2011 Man of the Year: Ferdinand Piech

Jeff Kronen

It has always been quite easy to fall out of favor with the chairman of the supervisory board-all it takes, in his own words, is "to make the same mistake twice." The long list of casualties ranges from señor José Ignacio López de Arriortúa and former Audi chiefs Herbert Demel and Franz-Josef Kortüm to messieurs Bernd Pischetsrieder and Wendelin Wiedeking. Those who intimately know Piëch claim that he has mellowed considerably over the last few years, perhaps to spend more time with his ocean-yacht-in-the-making, his three Bugattis (two Veyrons of his own and a Royale owned by Volkswagen), and with his refreshingly down-to-earth wife, who is living proof that opposites attract.

At the age of 73, Piëch must be thinking about retiring from the supervisory board, but he'll never stop his behind-the-scenes machinations for as long as he lives. The next challenge is the integration of Porsche. This looks like it will be a more arduous task than expected, but if he succeeds, Ferdinand Piëch would not only be the uncrowned master of the automotive universe, he could also outshine his grandfather, Ferdinand Porsche. Since not even Piëch can buy an extended-stay ticket for his one life, he recently made a will that cannot be contested by either his wife or by his children. The means to this end are two foundations labeled Ferdinand Karl Alpha and Ferdinand Karl Beta, which were established to ensure "a safe and sustainable future for all automotive brands concerned." What Piëch deliberately forgot is to name a successor -- perhaps because he knows it'd take a superhuman to follow in his footsteps.

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If Ferdinand Piech is so ruthless, I do not understand why he would allow a family member of Hakan Samuelsson to work within a division of MAN Truck and Bus.
It's been about 20 years since a very amusing illustration of Dr. Piech first appeared in Car magazine. It depicted the torso a man, who was presumably Ernst Blofeld the arch-villain of James Bond fame, seated in the rear seat of a limo. He was stroking a Persian cat with a VW medallion hanging from its' neck. This vision has lived with me and had real life parallels in the subsequent years.

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