Ferdinand Piech started out his career with a pretty serious rivalry -- tangling with cousin Ferdinand "Butzi" Porsche, designer of the 911. Now it appears he'll bow out in more or less the same fashion. At war.
It's just his style. In fact, it will be his legacy.
The dueling cousins went at it so hard that in 1971, a frustrated Ferry Porsche, Butzi's father, cast all family members out of the sports car company.
Piech moved to Audi and sharp-elbowed his way up the ladder, taking over as head of product development, then conspiring against CEO Wolfgang Habbel. He replaced Habbel in 1987 even though Carl Hahn, Volkswagen's CEO, wanted another man for the Audi job. Then Piech got himself named Hahn's successor, outwitting his boss even as Hahn was courting a different candidate.
A series of star-crossed executives followed Piech at Audi -- and one by one failed to satisfy him. His direct replacement, Franz-Josef Kortuem, took over in 1993 and lasted barely a year. Herbert Demel, who was next in line, increased Audi's sales but got in trouble for sounding too ambitious. Franz-Josef Paefgen followed, but instead of moving on to Wolfsburg when Piech retired as CEO wound up running tiny Bentley. Martin Winterkorn took over in 2002, and Piech finally had an Audi chief he seemed to appreciate.
Piech hired Bernd Pischetsrieder as VW's CEO, but as supervisory board chairman, Piech continued to wield enormous power. Within three years, he began to publicly criticize the ex-BMW chief and in 2006 replaced him with Winterkorn.
Winterkorn has been Piech's alter ego, and for eight years, they've had a relationship that seemed to work. But even the favorites eventually fall out of favor with Piech. Alas, the chairman has begun to criticize Winterkorn in public.
In his long career, Piech, 78, has achieved far more than he gets credit for. Imagine present-day VW and Audi without his influence. Also, imagine his reputation if he hadn't left the landscape littered with so many bodies.