It was one of those moments when you really need strong leadership. For years, it turned out, Volkswagen staff had falsified emissions data. Now the game was well and truly up. The global corporation was embroiled in a scandal that just kept getting bigger. Customers were alarmed, employees were shocked. The authorities were wasting no time in investigating.
When the going got tough, some senior executives stood up to be counted. Berthold Huber was one. The former boss of the metalworkers’ union IG-Metall took over in April as “interim” board chairman after Ferdinand Piëch, the scion of the Porsche family that owns VW, had stepped down in a power struggle.
At Mr. Huber’s side was Bernd Osterloh, senior workers’ representative on the supervisory (non-executive) board, who at times had looked visibly enraged by the scandal. Stephan Weil also stepped up to the plate. Mr. Weil, who has a seat on the VW board as premier of the state of Lower Saxony, a shareholder, publicly worried about the company’s survival. But where was the Porsche/Piëch family?
The family owns more than 52 percent of the shares of Europe’s most important industrial group, via the holding company Porsche SE. But when the crisis came, there was a deafening silence from Salzburg, where most family members live.
This would not be the first time the family has gone awol. Back in April, when then chairman Mr. Piëch openly feuded with CEO Martin Winterkorn, the Porsche/Piëch clan kept well out of the public eye. As majority shareholders in the world’s largest car manufacturer, you might think the family would feel a duty to lead. The German constitution does after all say that “property entails responsibility.”