Fear and respect: VW's culture under Winterkorn

Sat Oct 10, 2015 4:22pm EDT
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By Andreas Cremer and Tom Bergin

BERLIN/LONDON (Reuters) - Like many chief executives, Martin Winterkorn was a demanding boss who didn't like failure. But critics say the pressure on managers at Volkswagen was unusual, which may go some way to explaining the carmaker's crisis.

Three weeks after it admitted to cheating U.S. emissions tests, Europe's largest carmaker is under pressure to identify who exactly was responsible.

Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE: Quote) has declined to comment on whether the firm's culture or the management style of Winterkorn, who resigned last month, had been a factor in the cheating. Lawyers for Winterkorn did not respond to a request for comment.

But now that VW's problems are coming out into the open and Winterkorn has gone, some executives are declaring that the company needs to change its approach.

"We have to streamline our processes," Volkswagen Group of America CEO Michael Horn told a U.S. congressional hearing when asked about what the revelations said about VW's integrity.

"This company has to bloody learn and use this opportunity in order to get their act together, and 600,000 people worldwide have to be managed in a different way," he said. "This is very, very clear."

Bernd Osterloh, a member of VW's supervisory board, was even more precise in a letter to staff on Sept. 24, a week after U.S. regulators revealed the cheating.

"We need in future a climate in which problems aren't hidden but can be openly communicated to superiors," said Osterloh, who as chief of the VW works council represents employees on the board. "We need a culture in which it's possible and permissible to argue with your superior about the best way to go."   Continued...

Martin Winterkorn speaks at the annual news conference of Volkswagen in Berlin, in this file picture taken March 12, 2015.   REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/Files