End of an era at Volkswagen as Chairman Ferdinand Piëch quits

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Ferdinand Piëch with wife Ursula

Ferdinand Piëch with wife Ursula

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Perhaps the most influential player in the transformation of Volkswagen from near bankruptcy into a juggernaut comprising numerous brands and vying with the likes of Toyota and General Motors Company [NYSE:GM] for the title of world’s largest automaker, Ferdinand Piëch, the grandson of Beetle inventor Ferdinand Porsche and current chairman of the VW Group has announced his resignation.

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The decision was largely out of his hands, however, as the auto giant supervisory board executive committee, which represents the shareholders, decided at a special meeting held yesterday that internal strife between Piëch and VW CEO Martin Winterkorn had led to a breakdown in the “mutual trust” necessary ‎for successful cooperation between senior members at the company.

It was recently made public that Piëch was displeased with Winterkorn but fortunately for the VW CEO he had the full backing of supervisory board, which plans to extend his current contract beyond 2016. This was not the case for previous CEO Bernd Pischetsrieder, who also ruffled the feathers of Piëch and was forced to resign after just four years on the job. He was replaced by Winterkorn at the start of 2007.

Because of this breakdown in trust, VW confirmed in a statement that 78-year-old Piëch has resigned from the supervisory board and from all mandates as a supervisory board member. Piëch’s wife Ursula, also a member on the supervisory board, has also resigned, the statement read. Despite their exit, both still have significant voting rights and shares in the company.

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In the meantime, senior trade unionist Berthold Huber will fill the role of chairman. Under his stewardship, representatives of shareholders and employees will in close cooperation determine the candidates for a new chairman, with the final outcome to be decided by the supervisory board.

Piëch served as VW CEO from 1993 to 2002, turning a loss-making operation into one of the most profitable in the industry after making the hard decision of cutting wages and streamlining much of the production, which included the move to modular platforms. It’s believed he became displeased with Winterkorn due to VW’s recent cost blowouts, failure to grow in the lucrative U.S. market and failure to engineer a low-cost car.

 
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