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Backing Volkswagen from Qatar

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Support from VW’s third-largest shareholder, oil state Qatar, will help the carmaker to overcome its diesel emissions scandal.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The Gulf state of Qatar became a major investor in Volkswagen in 2009 after a deal with the Porsche-Piëch family, which control 52 percent of VW Group.
    • Qatar currently owns 17 percent of VW’s voting rights; Hessa Al Jaber and Hussain Ali Al-Abdulla sit on the carmaker’s non-executive supervisory board.
    • Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority, has invested a major part of its funds in Europe, owning, for instance, shares in Hochtief, a German construction firm, and German engineering giant Siemens.
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  • Audio

    Audio

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main 77072347 source Sebastian Gollnow DPA – Hessa Al-Jaber VW supervisory board member June 2016 shareholders meeting Hannover
It is rare that a representative of VW shareholder Qatar, such as Hessa Al Jaber, speaks publicly about the German carmaker. Source: Sebastian Gollnow / DPA

In a rare public statement, Volkswagen’s supervisory board member Hessa Al Jaber made a statement in support of the German carmaker and its management.

Ms. Al Jaber, 57, is one of two Qatari representatives on VW’s non-executive board and joined the body last June. Qatar acquired 17 percent of Volkswagen’s voting rights in 2009, becoming the third-biggest investor in VW in terms of voting rights after the Porsche-Piëch family, which control 52 percent, and the state of Lower Saxony, which controls 20 percent.

“I believe VW is a great company. When we invested in VW, that was the right decision. We are really committed to VW,” Ms. Al Jaber told reporters earlier this month in Doha, the capital of the oil and gas-producing country.

Qatar’s investment in VW took a hit in September 2015, when the carmaker admitted to manipulating emissions values of 11 million diesel cars. Its stock plunged as much as 40 percent in the weeks after the scandal became public.

“They are taking steps to mitigate any future risks on emissions,” Ms. Al Jaber said earlier this month.

The more consequential decision today will be whether VW's supervisory board approves the actions of the company's management board, a decision that could also affect Mr. Pötsch.

On Friday, VW showed how Dieselgate continues to hurt the company financially, as it announced a €6.4-billion, or $6.8-billion, charge to cover legal and other costs to clear the scandal. The total sum it has set aside now totals €22.6 billion. Volkswagen, however, did report a net profit of €5.4 billion for 2016 after a €1.4-billion loss in 2015.

When Ms. Al Jaber took up her position at VW last June, she told investors during the annual shareholders meeting that the carmaker had the right management. She added that the VW’s possibilities to change should not be underestimated.

Ms. Al Jaber’s nomination last year was in some respect ironic: Of all things, the Arabic shareholder had to rescue the quota of women of Volkswagen’s supervisory board. Lower Saxony has two men as supervisory board members: Prime Minister Stephan Weil and Minister for Economics Affairs Olaf Lies, both Social Democrats. The IG Metall trade union and the powerful works councils only mustered up one woman, union board member Birgit Dietze.

As a result, the ultra conservative Islamic state Qatar was tasked with ensuring that VW met its quota requiring 30 percent of its board members to be female, according to reports from diplomatic circles in the Gulf. The emirate, which only has 313,000 citizens, nominated Hessa Al Jaber.

The resolute woman usually appears in a customary black Abaya, as is customary in Qatar, but is one of the few women in the Gulf physically shakes hands with men.

At the VW shareholders meeting last June, Ms. Al Jaber introduced herself as a “technology expert.” She has studied engineering in Kuwait and computer science at George Washington University. She is eloquent and engaged in a wide range of economic issues.

VW Volkswagen Qatar Lower Saxony Piech Piëch Porsche family Shareholders and their Voting Rights-01

In fact, the young Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, named Ms. Al Jaber as Qatar’s first Minister for Information and Communications Technology in June 2013. At the beginning of 2016, the role was abolished with the merger of two ministries. But in her position, Ms. Al Jaber had not only radically modernized Qatar’s broadband network, liberalized the telecommunications sector, established Mada as a technology center and supported IT companies. She had also developed, built and launched Qatar’s first satellites at Qatar Satellite Company Eshail.

Ms. Al Jaber, named as one of the top 20 most influential women in the Gulf States by business magazine Arabian Business, has not regretted her departure as minister but used it to her advantage. She heads the board for satellite operator Eshail and technology center Mada as well as her own company, Trio Investment.

Her business invests in startups, she explained in her Doha office, which is decorated by a rocket at the entrance. Trio Investment is about giving young Qataris educated at renowned university branches in Doha’s Education City a chance to grow their businesses.

The young entrepreneurs are encouraged not only to adapt products from overseas companies but also to develop their own ideas. As an example, she named a smartphone app to fight the emerging diabetes epidemic in the Gulf region.

The influence of Ms. Al Jaber, who has two children, is widespread in Doha: She sits on the supervisory bodies of the Qatar Foundation, which invests in education and culture, of the Qatar University as well as on the board of Qatar’s Financial Market Authority.

Hessa Al Jaber recently visited her daughter, who studies in Argentina, and traveled to Brazil. However, she did not visit the VW plants there.

In matters relating to cars, she is torn: although she steers the fate of VW, she prefers another brand, she says taking out her car keys and roars off in her pristine white Range Rover.

Hussain Ali al-Abdulla is the second Qatari representative on VW’s supervisory board, a position he has held since March 2010. Mr. Al-Abdulla is the vice-chairman of Qatar Holding, the investment arm of sovereign wealth fund Qatar Investment Authority.

 

Mathias Brüggmann is the head of Handelsblatt’s foreign affairs desk, leading the coverage of the Ukraine crisis. To contact the author: brueggmann@handelsblatt.com

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