ZF Friedrichshafen

A small town in Germany ousts a global CEO

German Chancellor Merkel reacts as she sits with German autoparts manufacturer ZF Friedrichshafen CEO Sommer inside a car as she makes an opening tour of the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt
ZF CEO Stefan Sommer is not making Angela Merkel happy with his departure. Source: Reuters

It is now accepted wisdom that German auto firms are in a race to adapt to the future of e-cars and autonomous vehicles or risk being left behind by more nimble competitors in China or the US. One executive who tried to position his company for the huge changes required was Stefan Sommer, CEO of ZF Friedrichshafen, the world’s fifth-largest car parts manufacturer.

But developing the technology of the future is expensive and Mr. Sommer ran into stiff opposition from Friedrichshafen’s mayor, Andreas Brand, head of the Zeppelin Foundation, which owns 93.8 percent of the company’s stock. He wanted the company to cut debt and increase dividend payments.

Mr. Sommer threw in the towel on Thursday, resigning from the company with immediate effect, according to a company statement. He will be replaced temporarily by CFO Konstantin Sauer until a permanent successor can be found. The fact that the board had not lined up a replacement gave credence to the idea that Mr. Sommer’s departure was a hasty decision.

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