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.