SEOUL -- Hyundai Motor appointed Albert Biermann, a former BMW executive, as its first foreign head of research and development, raising expectations of a smooth transition of power at the family-run business empire.
German national Biermann replaces longtime executives Yang Woong-chul and Kwon Moon-sik. The move was seen as a significant step to bring in fresh ideas at the Korean-dominated group.
His appointment is part of a shake-up of the executive ranks at South Korea's second-largest family-owned business empire.
In all, 17 top executives were reassigned across the group including at Hyundai and Kia, which together form the world's fifth-biggest automaker.
The management shuffle follows the promotion of Euisun Chung in September to Hyundai Motor's executive vice chairman, moving him closer to succeeding his 80-year-old father, Mong-Koo Chung, as group chairman.
Biermann, a former BMW performance vehicle development executive, is one of several foreign executives that heir apparent Chung, 48, has brought into the traditionally Korean-dominated group.
In October, Thomas Schemera, also a former BMW executive, was appointed to lead product planning for autonomous cars, connected and electrified vehicles, while Luc Donckerwolke, a former Bentley design chief, was appointed to oversee design at Hyundai and Kia.
The group has previously appointed new senior executives at its overseas operations, including China and the U.S.
Hyundai Motor chief innovation officer Youngcho Chi was promoted to president, as the automaker tries to catch up with its rivals in future technologies such as car-sharing.
The shake up signals that the junior Chung was making progress with his plans to restructure the sprawling group after a previous plan was scrapped due to opposition from U.S. hedge fund Elliott. "The reshuffle signals that the junior Chung is tightening his grip on the conglomerate, a move which raises investors' hopes for change," said Kim Joon-sung, an analyst at Meritz Securities.
The changes come as Hyundai battles to reverse falling profits as a result of U.S. recall costs and weak sales in the U.S. and Chinese markets.
In a sign that Chairman Chung's grip may be weakening, one of his closest lieutenants, Hyundai Motor Vice Chairman Kim Yong-hwan, was reassigned away from the core automaker and named vice chairman of steelmaking affiliate Hyundai Steel.
A person familiar with the matter told Reuters on Tuesday that the reshuffle was "part of a generational change [the junior] Chung is pushing for."