Patriarch's Departure

Family Drama at Volkswagen

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The sale of Ferdinand Piëch’s stake in the Volkswagen group marks the end of an era, with the next generation of heirs of VW founder Ferdinand Porsche set to play less prominent roles.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Germany’s largest automaker, Volkswagen, has long been run by two tight-knit, insular families, the Porsches and the Piëchs.
    • As the older generation of Porsches and the Piëchs prepare to hand over power to their younger successors, they’re having a hard time letting go.
    • Two years after the former CEO and family patriarch, Ferdinand Piëch, was forced out of his chairman position on Volkswagen’s supervisory board, a deep rift emerged in the ruling family. Today, mistrust abounds.
  • Audio

    Audio

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main 43746763 Reuters – VW Volkswagen former non-executive chairman and CEO Ferdinand Piech April 2012 when he was chairman
Ferdinand Piëch is parting from the company he helped to shape into the world's largest carmaker over several decades. Source: Reuters

In the spring of 2015, members of the Porsche and Piëch families – kingmakers of German auto engineering – did the unthinkable. They deposed Ferdinand Piëch, the longtime patriarch of the powerful family dynasty.

Mr. Piëch had put himself in an untenable position by attacking Volkswagen’s then-CEO, Martin Winterkorn. So Mr. Piëch’s cousin, Wolfgang Porsche, joined forces with other key members of the company steering committee — Stephan Weil, the governor of the German state of Lower Saxony, Bernd Osterloh, the head of VW’s works council, and union boss Berthold Huber – and tried to push out Mr. Piëch.

There was a time when taking on Mr. Piëch, 79, would have been not only unthinkable, but impossible. But after being confronted with a united front against him, Mr. Piëch and his wife Ursula stepped down from VW’s supervisory board.

For an otherwise close-knit, insular family, it was an unprecedented turn of events. The rift they created could not have been bigger. Right after the resignation, Mr. Piëch’s nieces, Julia Kuhn-Piëch and Louise Kiesling, took up positions on the board to fill the spot left behind by their uncle.

Both women, one a real estate salesperson from Salzburg, the other an owner of a textile company in Vienna, were expected to compensate for the gaping void left behind by Mr. Piëch’s departure.

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