After two decades, ex-BMW manager Wolfgang Reitzle revealed why and how he was prevented from becoming BMW boss twice.
From Harald Kaiser
The long silence is over. A strong piece of economic history took place in Munich at the beginning of 1999, which only a few outsiders knew in detail. February 5th was a memorable day at BMW, that of big chairs back. Bernd Pischetsrieder, until then BMW boss, was thrown out and Wolfgang Reitzle, Chief Development Officer, was to be his successor. After the unveiling by the "stern", who exclusively reported Pischetsrieder's inglorious departure and the severe misfiring in the BMW management level, the public attention was huge. For days, personal details dominated the headlines and speculation at home and abroad. In the interesting podcast “Alte Schule” on YouTube, Reitzle explains why things turned out differently than planned* after more than 22 years of refined restraint. In the podcast, which went online on September 9, 2021, but apparently remained largely inconspicuous in the media mash, Reitzle chats cheerfully about what happened at the time. The following quotes have been taken from the podcast and the language has been slightly edited here and there.
Pischetsrieder was already "outside"
After Pischetsrieder was recalled in an extraordinary supervisory board meeting on February 5, 1999, he and Reitzle had to leave the conference room, where the 20-member supervisory board was to decide on the successor. A few days earlier there was a meeting with the main BMW shareholders, the Quandt siblings, the chairman of the supervisory board, Eberhard v. Kuenheim and Reitzle. Reitzle presented what he plans to do in the event that he was appointed to the position of boss. Very hard cuts were planned in the group. Kuenheim then signaled to Reitzle that he, Reitzle, was the candidate. On that February 5th, Reitzle Pischetsrieder followed immediately after his recall to the office. Reitzle describes the scene in the podcast as follows: "Pischetsrieder said to me: 'Come on in." He already had a cigar in his hand, put his feet on the desk and said to me very dryly: 'Well, yes, I'm out now, but you're not in yet.' "
"I can't get through it" said von Kuenheim
Reitzle, who quickly realized on the day that he would only have ten supervisory board members on his side in the upcoming election, realized that if he were to become boss, he would hardly have a chance of being able to carry out the tough restructuring measures, which from his point of view would have been necessary. For example, he would have wanted to close or sell the billion-dollar Rover grave, then a subsidiary of BMW, quickly. But under no circumstances did the employee bank on the supervisory board want that. When it became clear that Reitzle would only be able to do so with the help of two votes from supervisory board boss v. Kuenheim can become BMW boss, it was clear to him that he would reject the job and leave, because he would have needed full support from the employee representatives for hard cuts on the supervisory board, but would hardly have received it. O-Ton Reitzle: “In the end, Kuenheim came to me completely desperate and said: 'I won't get through it', whereupon I told him that this time I will not stay anymore, but will go. I was then called back to the meeting and declared that I would hereby resign from my position as board member of BMW-AG. I took my prepared inaugural address with me, drove home and told my wife that I was not the CEO, but that I was now completely outside.
Von Kuenheim accused Reitzle of breach of contract
The formulation that he no longer wants to stay after this affront is of particular importance in the course of events. Because in 1992 Reitzle had the offer from Wolfgang Porsche, the sports car manufacturer's chief executive officer, to become CEO of Porsche. Reitzle: “Yes, I should also receive shares in the ordinary shares of the Porsche / Piëch families. You have to imagine that, because they don't actually give anything. Each would have given a few percent, symmetrically, so that the balance between the Porsches and the Piëchs would have been maintained. That already fascinated me. And I stupid signed this contract on the advice of the Porsche / Piëch lawyers on a Saturday. And I, donkey, told my two closest friends about what one of them put this in the Stuttgarter Nachrichten. Before I could inform my AR boss Kuenheim on the following Monday that I would go to Porsche, it was already in the newspaper.
"Desertion will be punished"
When I was called to Kuenheim's office on Monday, he threw the newspaper down for me and asked: 'Is that true?' I said yes, I was just going to tell you this. Then he said, 'Do you know what you've been doing? You have breached a contract, you have a contract with us. I have already spoken to Hans Graf von der Goltz (the then AR boss at BMW), you will go to him on Wednesday in Bad Homburg and will discuss everything else with him there. You will not take on the contract, we will sue you, you will no longer be happy for your life. ' That's how they threatened me. When I was with Graf Goltz, I said: 'Okay, I'll stay.' Then he must have pressed my hand very tightly for a minute and promised: 'This is why you will be CEO of BMW.' The fact that I didn't become one in 1993, but Bernd Pischetsrieder, has v. Kuenheim, a completely Prussian officer, explains: 'That was desertion that you wanted to commit, and desertion will be punished.'
Reitze's departure from the auto industry was very difficult for him - the Car-Guy still suffers from it today
They ruined my Porsche job, in which I could have become the owner of Porsche common shares, because I naively signed Esel a contract in the heat of the moment that I shouldn't have signed, but first I would have the (Porsche ) should be signed, valid for one week, in order to then end my BMW contract and finally sign the contract with Porsche. I've been betrayed. The person who told the Stuttgarter Nachrichten that I wanted to switch to Porsche is no longer my friend. But what I never would have thought, that such a gentleman as Graf von der Goltz, who promised me that I would become BMW CEO, would not keep his word so that I would be taught a lesson. I could have left then, but stayed with BMW, with an identical contract to Pischetsrieder's, and with the same payment. Then I was not only Head of Development, but also Head of Purchasing, Sales and Marketing. The task was nice, but Pischetsrieder stupidly bought Rover against my will, and we fell out. I said it would cost us ten billion Deutschmarks to buy it. "
In the spring of 1999, Reitzle became head of the Ford subsidiary Premier Automotive Group (PAG), London, in which the premium brands Jaguar, Aston Martin, Volvo, Land Rover, Lincoln, and Mercury were managed. In 2002 he moved to the board of directors of Linde AG and finally became chairman of the board of the technical gases group in 2003, which he remained until 2014. He experienced stimulating prediction that Rover would be a billion-dollar grave for BMW, so to speak, in the neighborhood of BMW, because Linde's administration was not only located in Wiesbaden at the time, but also in Munich: on April 7, 2005, the formerly traditional British brand was bankrupt. Five years earlier, on March 16, 2000, BMW had separated from the subsidiary - for a symbolic ten pounds the company went to a financial investor. BMW had paid two billion marks in 1994 and tried for six years to pep up Rover with many more millions. Allegedly, the losses that BMW had to cope with because of this piled up to nine billion marks.