AMSTERDAM -- Volkswagen AG's new anti-corruption czar, Kurt Michels, has reorganized the automaker's compliance system as he seeks to eliminate the culture that helped its diesel emissions cheating remain undetected for years.
Instead of 25 standalone systems for the group's different brands and companies -- which include luxury marques such as Porsche, Audi and Bentley and the mass-market VW, Skoda and Seat brands -- VW Group will have one central investigation office. Porsche and Audi, as well as VW's MAN and Scania heavy truck divisions, also get additional investigation offices.
VW said the reform will give the automaker "a better perspective" on compliance issues and help it to determine whether a problem is confined to a specific area or company, or whether it affects the entire group.
The reorganization is also designed to encourage also gives whistleblowers, both employees and people who do business with VW, to report unethical behavior. Michels said he wants to stamp out a "culture of silence" at VW that enabled the diesel emissions cheating to remain undetected for so long.
The company had taken a "blue sky and sunshine" approach to corporate governance in the past and it would be wrong to think a company of its size and scope could escape any further incidents, he said. "Believe me, we will have the next storm, the next hurricane -- with such a global company. And the challenge is to really to implement a robust compliance management system to help us to survive,” Michels said at a congress here hosted by Compliance Week.
Michels said integrity is now more important than ever at VW after the automaker was found to have rigged diesel engines to cheat tests for harmful NOx emissions. "It was the starting point of a cultural change in the company," he said.
Michels wants workers to feel empowered to speak up to their bosses or blow the whistle. Previously, VW had two lawyers serving as ombudsmen but they were based in Frankfurt, a long distance from VW’s headquarters in Wolfsburg. They had little connection to the company or its workers and may not have enjoyed the trust needed for an employee to step forward.
"Now we have an internal whistleblower system, where you can talk to your colleagues in the compliance department, so you don’t have to call outsiders," Michels said. "You can still call the lawyers nevertheless, you can issue topics anonymously. We try to open every channel available."