Today’s demise of Wendelin Wiedeking as Porsche chairman is no surprise – the news has been trailed on-and-off for weeks. But the reason for his resignation still comes as a major shock.
Of all the car industry bosses to mis-calculate a financial or strategic deal, you would guess that Wiedeking would be the last to fall into that trap. But that’s what exactly has happened — the disastrous hostile takeover of VW that’s saddled Porsche with £10b of debt has cost the boss his job.
The most interesting fact here is that Wiedeking set himself up as a critic of the financial excesses of takeover capitalism, using the key note speech at the Autocar awards in 2005 to lay into city financiers circling Volkswagen.
Porsche had just bought a share in VW, a strategy that he explained as a defensive position to protect one of its major suppliers. “Some major funds had already started to kick around VW and they have been thwarted,” he proudly announced.
Although I always wondered if that was a cover story for the full-on takeover that developed? And one day it’ll be fascinating to hear from him the real reasons why he thought Porsche should try to emulate the corporate raiders he clearly disliked
I’d also love to know whether the strategy was driven by a fear that Porsche has no future as an independent maker of luxury cars, despite a number of years as the world’s most profitable car company.
If true, it doesn’t bode well for other car-makers planning an independent future built around volume of about 100k to 150k cars a year.
But it’s much better to remember Wiedeking as one of the industry’s most successful recent leaders and one of its longest-serving top bosses. In fact at the moment I can’t think of any current chairman/CEO who was also in the job in 1993, 16 years ago.
Back then Wiedeking can justifiably claim to have saved Porsche, which was on the ropes in the early 90s.
Production had dropped from 50,000 in the mid-80s to just 15,000 by 1992/93, when the company recorded the biggest loss in its history.Porsche had lost its way with its cars, the 968 was seen as a poor second to the TVR Griffith and the last-iteration of the air-cooled 911, the 993, was a stop-gap until a new platform could be developed to meet future noise and crash regulations.
Into this maelstrom in 1991 strode Wiedeking, a production engineer who returned to Porsche as production/purchasing chief and then took over from interim boss Heinz Branitzki. who was holding the struggling company together.
As an industry unknown, his appointment wasn’t exactly greeted with a fanfare, but he turned out to be a brilliant strategist and exactly the right man for the job as it then was.
He agreed the single platform 911/Boxster strategy to much moaning, but which turned out to be the vital decision that rescued Porsche’s finances.
And then he took the calculated risk to launch the Cayenne, now Porsche’s best-seller. And the Panamera is shaping up to answer its critics by mixing four-doors with Porsche driving dynamics.