As Michael Macht replaces Wendelin Wiedeking as the CEO of Porsche AG (PSHG_p.DE), a new era has dawned at the luxury sports carmaker. And the contrast between the two could hardly be greater. Mustachioed Wiedeking is loud, outspoken and boorish, while Macht is clean-shaven, sophisticated and quiet.
Still, the few people who know the new Porsche boss personally are scathing in their critique of the management change. "The boss of Porsche is changing from an emotional visionary to an unimaginative technocrat," says one insider. "One wonders how someone like Macht could stand as a worthy replacement for Wiedeking."
Nevertheless, Macht, a mechanical engineer by trade, has long been Wiedeking's right-hand man. By the same token, Macht's career would have been unthinkable without Wiedeking's support. When Wiedeking came to Porsche in the early 1990s, he reportedly quickly noticed Macht, who was a young engineer at the time. Since then, he has been helping Macht, 48, advance in his career.
Macht came to Porsche in 1990 as a specialist in engine planning. Just one year later, he became head of the labor organization department. In 1992, Wiedeking appointed his protege as his personal assistant, and he kept Macht in that position when he became CEO himself.
A Strong Team
In subsequent years, Wiedeking and Macht were a strong team. They turned the sports car company, which was operating at a loss at the time, into the most profitable carmaker in the world. The secret of their success was the Japanese business philosophy of "kaizen," which emphasizes a lean approach to manufacturing based on constant process optimization.
Using the kaizen philosophy, Wiedeking and Macht streamlined Porsche within a short period of time. Macht also successfully promoted the approach outside the company. As a reward for his efforts, Wiedeking promoted Macht again in 1998, making him head of production, a position Macht has occupied until now.
Industry experts say that Macht made a name for himself as a highly qualified production specialist and efficiency expert during his almost two decades at Porsche. But unlike the imposing Wiedeking, Macht kept a low profile within the company. At the same time, Macht is regarded—both within and outside of Porsche—as being more civil and urbane than his mentor.
The fact that Macht will now be Porsche's CEO as part of an integrated automotive group with Volkswagen (VOWG.DE)—which is expected to take over Porsche AG—comes as no surprise to outside observers. Industry insiders are convinced that Ferdinand Piëch, the head of the VW supervisory board and Wiedeking's archrival, played a key role in Macht's promotion at Porsche. "Macht will be putty in Piëch's hands," comments one industry expert.
Macht will probably never achieve the level of power that his predecessor did. Wiedeking was also CEO of Porsche Automobil Holding, which owns Porsche AG and just over 50 percent of Volkswagen's shares. Instead, Macht will only take over responsibility for production. "The reins will be held much more tightly once (Volkswagen) has the say," says one insider.
But even if Porsche does become just one of 10 auto makes in the VW stable, there will still be plenty of work for Macht. "The biggest task for Porsche's boss will be to fight to establish maneuvering room for the company and not let itself be overly dominated by Volkswagen," says Stefan Bratzel, an expert on the automotive industry at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch Gladbach. "At the same time, he cannot afford to be too confrontational, or he will turn the Volkswagen people against him." If this approach does not work, Bratzel predicts that Porsche could suffer.
Whether Macht is up to this difficult task, Bratzel cannot say. But one thing is clear: The new boss at Porsche is not a fighter like Wiedeking. "Macht is definitely more of a peacemaker," Bratzel says.
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