CHERRY HILL, NEW JERSEY
George Muller, who led Subaru from near death in the mid-1990s, is resigning as president and COO to become a principal in a private equity investment company. He has not set a departure date and will remain with Subaru for a few months as an adviser.
Muller has not named his new employer, which will be announced in a few weeks. In an interview after Subaru's announcement of his resignation, Muller described it as an investment banking business on the U.S. East Coast.
Muller said he thought a long time about whether he wanted to spend the rest of his career with Subaru.
'I really love Subaru,' said Muller, 51, who has been with the company for more than 20 years. 'But I'm ready to do new challenges, to take my experience here and do it again.'
Muller's duties will be split among three executives.
Chairman Takao Saito adds president to his title. Assisting Saito will be Subaru veterans Thomas Doll, senior vice president and CFO; and Fred Adcock, senior vice president of sales. Both men have been named executive vice presidents. They will support Saito on strategic planning and in overseeing daily operations.
Saito and Adcock said that Muller's departure will bring no major changes in product or in the company's strategy or direction.
As Subaru's top American executive since 1993, Muller is credited with one of the most impressive turnarounds in automotive history.
In 1986, after 12 years of record U.S. sales and profits, Subaru reached its peak with unit sales of 186,000 and profits of $94 million. But by 1987, the strong Japanese yen began to erode Subaru's low-price advantage, the company was forced to offer steep discounts. In 1992, the company posted a record loss of $250 million.
Muller was appointed president in July 1993. He took Subaru back to its origin: Front-wheel drive was discarded for all-wheel drive. Subaru's Outback pioneered a new segment - car-based sport-utilities. New advertising featuring actor Paul 'Crocodile Dundee' Hogan helped establish Subaru as a premium brand. Since 1992, Subaru revenues have nearly tripled from $1.3 billion to a record $3.3 billion in 1999.