Daimler Truck Boss, Apparently Too Old for a Promotion, Splits From Company

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

It looks like mustachioed, jeans-loving Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche will have to look elsewhere for a successor to the company throne.

Wolfgang Bernhard, head of Daimler Trucks & Buses, was thought by many a likely candidate to take on the top job once Dr. Z retires. Announced today, Bernhard is stepping down from his post and leaving the company he joined in 1994, even before his contract expires.

Infighting and age could have a lot to do with it.

Daimler maintains Bernhard hit the bricks for “personal reasons,” with supervisory board chair Manfred Bischoff stating, “We regret this resolution, but we have a number of outstanding managers to succeed. We thank Wolfgang Bernhard for his committed work and respect his personal decision.”

Bernhard’s contract ran until 2018, and today’s meeting was supposed to see it extended. Now, the man he might have replaced will take over his duties at Daimler Trucks & Buses.

While top company brass expressed their sorrow at his departure, sources told Reuters that the executive’s age played a factor in his decision. Company insiders claim that Bernhard, 56, was too old to be considered for the CEO job after labor leaders, riled by his restructuring plan, threw roadblocks in his career path. Zetsche’s contract was extended for another three years in 2016, and Daimler apparently wants someone at the helm who can stay on for a long time, sources claim.

Now that Bernhard is gone, his options for advancement could improve. There’s a possibility that the ex-Daimler executive has his eye on another company’s top position — perhaps Sergio Marchionne’s job. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ CEO plans to retire at the end of 2018.

[Image: Daimler AG]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Ronnie Schreiber Ronnie Schreiber on Feb 10, 2017

    After Daimler took over Chrysler, Bernhard was in charge in Auburn Hills from 2000 to 2004, when he went back to Germany, supposedly to take the Daimler CEO position, but he was undercut by then chairman Jurgen Schremp, so he resigned to instead run VW for a couple of years till he was pushed out of that job by Ferdinand Piech. He's generally seen as a close ally of Dieter Zetsche so he resignation is a surprise. Zetsche brought him back to Daimer after his stint at VW. For a bunch of boring guys in identical black suits, corporate politics at German automakers seems like something out of a soap opera.

  • RobertRyan RobertRyan on Feb 10, 2017

    @Ronnie Schreiber "For a bunch of boring guys in identical black suits, corporate politics at German automakers seems like something out of a soap opera." Got news for you, no different to any other Corporate landscape

  • Brn Brn on Feb 12, 2017

    Unless Reuters releases their sources and the information around the claim, we've no idea how valid the ageism implication is. I guess releasing the full story doesn't get people as wound up.

  • Caboose Caboose on Feb 13, 2017

    He wants Sergio's job? Really? Yes, it would be a tough job, but these guys love a challenge. I'm surprised because, if Sergio isn't set to retire until the end of '18, two years is an awfully long time to keep your name warm in the minds of board members by whom you might like to be hired. That sounds like unsubstantiated speculation to me. What does he plan on doing in the meantime? These guys usually don't jump without having a landing spot. If he really does want Sergio's job and doesn't have anything of substance lined up for the interim, he's not waiting in the wings; he's just retired.