Peter Eigen: fearless since 13, he's changed the world’s mindset about corruption

Peter Eigen
Source: Peter Eigen

Corruption long was a taboo subject. Bribes in some countries were tax-deductible. That mindset changed when Peter, having seen the untold damage it was doing, especially in his earlier work in development, founded and built up Transparency International.

Transparency built chapters in almost every country.  It drew in engaged government, the citizen sector, and business. It turned on a giant spotlight. Its regular surveys of perceived levels of corruption in each country and then its ranking of countries from the least to the most corrupt draws enormous global attention every year.  And it affects a myriad of decisions, not least investment flows.

It complemented this overall rating with in-depth analysis of countries and all sorts of institutions, ranging from businesses to sports federations. In recent years Peter has led global industry-wide efforts to make all existing arrangements transparent and move to far better patterns. These range from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative to one for fisheries.

Transparency has also been a central force pushing for changes in government policies. Its first success was the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in 1997. Today 41 countries (with 90 percent of investment outflows) have ratified the convention. In 2003, the UN Convention Against Corruption followed. In 2014 the U.S. alone collected $1.56B in anti-bribery penalties.

Peter’s success in changing the world’s mindset about corruption required the deep and values-supporting confidence of high-level entrepreneurship. And that comes from deep roots.

Peter grew up in Erlanger (near Nuremberg) and started ventures at 13, 17, and 19. At 13, he led a group of seven friends on a series of explorations, including pitching their tents on the deck of a boat headed to Amsterdam.  At 17 he founded a jazz club (and played clarinet there). They lost their building twice but persisted -- so much so that their Strohalm Club flourishes there to this day.

He was also an avid horseback rider. To be able to pursue the sport at 19 he formed a riding club, initially of ten friends, and then persuaded a prosperous farmer to build stables and other facilities based in part on his club coming regularly as customers. Within a year, the farmer had a successful new business, and Peter at 23 became the head of the National Riding Association.

When confronted with the challenge of corruption, Peter knew from deep within that he had the power to take it on and win.


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