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Volkswagen Nabs Potential New Audi Chief from BMW Amid Turmoil

July 24, 2018
Audi is being led by an interim CEO after former boss’s arrest.

Volkswagen AG poached BMW AG’s purchasing chief Markus Duesmann, lining up a possible successor for its luxury Audi brand’s long-time boss following his surprise arrest last month.

Duesmann, 49, will join Volkswagen’s management board in an undefined role as soon as possible, the Wolfsburg-based company said Tuesday in a statement. He will be a top contender to eventually replace Audi’s interim Chief Executive Officer Bram Schot, according to people familiar with the matter.

Duesmann is also being considered for other top positions within the group, depending on when he can resolve contractual obligations to BMW, the people said. “No decision has been made yet regarding responsibilities” for the executive, a spokesman for VW’s supervisory board said by phone.

Restoring Audi’s muscle is vital for Volkswagen. The upscale brand fell behind BMW and Mercedes-Benz in profitability and deliveries in recent years. The woes culminated last month with the arrest of now-suspended CEO Rupert Stadler. The long-time Audi boss, who also oversaw groupwide sales activities for Volkswagen, is still incarcerated over allegations that he tried to tamper with evidence in the diesel-cheating scandal.

Duesmann’s start date at VW has yet to be determined as his contract with BMW only expires in the fall of next year and includes a clause that prevents him from joining a rival straight away, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. BMW’s supervisory board will discuss the matter Tuesday, they said. A spokesman for the Munich-based manufacturer declined to comment.

With Duesmann’s hiring, Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess, who joined the automaker from BMW in 2015, is pushing ahead with an overhaul of the management ranks. To speed up decision making and make the German giant more nimble, the initiative includes hiring more external executives at a manufacturer that has been dominated for years by home-grown managers.

Many VW lifers have left the company since the diesel scandal erupted in September 2015. Stadler, whose future is in limbo following the arrest, and China chief Jochem Heizmann are among the few remaining long-time members of the group’s senior management ranks.

“For VW’s Diess, it is proof of leadership and skill to attract top talent,” Arndt Ellinghorst, a London-based analyst at Evercore ISI, said in a note to clients. “We expect Audi will benefit from his fresh style and technical background.”

Volkswagen shares rose as much as 3.6% and were up 3.5% to 150.94 euros at 11:42 a.m. in Frankfurt trading. The stock has fallen 9.3% this year, valuing the company at 74.8 billion euros ($87.4 billion).

Formula 1

Duesmann, a mechanical engineer born in a small municipality called Heek close to the Dutch border, joined BMW from Daimler AG’s Mercedes in 2007, where he was head of Formula 1 development. He became BMW’s purchasing chief, a role previously filled by Volkswagen’s Diess, in 2016.

His departure is a surprise for BMW, where he was one of CEO Harald Krueger’s close confidantes and could now set himself up as a major rival. Audi has long held ambitions to challenge for the top spot and is a critical part of Diess’s plans to transform Volkswagen into a leader of self-driving, electric cars.

Interim CEO Schot -- a sales expert who lacks an engineering background -- is considered a long shot to permanently lead the world’s third-largest luxury-car brand given its technology-driven cachet.

By Christoph Rauwald

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Licensed content from Bloomberg, copyright 2016.

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