Volkswagen Group CEO Martin Winterkorn sent an unmistakable message this month when he orchestrated a series of senior management changes. To reach the pinnacle of the global auto industry -- VW's declared ambition -- you must be tough and sometimes even cruel.
This is what VW China chief Karl-Thomas Neumann, Audi development chief Michael Dick and Audi sales chief Peter Schwarzenbauer have learned. They are no longer part of Winterkorn's and Supervisory Board Chairman Ferdinand Piech's plans.
No one in VW's upper management ranks should feel too secure. It can happen to Dick, whom Piech has known for decades, or Neumann, who always had a warm relationship with Winterkorn, if the results aren't right, mistakes pile up or a better candidate becomes available.
That's what happened with Audi's development chief. Dick, 60, advanced the brand technologically. The A4, A5 and A6 are benchmarks in their segments in many respects -- for example in lightweight construction, Piech's favorite topic.
But Dick apparently lacked vision beyond conventional vehicle manufacturing. People say his replacement, Bentley CEO Wolfgang Duerheimer, 53, has such a vision. He pushed the envelope of technical feasibility and fuel consumption on the Porsche 918 concept while Porsche's head of r&d from 2001 through 2011.
Duerheimer, who felt unchallenged as Bentley chief, now can prove himself as the Audi development chief and position himself for even greater responsibilities.