With little discussion and a unanimous vote, Adam Opel AG's supervisory board last week appointed Gary Cowger chairman of the General Motors German subsidiary.
The quiet proceeding marked the end of more than a year of internal turbulence and the restructuring of GM's European operations. To secure the board's approval, Opel's management has been guaranteed more independence from GM Europe and GM International Operations in Zurich, a source said.
Opel's unions, which hold 10 of the 20 voting seats on the supervisory board, had threatened to block Cowger's appointment until changes were made. In months of talks with officials in Detroit and Zurich, they extracted promises from GM that Opel will have the resources and backing to improve its products plus maintain and strengthen its German identity.
Of primary concern is having sufficient resources to develop more models, particularly performance models such as coupes and convertibles, which Opel personnel say Opel needs in order to be competitive with archrival Volkswagen.
Worried about the growing problems at Opel, GM Chairman Jack Smith met with members of the supervisory board during his trip to Europe in April.
As a result, the technical development center is now better organized and more clearly delineated between Opel and GM international projects, and headquarters for GM International Operations is moving from Zurich to Detroit.
Hans Wilhelm Gaeb, chairman of the supervisory board, hinted at the behind-the-scenes negotiations between Opel and GM in announcing Cowger's appointment.
He called the unanimous vote 'a remarkable act of unity' made possible only because of 'cooperation between GM and its employees.'
Sources said Gaeb led the discussions and acted as a mediator between labor and management.
Similar sentiments were echoed by the unions. Rudolf Mueller, vice chairman of the supervisory board and chairman of the Opel General Works Council that represents employees, lauded Smith for taking 'seriously the wishes and concerns expressed by employees' and for his personal involvement 'in efforts to improve coordination between Adam Opel AG and GM Europe.'
Cowger, 51, assumes the top job on Friday, June 19, the day after Opel's 1997 results are released at the annual financial press conference in Frankfurt.
The event will be the final formal appearance for David Herman, 52, who leaves the post after six years. Herman moves to Moscow to become a GM corporate vice president for Russia and all the markets of the former Soviet Union.