The most prominent automotive industrialist in the second half of the 20th century is still running the show at his family’s company, Volkswagen.
Today, Ferdinand Piech, Volkswagen Group Chairman and the most prominent automotive industrialist since the World War II, is celebrating his 75th birthday. His grandfather, Professor Ferdinand Porsche, was a Hitler favorite and his father, Anton Piech, was appointed manager of the first Volkswagen factory at the end of the 1930s. For the Porsche and Piech families, business, even to this day, was always a family matter.
During WWII while playing with his toys under the family's dining table, young Piech listened carefully to his two elders and their colleagues discussing professional matters. His grandfather was involved in design and production of tanks and other armored vehicles for the Wehrmacht. Hearing those discussions, Piech became envious of his grandfather and his passion for everything motorized became second nature to him. His only regret, and maybe the driving force behind his all-encompassing, all-consuming ambition, was the lack of the Porsche family name on his ID.
After graduating from a Swiss polytechnic Piech joined the family's company and became head of the R&D department. He was involved in designing the first Porsche 911's boxer engine and later was the driving force behind a series of famous and technically advanced race winning machines, the most famous of them was the Porsche 917. At the beginning of the '70s he was forced to quit Porsche after the family elders decided that the company would be run by non-family members. Following a short spell with Daimler he joined Audi and with it the mainstream industry. He was responsible for the revival of the Audi brand, with the Quattro and the Audi 100.
At the beginning of the '90s he became Volkswagen Group CEO and started an acquisition spree as he bought Skoda, Seat, Lamborghini, Bentley, Bugatti, MAN SE and Scania and set the pace for the group's growth and the template for its industrial might. He was involved with the Audi A8, Volkswagen Phaeton, Bugatti Veyron and the one-liter concept car (one liter of fuel for a hundred km) that 10 years ago he drove to VW AGM on his last day on the job. When he retired he became Chairman of VW Supervisory Board, usually a symbolic function in corporate Germany, but not when Piech is the senior officer.
In the 10 years since he nominated his people to lead the group, he set the target to turn it into the number one global automaker and in a complicated and convoluted process gained family control over the whole of VW group. This was just before Porsche almost went bust, after failing in a takeover bid of Volkswagen Group (Piech, of course, was also on the Supervisory Board of Porsche). Last week his cousin and one of his main rivals, FA Porsche, the designer of the original 911, who was forced to leave Porsche with Piech 40 years ago, died.
His famous grandfather died 61 years ago at the age of 75; however Piech is still here for the long run. Although he recently settled his legacy, he still has plenty of fuel in the tank and electricity in his batteries.