BRUSSELS - Robert Hendry says he resigned from Adam Opel AG because the company needs to be run by a 'European-born, German national' and because of strife between him and members of the company's supervisory board. Opel's losses played a big role, too.
Hendry said he launched the search for a German to run Opel long before rumors surfaced that former BMW manufacturing chief Carl-Peter Forster was being considered. Hendry said that when he took the Opel job in 1998, he made it clear to GM top executives Jack Smith and Rick Wagoner that he wanted to find the right successor.
'They agreed to that,' Hendry said. 'I immediately started talking to people.'
He expressed surprise that only one candidate's name, Forster's, has surfaced publicly. He said several people are being considered.
Hendry said he knows the market as well as any European executive, but having a German at the helm will help Opel deal with dealers and political pressures.
He said he has achieved two main goals as chairman - refocusing Opel as a brand and revitalizing its product range.
But last year's unexpected downturn in Opel's home market was a jolt. While sales in Germany fell 12 percent, Opel sales plunged by 100,000 vehicles, or 20 percent. Said Hendry: 'That 100,000-unit reduction took us from breaking even to a loss.' Opel had an operating loss of $472 million last year. Another factor: comments in the press from his critics on the supervisory board.
'These things created a cloud that prevents Opel from doing what it can now do in the market,' Hendry said. 'We have done dramatically better, but dealers tell me their potential is being held back by this noise.'
Hendry said he made his decision to leave during the Christmas holidays, after consulting with Smith and Wagoner.
'Jack and Rick were surprised and not sure if it was the right thing to do,' Hendry said. Hendry is discussing 'global initiative' projects with Wagoner but doesn't know where he'll be located.
Wasn't his search for a new chairman a sign he didn't intend to stay the full five years anyway? 'It is difficult to clearly say,' Hendry said. 'It was always my intent to find that person. I do have a five-year contract, and the supervisory board could have said no. What happened last year to profitability changed things.'