VW Top Board Member Meeting Yields No Plan for Defusing CEO Spat

(Bloomberg) — A Volkswagen AG supervisory board panel ended a three-hour meeting without a concrete proposal for defusing internal tensions over Chief Executive Officer Herbert Diess’s desire for a contract extension and more dramatic changes at the world’s largest automaker.



a man in a suit and tie: Herbert Diess, chief executive officer of Volkswagen AG (VW), and president of the board of directors at Seat SA, gestures as he speaks during a news conference at Casa Seat in Barcelona, Spain, on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. European auto stocks are emerging as a surprise winner as the coronavirus pandemic grinds on, with some analysts saying the outbreak is causing changes in consumer behavior that bode well for the industry and for share prices.


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Herbert Diess, chief executive officer of Volkswagen AG (VW), and president of the board of directors at Seat SA, gestures as he speaks during a news conference at Casa Seat in Barcelona, Spain, on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. European auto stocks are emerging as a surprise winner as the coronavirus pandemic grinds on, with some analysts saying the outbreak is causing changes in consumer behavior that bode well for the industry and for share prices.

More talks are required ahead of a meeting of the full supervisory board next week, according to people familiar with the outcome of Tuesday’s gathering. Discussions about Diess, 62, and selections for top management posts will continue in the coming days, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the conversations are private.

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VW representatives declined to comment.

A dispute over who should fill openings for jobs including the finance and purchasing chiefs and Diess’s push to reshape VW spilled into the public last month. Diess wrote a newspaper op-ed in which he referred to the German industrial giant still having “old, encrusted” structures that must be broken up. He’s floated the idea of staying on as CEO beyond his current mandate through April 2023, according to people familiar with the situation, even though his contract would normally be up for renewal a year before it ends.

The meeting on Tuesday was limited to the eight top representatives of key stakeholders. Withholding a fresh vote of confidence for Diess will amount to a “de facto repudiation of his reform plans” and “makes his position less tenable and is likely to trigger a negative share price reaction,” Timm Schulze-Melander, an industry specialist at Redburn, said earlier Tuesday.

Diess, a former BMW AG executive, has ruffled feathers across a sprawling organization known for its convoluted governance and internal politics. Since joining VW as head of the main car brand in 2015, he’s frequently clashed with the company’s powerful labor unions. They’re often backed by the German state of Lower Saxony, which is the second-largest shareholder with a 20% stake.

The Porsche and Piech owner family has supported Diess’s strategy. But the reclusive Austrian billionaire clan that holds a 53% voting stake tends to avoid direct conflicts because unions and Lower Saxony have far-reaching veto rights cemented in the company’s bylaws.

“VW has a truly fascinating opportunity to shape the future of electric, digital and fun mobility,” Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Arndt Ellinghorst, who rates the stock the equivalent of a sell, said in a note Monday. “What it appears to be lacking is the right corporate governance to effectively and sustainably tackle these opportunities.”

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