What does Ferdinand Piech's downfall at Volkswagen remind me of?
Let's see, patriarch of giant auto group and acclaimed automotive genius late in life squabbles with members of his own family and is forced to give up power.
It brings to mind the final days of Henry Ford I's career, of course.
In 1945, old Henry had supposedly ceded power to others but was still pulling the strings at Ford Motor Co. -- with disastrous results. His daughter-in-law, Edsel Ford's widow, Eleanor, threatened to sell her voting shares on the open market unless her son, Henry II, was installed as president.
Unpleasant endings to otherwise brilliant automotive careers are fairly common.
Lee Iacocca saved Chrysler, but before retiring in 1992 was accused of hanging on too long and botching the CEO succession. (The joke was that his last name stood for "I am chairman of Chrysler Corp. always.")
He did further damage to himself a couple of years later by joining billionaire Kirk Kerkorian's ill-fated bid to take over Chrysler.
Happily, Iacocca has outlived all that, and his reputation is secure.
Eberhard von Kuenheim transformed BMW into a global powerhouse during 23 years as CEO. But after stepping down in 1993 and becoming supervisory board chairman, he was criticized for meddling with management. In fact, one of his critics was Piech.
"Von Kuenheim destroyed in five years everything he built up," Piech told me in a 2004 interview. "I learned a lot from that about how I should do it. I never go to Wolfsburg, and I never go into the company without Mr. [Bernd] Pischetsrieder, today's chairman."
Except that Piech did not follow his own advice with regard to Pischetsrieder and Pischetsrieder's successor, Martin Winterkorn.
Piech also told me in that interview: "I think you should have to know when to finish. I would say it is the most difficult decision in everybody's life -- when to retire -- because at the top of your power, you can be an egoist. You can stay until everyone sees that you are tired."