Good morning. David Meyer in Berlin here, filling in for Alan.
Ferdinand Piëch, the Austrian executive and engineer who made Volkswagen a global behemoth, passed away Sunday. And what a legacy he leaves.
The scion of the Porsche family, he began his career at the eponymous company before family tensions saw him leave and (via a consultancy stint) join Volkswagen-owned Audi, where he eventually became CEO. Between 1993 and 2002, he was CEO at the Volkswagen Group itself, and he took the operation seriously upmarket—Lamborghini, Bentley and Bugatti all became part of the group during that tenure.
Piëch’s downfall came just before the Dieselgate scandal broke. Having been VW’s board chairman since stepping down as CEO, in early 2015 he tried to push out then-current CEO Martin Winterkorn, whom he had installed eight years previously. The attempt failed, and Piëch jumped before he himself could be pushed. Winterkorn was out half a year later, after the company’s emissions-test cheating was revealed, and went on to face charges in the U.S. and Germany.
Some have argued that Piëch’s authoritarian management style—”My need for harmony is limited,” he famously said—was in part responsible for that scandal. As VW’s worker’s council later complained, failures were hidden from superiors because the consequences of confession were plain and severe. (Piëch said in 2017 that management found out about the cheating months before the scandal broke.)
Then again, Piëch’s ruthless and exacting style also pulled the Volkswagen Group back from the brink when he took over, and turned the operation into one of the world’s largest automakers. Now forced to leave the diesel era behind, the group is able to make such a massive (if belated) electrification push by virtue of the fact that it can simultaneously roll out the same modular technology across so many brands.
Piëch’s legacy is mixed but unmistakable, and it’s no hyperbole to say a titan of the industry has now passed.
More news below.
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AROUND THE WATER COOLER
Fortune's Michal Lev-Ram has a fascinating piece out this morning about Slack, the enterprise chat darling that recently floated. She writes: "If becoming the one-stop shop for corporate software sounds a lot like Microsoft’s pitch, it is and it isn’t. Ironically, for Slack to succeed, at least in the eyes of Wall Street, it will need to become an enterprise giant much like its rival. But [CEO Stewart] Butterfield is convinced he can continue to push the company into adulthood without forgetting its roots—the simplicity that helped Slack catch on in the first place." Fortune
French President Emmanuel Macron has offered to broker talks between Presidents Trump and Rouhani, in order to secure a new Iranian nuclear deal. Rouhani apparently told Macron he was open to the idea, and Trump said he would agree "if the circumstances were correct." Financial Times
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