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Industryweek 13643 Mueller Porsche

'Imperturbable' Porsche Chief Takes Wheel at Volkswagen

Sept. 25, 2015
Mueller, born in the former communist East Germany, had already been tipped to take over VW during a bitter leadership struggle earlier this year.

FRANKFURT -- Matthias Mueller, head of luxury sports car maker Porsche now taking the steering wheel at scandal-hit Volkswagen, is a man described as "The Imperturbable."

That quality might serve the 62-year-old well as he takes charge of the carmaker now mired in its deepest crisis ever over a massive emissions test scam. 

"We will overcome this crisis," vowed the white-haired and blue-eyed manager, a trained tool maker and IT expert, pledging to "restore confidence... through an unsparing investigation and maximum transparency."

Mueller, born in the former communist East Germany, had already been tipped to take over VW during a bitter leadership struggle earlier this year between outgoing CEO Martin Winterkorn and his one-time mentor and former supervisory board chief Ferdinand Piech.

It was Winterkorn who eventually won that battle, only to fall this week over the pollution cheating revelations, the biggest scandal ever to hit VW.

The careers of Mueller and Winterkorn are closely interlinked.

They already worked together at VW's top-line brand, Audi, in Ingolstadt in Bavaria, where Mueller began his career; Winterkorn was appointed chief in 2002.

At roughly the same time Winterkorn was appointed CEO of the entire VW group in 2007, meantime, Mueller went to Wolfsburg, too, where he took charge of the projects department. He was subsequently made a general representative of the group. 

Football Fan

Born on June 9, 1953, in Limbach-Oberfrohna in what is now the eastern part of reunited Germany, Mueller fled communism to the neighbouring West German regional state of Bavaria with his parents. 

He has told the daily Die Welt that he originally wanted to become a professional football player.

He is still an avid soccer fan and supporter of FC Bayern and Stuttgarter Kickers, according to the mass-circulation daily Bild.

But in the end, Mueller trained as a tool maker at Audi and went on to study information technology in Munich. 

According to Die Welt, Mueller is a man "who loves cars and who loves people who love cars." 

His first car was a VW Beetle and he now owns an Audi TT and Porsche 911, according to Bild. He also occasionally likes to go for a jaunt in the legendary Porsche 550 Spyder sports car that he borrows from Porsche's own museum.

Die Welt dubbed him "The Imperturbable," saying he was someone who knows how to use his elbows. 

"But I don't see it as playing foul, rather as a sign of perseverance and mettle," the newspaper quoted Mueller as saying. 

Uwe Hueck, head of Porsche's works committee, said Mueller "has the whiff of Porsche about him. His engine is seated lower and he has wide tyres."

Mueller--who tends to lapse into a strong Bavarian dialect when not on duty--was appointed CEO at Porsche in 2010, not long after VW had emerged victorious in its tortuous takeover battle with Porsche.

As far back as 2005, Porsche hatched an audacious plan to take control of VW, which was 15 times larger than Porsche.

But the plan ran out of steam a result of the financial crisis and failed to win enough support from VW's shareholders. This led to VW turning the tables on Porsche and taking over the sports car maker.

As Porsche CEO, Mueller also sits on Volkswagen's management board. 

In March this year, he was able to present record annual sales, turnover and profit for the sports car maker. 

"Porsche has come along very successfully and is now in better shape than ever before," he beamed. 

Management Style

In a recent interview with the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Mueller noted the difference in the corporate cultures of both companies. 

Porsche was "almost like a family company with 20,000 employees," while VW in Wolfsburg "was in charge of 600,000 people around the world," he said.

Different management styles were therefore needed. 

"Just because something works here with us in Stuttgart, that doesn't mean to say it will function in Wolfsburg," Mueller said.

He saw himself as an "approachable team-player," who tried "to push through his decisions in a collegial and harmonious way." 

But Mueller added that he could also be "pretty forceful. I don't like it when things are talked to death."

In the public debate about the massive influx of refugees into Germany, Mueller takes a very clear stance. 

"We have to oppose and stand up to extremism," he told Sueddeutsche Zeitung. 

"People from 56 different countries work at Porsche. I don't think I need to say any more." 

It was high time that "industry bosses made their opinions known about certain issues," he said.

Now that Mueller has taken over from Winterkorn at the helm of VW, one of Germany's biggest companies, his words are likely to carry even more clout. 

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2015.

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