Economy & Politics

ColumnThe fatal procrastination of the VW owners

Capital columnist Bernd Ziesemer columnist Bernd ZiesemerMartin Kress

Curtain up for the next tragic comedy in Wolfsburg, held on the open stage as always, top-class with the usual protagonists from the board and works council. What is really about the new dispute between CEO Herbert Diess and his eloquent opponent from the works council, Bernd Osterloh, you don’t really know. Somehow, of course, about personal details, but as always not alone, but also about ego shoots of all kinds and power itself. And as always, the choir of the claqueurs is divided into two neatly separated camps: one blames Diess, the other Osterloh.

But what does the supervisory board do? He is a little like the Greek gods on Olympus, who watch the goatsong of all the lowly people at their feet with slight anger and great perplexity. It is one of the special conditions in the VW Group that most of the supervisors have nothing to say anyway. All important decisions are made in the Presidium of the Supervisory Board, where eight members now sit across from one another. On the capital side, the Chairman of the Supervisory Board Hans Dieter Pötsch, the major shareholders Wolfgang Porsche and Hans Michel Piëch, and Lower Saxony’s Prime Minister Stephan Weil take their places; the Osterloh warehouse from IG Metall on the employee bench.

The presidium split up again last week without taking a decision. It was like this in almost every crisis at VW in the past. A lot of talk, a lot of bullshit, but little action. Now the Diess-Osterloh case comes again before the plenum of the supervisory board, which is to meet this week. It will be interesting to see what will come of it. If things go as they did in the past, everything ends again with those half-decisions that have now become the trademark of the VW Supervisory Board.

VW owners shy away from showdown

The real guilt for the tricky conditions in the management of the VW group is borne by the Porsche Piëch clan. With her majority of shares, she could ensure clear relationships, but has been shy of showdowns for years. Wolfgang Porsche is considered an eternal procrastinator who would so much like to live in harmony and who therefore shies away from any tough decision. His cousin Hans Michel Piëch, who is the largest shareholder, has only been on the Presidium since the middle of this year and does not provide more clarity either. The SPD politician Weil is partly to blame for the muddled situation because, for political and tactical reasons, he does not behave like a representative of the capital side, but as an eternal mediator between the Diess and Osterloh camps. The bottom line is that this only benefits the VW works council. You have a power like no other Dax 30 group.

Without the behavior of the Porsche-Piëch family, who like to duck away even in conflicts and at the same time look for little dictators as VW bosses so that everything continues anyway, the diesel fraud affair would not have been possible, which cost well over 20 billion euros. Has devoured euros. The costs of smaller and larger power struggles like now are difficult to quantify, but in the end they, too, go into the money.

Bernd Ziesemer is a capital columnist. The business journalist was editor-in-chief of the Handelsblatt from 2002 to 2010. He then was managing director of the corporate publishing division of the Hoffmann und Campe publishing house until 2014. Ziesemer’s column appears regularly on You can follow him on Twitter here.


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