When Kriss documented the “Game of Thrones”/House of Cards-like power battle between Volkswagen Group chairman Ferdinand Piëch and CEO Martin Winterkorn last week, I posted the reaction that Piëch is a tough businessman and a shrewd Machiavellian whom I suspected of backing off because he couldn’t win the fight, but already had some play in mind to win the battle.
This week it became obvious he did indeed have such a play in mind, but he must have confided in at least one wrong person. After he lost support from the rest of VW’s top decision makers, including his cousin Wolfgang Porsche and the state of Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen), one of the largest non-family shareholders, Piëch publicly claimed that he would back Winterkorn as well. But in the background, he was secretly rallying other family members to support him in an all-out coup to kick Winterkorn out and replace him with Porsche CEO Matthias Mueller.
When this word of this coup spread, VW’s work council and Lower Saxony forced an emergency board meeting, in which they gave Piëch the choice to either resign on his own, or to be forced out after a vote. A casual observer would now think this was the end of it, but Ferdinand Piëch wouldn’t be Ferdinand Piëch if he wouldn’t still be pulling the strings behind the scenes.
After the Volkswagen management board appointed two of Ferdinand’s nieces to replace him and his wife on the board, he is challenging this appointment and is nominating Wolfgang Reitzle, a former product chief at BMW, and Brigitte Ederer, a former manager at Siemens in place of his nieces.
And he’s not even being totally out of line in doing so, as he’s still the patriarch of the Porsche-Piëch families which hold a combined 51 percent of VW’s ordinary shares. This means he isn’t out of the picture at all yet and he may not even stop trying to force his will upon VW when he’s got one foot in his grave. And at 78 years of age, that could still be a while.
And by the way, after his forced decision to step down, VW’s stock price jumped by almost 4%, which added another € 1,35 billion to the already vast wealth of him and his family members in just the blink of an eye. In the following days that euphoria has already cooled down again, but it is a sign that other shareholders have grown tired of his iron grip on the company. This grip may have loosened just a tiny bit, but give him too much room to maneuver in the background and he’ll strike back with an iron fist.