VW's Winterkorn sends a tough message to his executive team
Guido Reinking is editor-in-chief of Automobilwoche, a corporate sibling of Automotive News.
Volkswagen Group CEO Martin Winterkorn sent an unmistakable message this month when he orchestrated a series of senior management changes. To reach the pinnacle of the global auto industry -- VW's declared ambition -- you must be tough and sometimes even cruel.
This is what VW China chief Karl-Thomas Neumann, Audi development chief Michael Dick and Audi sales chief Peter Schwarzenbauer have learned. They are no longer part of Winterkorn's and Supervisory Board Chairman Ferdinand Piech's plans.
No one in VW's upper management ranks should feel too secure. It can happen to Dick, whom Piech has known for decades, or Neumann, who always had a warm relationship with Winterkorn, if the results aren't right, mistakes pile up or a better candidate becomes available.
That's what happened with Audi's development chief. Dick, 60, advanced the brand technologically. The A4, A5 and A6 are benchmarks in their segments in many respects -- for example in lightweight construction, Piech's favorite topic.
But Dick apparently lacked vision beyond conventional vehicle manufacturing. People say his replacement, Bentley CEO Wolfgang Duerheimer, 53, has such a vision. He pushed the envelope of technical feasibility and fuel consumption on the Porsche 918 concept while Porsche's head of r&d from 2001 through 2011.
Duerheimer, who felt unchallenged as Bentley chief, now can prove himself as the Audi development chief and position himself for even greater responsibilities.
Karl-Thomas Neumann, who tried to introduce a looser management style, has been replaced as the executive responsible for China, VW’s most important market.
The situation was different for Neumann. The former Continental CEO has been replaced as the executive responsible for VW's most important market, China. The 51-year-old with the youthful demeanor tried to introduce a new, looser management style at VW and apparently has failed.
He also had to answer for quality problems in China. Without a power base in Wolfsburg, Neumann remained a foreign body in the VW Group. The company will look for another use for him, sources say. But he also could leave VW.
Jochem Heizmann, 60, gets the new board post overseeing VW Group's China operations, moving from his role as head of heavy trucks.
Audi sales chief Schwarzenbauer, 52, fell victim to a better candidate. Luca de Meo, the marketing chief for the VW Group and the VW brand, will head Audi sales. Schwarzenbauer is leaving the company.
Schwarzenbauer lacked a vision for further development of the brand. De Meo has that in abundance. The much-vaunted introduction campaign for the VW Up small car in Europe was his idea. Audi hasn't had anything like it for a long time. Audi's advertising was once highly praised and won many awards. But it has been boring for a long time.
The next career step is a challenge for de Meo as well: The eloquent marketing visionary must prove whether he can haggle successfully with regional sales companies and dealers on volumes, margins and standards.
De Meo was Fiat's chief marketing officer before leaving in 2009 to join VW. He was a protégé of Sergio Marchionne and was credited with the successful launch of the Fiat 500 in Europe in 2007.
He is only 44 and appears to have a bright future at VW. But as all VW executives must know by now, if their performance falls short or a better candidate emerges, their careers will quickly end.
You can reach Guido Reinking at email@example.com.