EON Uses Artworks to Give Staff ‘Positive Energy’ in Tough Times

Germany’s largest utility spent decades building one of the country’s best corporate art collections. After selling its most valuable piece earlier this year, a Jackson Pollock, it’s hoping the rest can inspire workers as the company cuts costs.

EON SE is showing 240 works at a building in Essen in western Germany, more than one for every ten employees who work there. Highlights include Paname by Ellsworth Kelly, a U.S. artist known for his minimalist compositions.

The display “gives positive energy”, said Dorothee Graefin von Posadowsky-Wehner, who heads EON’s philanthropic program and oversees the collection.

Posadowsky-Wehner added some 200 works, mostly from storage, to the 40 already in the Essen building and said she hopes that the 2,000 employees “appreciate it even in more difficult times.”

EON, based in Dusseldorf, is cutting costs after Germany’s shift to renewable power and slumping power prices cut profit. The utility has reduced its workforce by almost 30 percent to about 60,000 through voluntary redundancies and disposals over the past three and a half years.

In May, EON sold Jackson Pollock’s Number 5 (Elegant Lady) bought for about 1 million Deutsche marks ($500,000) in 1980. The sale for $11.4 million through Christie’s International Plc will support EON’s art and culture spending for the next few years, Posadowsky-Wehner said in an interview.

Ulrich Hartmann, head of the corporate board office at EON’s predecessor company Veba AG and right-hand man of then-Chief Executive Officer Rudolf von Bennigsen-Foerder, started EON’s collection.

After becoming CEO, Hartmann later shook up the European energy market when he engineered the merger with Munich-based Viag AG that turned EON into Germany’s largest utility in 2000. Three years later it bought Ruhrgas AG.

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