Carl-Peter Forster has waited to show the automotive world what he can do since his frustrating and untimely departure from BMW AG in March 2000.
Forster, 46, was considered the heir-apparent to Joachim Milberg for BMW's top job. But he and two other executives, Wolfgang Ziebart and Henrich Heitmann, disagreed with Milberg over the way BMW's sale of Rover Group was handled, and they were fired.
The three executives wanted to close Rover, not sell it, sources say.
Forster quickly became the subject of speculation that he would replace Robert Hendry as chairman of Adam Opel AG - conjecture about to be validated, company sources say.
Held back until now by contract restrictions, Forster's ascension to the top job at General Motors' German unit will occur April 1, the sources say. He will be the first German head of Opel in 12 years, after four Americans.
German speaker wanted
Hendry, 56, previously had announced his intention to step down on March 31, two years early. He was brought in as chairman from Saab Automobile AB with a mandate to fix Opel's sagging market share and red ink - goals that eluded him.
GM and Opel executives have wanted a German executive to replace Hendry, who does not speak German.
GM's biggest European unit long has been a focus of controversy and a tough assignment for the American career GM executives who have run the German company.
An engineer takes over
Forster likely will have an easier time dealing with Opel's contentious work force and often polarized management ranks, sources say.
Former associates call him an urbane and sophisticated executive with a grasp of all the elements of running a carmaker. Unlike the finance types who have managed Opel, he is an engineer. Born in London in 1954, he speaks English fluently.
He is a strong motivator with an intuitive sense of customer, sales and marketing issues, colleagues say. His leadership style is forceful and sometimes even demanding. He is a persuasive speaker with a salesman's ability for making other people see things his way.
'He is extremely self-assured, a trait some critics might see as arrogance,' said one former BMW executive who worked closely with him.
'He is a fast learner, capable of quickly mastering the facts he needs to make decisions. He is impatient to get rapid results.'
Such attributes will serve him well at troubled Opel.
Forster will have to deal with sliding market share and poor financial results. Opel's operating loss last year widened to 982 million German marks - about $450 million at current rates - from 275 million marks the year before.
Market share in Germany, Opel's largest market, shrank to 12.2 percent from 13.8 percent.
One insider predicts Forster will work quickly to change Opel's image by putting a strong accent on branding. Known for setting tough targets, Forster will challenge the sales department to rise to the task.
'Since he can't quickly change the product lineup, he will focus on creating added value in the existing products by improving current lines and adding special editions,' said a source.
Trained as an aerospace engineer, Forster joined BMW in 1986 as a section manager in charge of planning, logistics and quality assurance for development vehicles in BMW's product development division.
He rose swiftly through the BMW ranks, becoming project manager of the 5 series, then head of BMW's concept car operation from 1990 to 1993.He went on to take charge of the entire 5 series business before becoming head of BMW South Africa in 1996.
He was named to BMW's management board as head of engineering and production in February 1999.