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Volkswagen Replaces Chairman
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Three years after the emissions scandal, Volkswagen is replacing another chairman. Matthias Müller replaced Martin Winterkorn, who was ousted soon after the news broke in 2015. But Müller was another insider and hasn't led the turnaround the board expected.

 

Like Winterkorn, Müller struggled with public relations. During a 2016 NPR interview, Müller claimed the company misunderstood the American environmental law: “We didn’t lie. We didn’t understand the question [at] first.” After much criticism, VW’s communications department asked for another interview, which was granted. He delivered a better apology but blamed the first interview on “all these colleagues of yours and everybody shouting.” In other words, it was noisy. 

 

As is customary in corporate change announcements, Chairman of the Supervisory Board Hans Dieter Pötsch spoke positively about the outgoing executive:

 

“Matthias Müller has done outstanding work for the Volkswagen Group. He assumed the chairmanship of the Board of Management in the fall of 2015 when the Company faced the greatest challenge in its history. Not only did he safely navigate Volkswagen through that time; together with his team, he also fundamentally realigned the Group’s strategy, initiated cultural change and, with great personal commitment, made sure that the Volkswagen Group not just stayed on track but is now more robust than ever before. For that, he is due the thanks of the entire Company.”

 

The new chairman, Dr. Herbert Diess, offers more hope. Diess joined the board in 2015 and is known for having conflicts with the union and for cost-cutting. He may shake up the status quo at VW and inspire real action. The company has aggressive plans, including building greener cars—for real this time.

 

Image source (VW cover).
Image source (Diess).

 

 

Discussion:

 

  • Assess the company's statement about this change. Who are the primary and secondary audiences? What are the communication objectives? How well does the statement meet those objectives?
  • Why do these statements typically include positive quotes about outgoing executives, even if they are asked to leave or, as this statement indicates, they leave "by mutual agreement"?
  • What lessons do you think Volkswagen learned since the scandal?
  • Why would the board appoint someone who is considered divisive?
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