Wendelin Wiedeking, the man who turned Porsche around in the 1990s and transformed it into a global cash cow, was given his marching orders last week. Off he went, assuming the controls, albeit momentarily, to the most powerful golden ejector seat ever to be ridden by a European industry boss in the form of an astonishing £86m pay-off.
More incredible still, Wiedeking's introduction to das-boot, was administered to him personally by none other than “Herr Volkswagen” himself, Ferdinand Piech, the 72 year old grandson of Porsche’s founder, Ferdinand Porsche. As they say in the movies, you couldn’t make it up if you tried.
Often referred to as the saviour of Porsche, Wendelin Wiedeking is widely credited with rescuing the company from certain bankruptcy when he took over in 1993. Since then, Porsche’s rise to fame has been well documented. Until recently the company has posted record profits year on year while staying faithful to its cause in terms of product. In many ways, it has achieved the impossible under the guidance of Wiedeking.
Ironically, though, Porsche’s extraordinary ascendancy might be what did for its so-called saviour in the final reckoning. Because no one, not even Wendelin Wiedeking, is bigger than Porsche itself, especially not if Ferdinand Piech has any say over the matter, which is very much the case in this instance.
Until recently, although Piech and Wiedeking have hardly been considered best friends, there was no obvious animosity as such between the two men. On the surface, or certainly until the financial crisis hit last year, Wiedeking appeared to be getting on with the job of running Porsche just fine while Piech was retired from the industry front line, even though he continued to wield influence behind closed doors.
But then several events unfolded, including a dramatic drop off in sales as a result of the financial crisis, at which point the relationship between the two men became somewhat strained.
The first blow was actually struck by Piech several years ago when he dismissed VW chairman, Bernd Piechetsrieder, seemingly on a whim, but only after – or perhaps because – Wiedeking had helped him extend his contract for another five years, without Piech’s prior approval. A year or two later, though, Wiedeking made a key move and tried to split the Porsche dynasty into two opposing groups, with Piech on one side and the family members on the other. The ultimate prize as far as the family, and Wiedeking, were concerned was the outright ownership of VW, something Mr Piech was not exactly keen to see take place.
To achieve this seemingly outrageous goal, Wiedeking quietly went about buying options in VW shares, borrowing huge sums of money to do so on a market that, at the time, was in freefall. And for one fleeting moment in October last year he looked like he might have actually pulled it off.
In what appeared to be the take over of the millennia, Wiedeking claimed publicly that Porsche had acquired options to an incredible 75 per cent of VW’s shares, at which point Mr Piech, you suspect, went a very deep shade of purple somewhere deep within the bowels of Lower Saxony. That was probably the moment when Wiedeking’s future as the head of Porsche was ultimately determined.
Because since then Piech has done everything in his power to break Wiedeking’s grasp over his two favourite car companies, calling in debts and favours from all quarters of the globe to make sure he achieves his aim; to get rid of Wendelin Wiedeking. Ironically, the global financial crisis might even have come to Piech’s rescue in the end, providing him with the platform to undermine Wiedeking’s power and, perhaps, to exploit his over-ambition.
Now it’s game over for the one-time saviour of Porsche - albeit with the small matter of £86m to fall back upon.
Not a bad way to ease to pain of defeat, it must be noted.