974). However, all selected nobles hold at least positions of leadership and are figureheads of smaller lines of business.
Relatively early on in history the Austrian nobility strived for the accumulation of property and finance in order to achieve political influence.
Capitalistic-oriented nobles invested in the building of railways, industries and the formations of banks. Count Johann Adolf Schwarzenberg, Count Vinzenz Carl Auersperg, Count Max Egon Fürstenberg, Count Otto Chotek and the banker Louis von Haber participated with 30 millions of Gulden – a third of the entire capital stock – in the foundation in 1857 of the first and leading financial institution of the monarchy, the so-called Creditanstalt (Stekl 2004, 26). It seems that the influence of nobility in the banking sector was constant until the introduction of the so-called Verstaatlichtengesetze (1946/47) that initiated not only the nationalisation of large industries but also of banks such as the Creditanstalt-Bankverein, the Länderbank and the Österreichische Credit-Institut. In the new management there were no nobles to be found anymore. However, in 1995 once again twelve nobles were among the leading managers of Creditanstalt (Walterskirchen 2007, 155), which may indicate that nobles are deeply rooted in the financial sector. Yet it is not only in banks, but also in insurance companies and major (international) corporations that nobles can play a crucial role. This is easily illustrated by two examples: Johannes Attems as managingdirector of Österreichische Konrollbank AG and Alexander Leeb as supervisory board member of Steiermärkische Bank und Sparkassen AG.
Research on interlocked directorates in Austria (Ziegler 1984; Ziegler, Reissner, and Bender 1985; Morawetz 1985 [both used data from preceding years]) showed that Austria was characterized by a corporate network in which positions of the banks were far stronger than in liberal market economies such as Britain or the United States. At least for the eighties and nineties one can speak of oligarchic bank hegemony. Morawetz (1985, 78), for example, found out that directors of the Creditanstalt had personal ties to 18 of the 78 largest industrial and financial enterprises. This fact can be explained on the one hand by the numerous dependent firms that were linked as subsidiaries to their parent. On the other hand the exceptional position of Creditanstalt within the national network points also at the predominant strategic orientations of Austrian banks in the past: Bankers could reduce the risk of loans and intervene directly into manage affairs in times of crisis, because of existing interlocked directorates (Windolf 2009). The interest of reducing risks also turned into a strategic orientation to regulate competition between industrial 3 companies. Austrian nobles formed part of such corporatist arrangements in the past.
The subsequent empirical analysis aims at describing the importance and characteristics of nobles in the Austrian economic elite for the year 2008. When speaking of the “Austrian nobility”, we refer to the post-1918 nobility (irrespectively of the origin of the noble title), who retained a relation with the Austrian economy and society by participating in the government of the Austrian largest enterprises.
We use Walterskirchen’s latest book on the Austrian nobility at the end of the 20th century as a starting point for our analyses. She estimates that there are approximately 180 families of nobility with about 11.000 members in Austria. This represents quite a small fraction of the whole Austrian population, namely 14 per 1000 (0,014).
Walterskirchen therefore concludes that the question whether nobility is over- or underrepresented in certain professions cannot accurately answered (Walterskirchen 2007, 16). By not looking at single professions, but at all higher positions in Austrian economy we take this methodological trap door into account and test some of Walterskirchen’s main statements on the role of nobility in the economic elite.
The participation of Austrian nobles in banking has declined after WW II, which is partly due to the nationalisation of the Austrian economy. Maintaining a large share of public ownership in infrastructure, banking and manufacturing up to the 1990ies was an Austrian speciality among Western market economies. However, since the 1980ies Austrian national economy has been becoming already deregulated and also the trend not to accept nobles as managers is reversed. According to Walterskirchen (2007, 118), we can again find nobles not only in leading position of banks, such as Credit Lyonnais, Österreichische Kontrollbank and Giro-Kredit, but also among top managers of corporations.
H1 The percentage of nobles in the Austrian economic elite is above-average in comparison with nobles in the total Austrian population.
Walterskirchen´s depicition of the Austrian class as an informal and hidden one implies that nobles do not have easily perceivable traits in common that reveal them as a distinct fraction within the economic elite.
H2 The age and other individual characteristics of nobles in the Austrian economic elite do not deviate from those of the non-nobles in the Austrian economic.
Nobles can thus not be considered as residuals of a former Stand, whose members had distinctive features in common.
By adopting a historical perspective Walterskirchen aims at reconstructing the preferential business activities during the last century. She comes to the conclusion that after holding a significant share in the production of railways and cars before WWI, and a reorientation towards business with agriculture and raw materials, specialisation in financing became predominant among nobility (Walterskirchen 2007, 18).
H3 Within the economic elites there is a significant concentration of nobles within the banking sector.
4 If Walterskirchen (2007) is right that the Austrian descendants of nobles form an informal class (informeller Stand) in the sense of Saint Martin (1993, 13-17), then we should expect to find indicators of the existence of that informal class. Dronkers (2008) found that the noble rank and the distinction between nobles from families ennobled before or after 1500 was still significant for marriage patterns among the Austrian/German nobility, but far less so among the Dutch nobility.
H4 Noble ranks are significant as a stratifying device within the Austrian economic elite.
We would also expect that a class, even if it is an informal one, has at its commands at least some smaller institutionalized communication networks.
H5 Nobles in the Austrian economic elite form an informal network within the Austrian economic elite.
3. Data and Methods We started with all 16642 members of the Vorstand, Aufsichtrat and the Geschäftsführung, who are affiliated to the 5000 biggest Austrian firms and are mentioned in the Austrian Company Register 2008 (Firmenbuch, updated in november 2008). From this list we had deleted all double cases. By comparing family names in our list with those in the catalogue of Hueck (2002) we aimed at selecting those people only that might belong to a noble family. In order to be able to conclusively say that someone is of nobility or not, we checked whether the first names and birthdays in the various volumes of the Genealogische Handbuch des Adels were corresponding with our data on Austrian managers.
We also used other means (e.g. internet resources) for verifying that a particular person belongs to a European noble family (for instance Hooft-Graafland belongs to a Dutch noble family and Davignon to a Belgian). There were also persons who are with a probability bordering on certainty of noble descent, but can not to be found in any of the volumes of the Genealogisches Handbuch des Adels, which points to the imperfection of our main source of reference. The renewal of a presentation of the genealogical information in the Genealogisches Handbuch des Adels depends of the collaboration of all family members and the willingness of the family to pay the costs (Dronkers 2008). Moreover, this handbook seems to be more oriented towards Germany than Austria.
We also used also noble titels (such as the predicate “von”) as a selection criteria, as in Germany, contrary to Austria, noble titles became after 1918 legally a part of the family name.
The result of our selection can be found in Appendix 1. The Appendix shows the names of those who are sure of noble decent according of Genealogisches Handbuch des Adels and those who are most likely of noble descent, but who were not available in (a recent issue of) the Genealogische Handbuch des Adels. Appendix II shows the names of the firms in which they are members of the Vorstand, the Aufsichtrat or the Geschäftsführung Our results present clearly an underestimation of the real number of persons of
noble decent among the Austrian economic elite for two reasons:
a. Not all noble Austrian/German families are included in Hueck (2002): only 9 out of the 16 names with a von included in their family name on the list of the 5 Austrian business elite could be found in Hueck (2002). This results means an underestimation of 44%.
b. Comparable lists of Hungarian, Balkan, Slovakian and Russian noble family names could not be consulted, either because they do not exist or because recent genealogical books about these noble families do not exist for the Austrian/German members. One can assume that quite a number of these noble families work in one of the Austrian 5000 largest corporations.