LONDON - When Wolfgang Reitzle settles into his new headquarters in prestigious Berkeley Square here, he will face a tremendous opportunity and a daunting challenge.
In his new job, Reitzle, 50, will create a company-within-a-company at a new headquarters. Ford Motor Co. CEO Jac Nasser has given Reitzle the task of creating in Premier Automotive Group a global luxury powerhouse to rival Mercedes-Benz and BMW, Reitzle's former employer.
As group vice president of Premier, Reitzle becomes chairman of Jaguar Cars Ltd. and Volvo Cars. His job also includes responsibility for Lincoln and Aston Martin. Nasser wants Premier to sell 1 million cars annually within a few years.
Reitzle will be leading a company with enormous growth ambitions. Jaguar alone wants to quadruple in size with the launch of the S-Type and forthcoming entry-level X400. Volvo, the largest member of the group, plans further growth. At Ford, Reitzle will be able to tap into the kind of r&d capabilities he never dreamed of at BMW. He will have multiple sets of car platforms to use in development of all kinds of model variations.
'If this entity is put together efficiently, it opens up potential for differentiation and economies of scale that are almost unique,' said Garel Rhys, director of the Center for Automotive Industry Research at Cardiff Business School in Wales.
Having their own group ensures the luxury car brands will not get lost in the giant Ford empire, Rhys said. It also opens up possibilities of the luxury car division developing its own engines and platforms and buying its own parts, he said.
MIXTURE OF CULTURES
Reitzle has spent the past 23 years within the Bavarian culture of BMW. In his new job, he will have to blend four corporate cultures in three countries into a dynamic, functioning team. BMW is essentially a German company, while Ford is multicultural.
Then there's the personality issue. 'I think Reitzle is undoubtedly a very talented and very creative man, but he has also gained a reputation as a somewhat abrasive character,' said John Lawson, an automotive analyst for Salomon Smith Barney in London. 'His skills as a diplomat are less renowned than his skills as an engineer or product planner.'
At BMW, Reitzle's only serious rival was then Chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder, the man who won the job Reitzle thought should have been his in 1993. Within Ford, Reitzle will be just one among many talented and ambitious executives. And his authority could clash with some of those executives, most conspicuously with Richard Parry-Jones, Ford's global product development boss.
Parry-Jones has helped develop several cars now part of Reitzle's domain, including the Lincoln LS/Jaguar S-Type, and the Jaguar X400.
Like Parry-Jones, Reitzle is known for his hands-on approach to product development.
'Obviously Richard Parry-Jones has been very much the star of the company recently, and a more different style one could hardly imagine,' Lawson said.
But Nick Scheele, whom Reitzle replaces as Jaguar chairman, said he thinks the two will find common ground.
'I think they'll get along very well indeed,' he said. 'They share a passion for excellence.'
CHAIN OF COMMAND
Tuve Johannesson, president of Volvo Car Corp., and Mike Beasley, executive director of Jaguar, will report directly to Reitzle. Scheele has been reporting to Robert Rewey, Ford group vice president for sales and marketing.
Mark Hutchins, president of Ford's Lincoln Mercury division, will continue to report to Rewey. But Hutchins now also will report to Reitzle on Lincoln issues only. Bob Dover will remain CEO and chairman of Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. and now will report to Reitzle.
As a testing center for new technology, Aston Martin also has close ties with Ford's Research and Vehicle Technology Center in Dearborn under Neil Ressler.
Scheele, meanwhile, will move to Cologne, Germany, to become senior vice president for sales and marketing. His new marketing responsibilities will not include Jaguar or any of the other Premier Group brands. Scheele wants to strengthen the Ford brand in markets where it has been weak, especially Europe's largest single market, Germany.
As for Reitzle, he will come to Ford bringing more than just his ample talent and energy.
'He knows the strategy and thinking of the BMW model program for the next 10 or 11 years,' Rhys said. 'That's a nice piece to bring with you.'
Rhys predicted Reitzle would come back to haunt the company whose top job he declined to take in a stormy Feb. 5 board meeting.
Said Rhys: 'Reitzle is going to take the Bavarians apart brick by brick.'