VW leadership troubles continue

July 20, 2007

Some stories attract international interest, while others remain almost unnoticed. Serious Volkswagen watchers will be aware of one leadership story that has not gained much international attention.

I picked up the scent of something of interest, because of a little surge of numbers of visitors to this site searching for news about the VW company. That’s when I came across a Reuters report

Volkswagen supervisory board member Guenter Lenz has resigned his seat, becoming the latest casualty of a scandal involving the use of corporate funds to bribe the carmaker’s senior labour leaders. According to a statement from the Hanover works council, Lenz told employees on Tuesday at a plant staff meeting that he would now resign his board seat and his post as the site’s works council boss after previously ceasing to actively execute his duties. The public prosecutor’s office in Brunswick accuses him of aiding and abetting fraud and partaking in parties with prostitutes paid for out of a VW slush fund. Lenz, who has also resigned from the Lower Saxony state parliament, would accept a court sentence for his wrongdoing, the Hanover works council said.

The scandal has already cost the jobs of VW management board member Peter Hartz, group works council chief Klaus Volkert, as well as a member of the German federal parliament.

The Financial Times also commented on the story. As did

Eurotribune a self-declared ‘left-leaning’ publication with communitarian goals. It writes about what it sees as unhealthy industrial arrangements in Germany’s internationals, and is particularly suspicious of the relationships between State, workers councils, and boards of organizations. It sees more trouble ahead for Volkswagen over its leadership and governance.

VW is plagued by a series of corruption scandals involving top union and work council members. Those already netted include the author and name-giver of the infamous Hartz-IV law, VW human resource manager Peter Hartz, as well as an SPD member of parliament. Now the scandal forced the resignation of Günter Lenz, who was at the same time the work council head for VW’s utility vehicle branch, a member of VW’s oversight board, and a member of the regional parliament for SPD. He is under investigation for visits to brothels on company money… Lenz denies the accusation. However, prostitutes have confirmed his story in the case of the top work council man, Klaus Volkert — who now sits in prison. The payments for the prostitutes were approved by Hartz himself.

Leadership lessons

It seems strange that this story was not been followed more closely by the international financial press. Maybe Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarcozy have found time, in their new-found friendship, to muse over the matter as they explore the equally taxing issues of EADS governance.


The positions change on the EADS chess board

July 16, 2007

A major restructuring is announced at EADS, the parent of the high-profile Airbus organization. The complex double helix of German and French bonds has been split apart. The reconsituted entity is a more recognizable structure. Will it provide for more effective corporate governance and strategy, as it faces severe internal and external challenges?

The announcement on the EADS website was calm, hardly signifying any major changes. It all read as if everything was well-planned.

EADS shareholders have decided – together with the EADS management team – to modify the company’s current management and leadership structure. Guiding principles of the modification are efficiency, cohesiveness and simplification of EADS management and leadership structure, towards governance best practices and in the respect of balance between the French and the German shareholders. The German Government has been consulted as well.

Under the simplified management structure, EADS will be led by a single Chairman and a single CEO.

Rüdiger Grube will assume the position of sole Chairman of the Board of Directors of EADS. In this role, he will be responsible for overseeing the Group’s strategic development and dealings with its Shareholders. In particular, he will chair the newly created EADS strategic committee.

Louis Gallois will assume the position of sole CEO of EADS. In this role, he will be responsible for leading the management team in the execution of the Group’s strategy and managing the company’s interaction with public shareholders.

Thomas Enders will assume the position of CEO of Airbus in the Toulouse headquarters of the company, reporting to the CEO of EADS. He will be supported by Fabrice Brégier as COO of Airbus.

According to the BBC,

The French joint chief executive Louis Gallois will take sole charge at EADS while his German co-head Tom Enders gets the top job at Airbus.

EADS’ complex structure has been blamed for many of its recent problems.

“We need to be a normal company,” Mr Enders said.

Previously, EADS had two chairmen and two chief executives: one French and one German. Daimler executive Ruediger Grube will become sole chairman of EADS, a post he previously held jointly with France’s Arnaud Lagardere.

The implied abnormality by Enders was the double-harnesses imposed on EADS by the influences exerted by two co-chairman, and two co-CEOs This was the heritage of the company’s formation, and reflected the ‘least worse’ way of maintaining cooperation between the company’s two main national interests in France and Germany. No alternative better could be found than the structure which permitted one French and one German chairman, one French and one German CEO on the main board.

But let’s see what can be concluded beyond the formal statement:

One or two commentators suggested that the changes were not particularly unexpected. I will be charitable and suggest that those commentators must have been holding back on the outcome for some reason or other. The details are far from expected.

In ealier posts I had chronicled the various problems at EADS and its the troubles that have piled up for its major subsidiary, Airbus. The recent press reports had led me to conclude that attempts to resolve the complicated dual-management structure appear to be centering on co-chief executive Tom Enders.

Mr Enders is a controversial figure in France after he publicly criticized political interference from Paris and suggested the possibility of sensitive asset disposals. However, Daimler, the core German industrial shareholder in EADS, is determined that Mr Enders should not be sacrificed in any final deal.

Let me put a few pieces on the chessboard. Louis Gallois, head of Airbus, is widely admired, and believed to be needed to stick it at Airbus, and see though Power 8, the strategic plan to streamline the business. This is a production and commercial imperative. He is co-CEO of EADS with Tom Enders at present.

Arnaud Lagardère of the media group of the same name is French Co-chairman of EADS. His German co-chair is Rudiger Grube.

Nicholas Sarcozy and Angela Merkel are also in play, with special concerns for their national interests (and for their own political positions). EADS Shareholder DaimlerChrysler has signaled willingness to increase its holding, a positive gesture to Sarcozy who would like to reduce the holding of the French Government. DaimlerChryser’s bid is linked to their interests in keeping Tom Enders in play.

The rumors in the French press

Rumors suggest the game will involve taking Enders off the board. This has been denied emphatically by the company.

So what is ‘behind the headlines?

The company statement seems to have airbrushed out Arnaud Lagardere, the earstwhile Co-chair of EADS. Strange. So the German Rudi Grube takes over as Chair of the EADS main board. But Lagardere remains a powerful figure and shareholder. It has been suggested that he has escaped scrutiny over earlier share scandals, and is ‘protected by Sacozy, who in turn is aware of a rather soft-ride from M Lagardere in his recent election campaign. And there is the possibility that the media figure will be in line to return as sole Chair of EADS in the future, in an agreement in which the Chair will rotate from German to French holders every five years.

Another ‘solution’ left Louis Gallois as CEO of EADS and Tom Enders in charge of the subsidiary Airbus. This grants Gallois his (alleged) wish to avoid being left to sort out Airbus while answering to Tom Enders. On the other hand, the one figure widely regarded as key to implementing the Power8 plan at Airbus is Gallois, now expected to play a more political role.

The changes are sufficiently complex to warrant a working party investigating them.


Sarcozy, EADS. Qu’ est-ce qu’il a les demaneaisons?

June 1, 2007

180px-hookeflea01.jpg

Nicholas Sacozy may be finding that EADS and its Airbus operations are giving him a most irritating itch that refuses to go away. One of his first acts as President was to visit the Toulouse sight of Airbus. Now the earlier governance problems at EADS may be returning to chafe him, with suggestions of his own peripheral involvement.

Background

Last year, A380 project executives, including Airbus CEO Gustav Humbert, were dismissed, primarily for failure to deal effectively with the project delays. Humbert was also was accused of concealing the seriousness of the problems. In a short space of time, Humbert’s replacement, Christian Streiff resigned, and the current leader, Louis Gallois was brought in. Streiff was believed to have failed to secure backing for a financial package (The Power8 plan) he believed necessary to turn things around with the A380.

The Airbus Power8 announcement

The Airbus Power8 announcement of 28th of February indicated:

A third A320 Family FAL [Final Assembly Line] will be set up in Hamburg immediately to cope with the steep production ramp-up currently under way. This FAL will be established in already existing facilities and will have full type flexibility when demand for A320s exceeds rate 14 per month. The A320 will continue to be assembled in Toulouse up to 14 [per month]. Hamburg will also perform final assembly of the future New Single Aisle family.. Furthermore, in order to allow parts to be fitted in the most logical place to optimize the overall cycle time, some upstream preparatory A320 and A380 cabin installation work will be transferred from Hamburg to Toulouse.

Which did not prevent vigorous opposition to the plan at Toulouse, and an early problem for Nicholas Sarcozy’s Presidency.

The itch that won’t go away

Within weeks of his election, Sarco was at Toulouse. He bought some time, obtaining some wriggle room by promising to return in July with Angela Merkel, thus indicating the international dimension of the problem. But the earlier itch remains.

The French co-chairman of EADS, and known to be close to M Sarcozy has been questioned by financial investigators still exploring into alleged insider trading in EADS last year. M. Largardère, claims that he had no inside knowledge of delays in deliveries of the A380, when his family group sold off 7.5 per cent of the Franco-German planemaker’s shares in April 2006.

According to The Independent, reports from the French press, that

[S]ince taking over the family empire after his father died in March 2003, M. Lagardère has cultivated a chatty and approachable style. He has, however, been plunged into controversies. His group is one of France’s biggest media players, owning a controlling stake in Hachette-Filipacci Media, the company that owns Paris-Match. He also has smaller stakes in Le Monde, Le Parisien and L’Equipe … M. Lagardère has been accused of interfering in editorial decisions to protect his friend M. Sarkozy and especially to prevent discussion of alleged problems in the President’s [private life]. Le Monde quoted a “close adviser” of M. Lagardère yesterday as saying that “whatever happens” he will be protected by M. Sarkozy.

I took this to mean that his friend would continue to conform to the French distaste for airing the personal problems of politicians. Nevertheless, in England, The Independent’s article may be taken for evidence of a political cover-up.

The EADS itch will not be going away for the new President.


Sarcozy finds some wriggle-room at Airbus

May 20, 2007

Early into his honeymoon period, President Sarcozy finds himself in action at the fermenting Airbus organization. Contrary to his reputation and inclinations, he finds a waiting move, buys himself some time, and preserves some of his limited options.

Airbus was always likely to be an indicator of M. Sarcozy’s presidential style. Politicians may be accused of not listening, but they do listen to the evidence provided by popularity polls, especially those connected with the votes they may be winning or losing in democratic elections.

During his own leadership campaign, his call was for a strengthening of the leadership of the company through attracting new investors to its board. This came through more clearly than his views on the difficulties facing the company, such as immediate production difficulties and the longer-term strategic and governance issues which have been the preoccupations of its chief, Louis Gallois. The plan to address these problems has led to Union unrest not only in France, but elsewhere in Europe where the plans also threaten jobs.

In an earlier post, I suggested that for all Sarco’s intentions, it is hard to see him being in a position to make a difference to Airbus, in the short-term. A gesture of masterful inaction is likely to be his best outcome at the moment.

Kissing Angela Merkel

Sarco has had to balance his new international role with his inclinations to preserve what he sees as a cherished French asset. So he has already made warm overtures to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Hamburg’s Airbus manufacturing plant is, like Toulouse in France, facing major job-cuts. The International Herald Tribune acknowledges this as a necessity, commenting from the Toulouse:

As Louis Gallois, the French chief executive of Airbus, noted wryly in a session with reporters here , “He is kissing Angela Merkel every time they meet, but that doesn’t mean anything.”

For Gallois, a seasoned executive with ties to the Socialist Party, the election of Sarkozy injects another volatile element into what is already one of the hardest repair jobs in European industry.

The article further points out that Sarkozy has been sending out mixed messages during his campaign, leaving it unclear whether

… he is, at heart, a free-market reformer or an economic nationalist determined to prop up France’s industrial patrimony. Given his track record and the imperatives of French politics, several experts said, he is likely to be a bit of both. Sarkozy, they predicted, will give Airbus leeway to proceed with cost-cutting, while at the same time moving to strengthen France’s influence over the enterprise.

Sarco finds a waiting move

There are times in politics, when as in chess, the leader has to find a waiting move. In chess, the idea is to move without disturbing the delicate balance in a complex and dynamic situation. You do best by effectively not disturbing the status quo.

So it was in Toulouse. Facing angry Unions, represtatives of the Company’s French leadership, and the wider international press, he signals two somewhat contradictory positions. Yes, he will ‘stand by’ and ‘do his duty’ to the interests of the French employees. But in the longer term, he does not rule out selling the Government’s stake in the company.

I will return

I will return, he promises. In July. When he will be accompanied by his new friend Angela.

If not masterful inactivity, we have seen an example of how to create a little wriggle room in a tricky situation.


Airbus struggles: A killer fact analysis

February 23, 2007

791px-farnborough_air_show_2006_a380_landing.jpgStrategic decisions at Airbus have been increasingly mired in political wrangling. Killer facts appear to include serious production delays difficulties in France; job preservation priorities of French and German politicians, share disposals by BAE to Airbus parent EADS, and leadership changes as the political, economic and technological challenges play out. Leader Louis Gallois will have to find some wriggle room to secure the restructuring required for the company.

Update

Considerable changes have occured at EADS since this post was first written. These can be tracked through the Airbus posts, including details of the corporate restructuring. The longer term Power8 plan seems still on the agenda, but delayed. Angela Merkel still visits Toulouse, but with new French President Nicholas Sarcozy. The post has been retained as a useful historical context to more recent developments in the company.

[Original Post follows ...]

You know an international company is in trouble when it becomes the topic of discussion between corporate and political leaders. Today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Jacques Chirac meet with executives of EADS in Germany. The subject on the agenda employment, and potential job losses at the planemaker Airbus. The company’s largest sites, with greatest potential for job losses are at Toulouse and Hamburg.

Last year, A380 project executives, including Airbus CEO Gustav Humbert, were dismissed. Humbert was blamed for the failure to deal effectively with the project delays, but also was accused of concealing the seriousness of the problems.

In the same period, it was revealed that the joint CEO of EADS, Noel Forgeard had sold EADS stock weeks before its Airbus subsidiary announced the Airbus A380 would be delayed again. M. Forgeard resigned, and the stock plummeted.

In a short space of time, Humbert’s replacement, at Airbus, Christian Streiff resigned, which was when Louis Gallois stepped in. Streiff was believed to have failed to secure backing for a financial package he believed necessary to turn things around with the A380. Gallois is a much admired leader with a track record of top-level negotiating skills as well as industry experience. This week, the famed negotiating skills of Louis Gallois have been strained. An announcement of the restructuring with losses of over 10,0000 jobs was postponed, and now will follow the meeting of EADS executives with Merkel and Chirac.

The Killer facts

The killer facts that will pervade the talks are as follows. The mighty and innovative airbus 380 project has been mired in technological challenges (particularly over gigantic wiring problems) at the Toulouse plant. At minimum, these will cause huge compensation payouts to customers. (The financials would be much worse if competitor Boeing were not working to full capacity). The governance of EADS has been an extended story of struggle between French and German interests (in which the Franco-German co-leadership plays a part). British political influence disappeared after UK defense and aviation company BAE Systems announced its plans to sell 20% stake in Airbus to EADS last year.

What will happen next?

Don’t expect to find a neat Business School solution on the strategic issues. The dreaded PEST analysis (Political, Economic, Social and technological factors) seems more relevant than simple SWOTting (analysis of corporate strengths and weaknesses, against external threats and opportunities).

Structural production factors dictate that the pain of job losses will be spread around with greatest potential losers in Germany, France, and England. Interestingly, the share price has had its medium term downward adjustment, and has been remarkably stable over the last six months of corporate turbulence.

There seems scope for some wriggle-room, and political / economic trade-offs. Louis Gallois may yet lead by facilitating some creative (win-win) decisions of national involvement in future business streams. We will soon find out who will be doing the most wriggling, and where.


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