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CEO Dialogue Series


RWE’s Markus Krebber on building energy reserves to keep focused on the long term 

30 April 2024 in CEO Dialogue Series

The RWE CEO tells Jean-François Manzoni how he is reshaping the power company to drive the energy transition and why leaders need to always keep something in the tank to remain resilient....

Just as power grids depending on renewables need backup capacity for when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing, Markus Krebber, CEO of Germany’s biggest power producer, RWE, believes leaders must manage their energy levels so they can shift up a gear when confronted with a crisis.

“You always need to operate in a way that you have reserves,” he explained. “You cannot operate at 100% capacity all the time because you need 100% the moment you get into an unforeseen crisis. So, when you have normal operations, I would say I always have 15–20% reserves. That also calms you down because you know even when a crisis comes, you have some more to put into it.”

Since taking the helm of Essen-based RWE in 2021, Krebber has had to contend with multiple challenges, including supply chain disruption resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, geopolitical tensions, and the energy crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Yet despite the present uncertainty and a list of competing spending priorities — from rebuilding Europe’s military defenses to dealing with aging populations — the 51-year-old German is convinced that society must remain focused on the long-term goal of the clean energy transition.

“We need massive investments into the energy systems for decades to come,” he said. “It’s not only renewables, but also storage technologies, it’s backup capacity to create security of supply, it’s building the hydrogen economy,” he explained. “The moment we stop, we save money, but we are going to have climate problems and problems coming from an under-invested energy supply system.”

You always need to operate in a way that you have reserves (...) So, when you have normal operations, I would say I always have 15–20% reserves.
– Markus Krebber, CEO of RWE

Hurdles and headwinds

Among the biggest bottlenecks hampering the clean energy transition is a shortage of talent, said Krebber. “We are currently growing our workforce in our core business at 10% per annum because we think that is the maximum you can do without losing culture, without losing quality.”

A lack of capacity among suppliers, such as turbine and battery manufacturers, is also a limiting factor, while higher interest rates are pushing up the cost of capital-intensive projects like offshore wind and solar farms.

It’s also a fine balance between speed and affordability, explained Krebber, given consumers and taxpayers will ultimately foot the bill. “The faster you go, the more expensive it will become. And here, we should not overstretch because then we lose the support of the people for the transition ahead of us.”

In 2021, Krebber orchestrated an ambitious “Growing Green” strategy, which aims to transform RWE, founded in 1898 as a coal-based power utility, into one of the world’s largest renewable groups. The strategy foresees €55bn ($60bn) in investment in green technologies by 2030, with RWE´s capacity from renewable resources expected to nearly double to more than 65 gigawatts (GW) by the end of the decade.

The company is also looking to diversify its portfolio of renewable technologies and strengthen its position in its core markets in Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States, supplemented by selected countries such as Japan, South Korea, and Australia in the APAC region. This includes strategic acquisitions such as its 2022 purchase of Con Edison’s Clean Energy Business which made RWE #2 in Solar in the US. “Building that organically would have taken more than a decade,” explained Krebber.

“The faster you go, the more expensive it will become. And here, we should not overstretch because then we lose the support of the people for the transition ahead of us.”
– Markus Krebber, CEO of RWE

Industry outsider

Prior to joining RWE, Krebber enjoyed a successful career in consulting and banking, notably working at Germany’s second-largest lender, Commerzbank, where he was responsible for the integration of Dresdner Bank. But following the financial crisis, he decided he was up for a new challenge.

Krebber first joined RWE’s supply and trading business in 2012 and had to quickly get up to speed with a new industry and new terminology. “I had to start with something I didn’t understand. I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t understand the corporate language. So, as a learning exercise in a very progressed state of your career, it was a fantastic experience,” he said.

Having an outsider’s perspective was also valuable for RWE, which at the time was facing huge regulatory challenges and public pressure to reduce its CO2 emissions. “The beauty, of course, for an outsider was that you were allowed to ask stupid questions, which in the end turned out not to be so stupid.”

In 2016, he became group CFO. Eighteen months later, RWE engaged in a bold asset swap with German rival E.ON, taking its competitor’s renewables business in exchange for its own energy networks and retail supply business. The deal transformed RWE from a more traditional utility into a company focused on power generation and the wholesale market, with annual revenues of around €40bn and 20,000 employees worldwide.

Although RWE has reinvented itself as an organization many times during its 126-year history, Krebber said the asset swap was unique because the company sold all its established businesses, meaning it had to rebuild RWE from scratch.

In the long term, it was not about the crisis; in the long term, it was sticking to your strategic plan.
– Markus Krebber, CEO of RWE

“We started with a very small holding company managing the different businesses. I do still remember when we were only 70 people in that company steering the group; that was kind of really a startup mentality, so that we could start everything from scratch with all the learning without the burden from the past,” he explained.

RWE today now has a decentralized structure with the group focusing on strategy and capital allocation, while its six business units operate as independent and autonomous subsidiaries. Krebber credits this structure for helping RWE stay nimble during the energy crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine. “All the nitty-gritty in crisis management was done without group involvement,” he explained. “And there we could really focus on the big decisions, and that, in the end, helped.”

The crisis was not only a huge test of Krebber’s leadership but also a learning experience. As a major German energy company, Krebber found himself advising the government on how to avert a severe energy crisis. “We were the first one proposing floating LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) terminals. I mean getting the ships, getting the infrastructure within months that we could import LNG into Germany, which so far had no LNG terminal,” he said.

Even when confronted with the need to make quick decisions with imperfect information, Krebber said his biggest learning was not to lose sight, amid all the chaos, of your objectives.

“In the midst of the crisis, we did the big US acquisition and we agreed with the German government to exit coal by 2030,” he said. “So, in the long term, it was not about the crisis; in the long term, it was sticking to your strategic plan. And I’m very proud of the team that we actually managed it all.”

Watch the full CEO Dialogue to find out more about Markus Krebber’s views on energy transition (including European vs. US incentives for clean technologies and how geopolitical tensions can affect the speed and cost of transition), the transition from the CFO to CEO role, and why hard-to-abate industries may increasingly move to where green energy is produced, including and especially the Middle East. 


Markus Krebber

Markus Krebber


Markus Krebber is the CEO at RWE AG, one of Europe's leading energy corporations, where he's been working since 2012, from 2016 to April 2021 as CFO and now as CEO. From 2005 to 2012, he held several positions at Commerzbank AG, including Chief Operating Officer Retail Banking, Head of Group Integration, and Head of Group Finance. Prior to that, he worked for McKinsey & Company as a management consultant.


Jean-François Manzoni

Jean-François Manzoni

IMD President

Jean-François Manzoni is the President of IMD, where he also serves as the Nestlé Professor. His research, teaching, and consulting activities are focused on leadership, the development of high-performance organizations and corporate governance.

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