By on May 23, 2017

Matthias Müller, Image: Volkswagen AG/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)

Volkswagen has attempted to portray itself as a kinder and more responsible automaker in the wake of its emissions cheating scandal. However, CEO Matthias Müller says convincing middle management to change has proven exceptionally difficult. VW has been pushing to become — or at least seem like — a more transparent company that has decentralized its rigid management hierarchy.

“There are definitely people who are longing for the old centralistic leadership,” Müller stated during a meeting with business representatives on Monday. “I don’t know whether you can imagine how difficult it is to change their mindset.”

It’s been 20 months since the diesel emissions scandal entered the news cycle and Müller took over as chief executive. Throughout that time, VW’s top executives have tossed mid-level employees under the bus on numerous occasions. While there is little reason to doubt some might have trouble adjusting to a new corporate climate, it would be nice to hear top brass taking any semblance of responsibility once in a while — even on something minor like this. 

In an earlier interview with Reuters, VW’s head of human resources, Karlheinz Blessing, stated that remolding the company would take some time.

The HR chief indicated the company has been gradually introducing internal changes to eliminate the number of special committees, move managers around more regularity, and streamline the development of new models. But Blessing also displayed some worry over the pace at which VW’s management style is changing. And that’s what makes this so odd: faulting middle management as the problem when the decision-making process is so clearly top-down.

Volkswagen typically grooms existing employees for decades before they’re allowed to wear big boy shoes, Matthias Müller included, and its inter-familial power struggles are on par with TV’s Dallas. Earlier this year, former VW chairman Ferdinand Piech accused other company executives of having ignored his warnings of an impending scandal relating to diesel emissions — throwing doubts into VW’s official timeline of the crisis. Volkswagen officially denied Piech’s claims and his own family ousted him from the automotive industry entirely.

Stuttgart prosecutors are currently investigating whether Müller and two other Volkswagen top executives, including ex-CEO Martin Winterkorn, manipulated markets by withholding pertinent information about VW’s diesel cheating.

But, no, it’s those pesky middle managers gumming up the works, claims the CEO. It’s just so hard for them for some reason. “Of course there are anxieties, it’s not an easy undertaking,” Müller said. “The only question is how long will it take?”

According to Reuters, Müller also criticized U.S. ride-hailing firm Uber — a potential rival to VW’s own on-demand transportation service Moia, currently in development. “I would not want us to be compared culturally with Uber,” he said. “That is no role model for us.”

[Image: Volkswagen AG]


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7 Comments on “CEO Says it Could Be ‘Years’ Before Volkswagen Gets Its Corporate Culture Under Control...”

  • avatar

    It’s extraordinarily difficult for a CEO to change a company’s management culture. The management in place grew up and prospered under the old culture. The ones that didn’t fit were driven out, left on their own or were never promoted. In the minds of the old heads, the new culture isn’t just different; it’s wrong. Opposition starts with the CEO’s own direct reports.

  • avatar

    How long to get his hair under control?

  • avatar

    Müller is not wrong in those statements. Anyone who has had the pleasure of trying to change an ingrained corporate culture knows that it is extremely difficult to do so. This is one of the reasons why it is so common for new management to clear out existing staffers: better to come in fresh with a team behind you than to waste your energy trying to convince people that your way is better.

  • avatar

    The company I work for had a culture change. It takes about ten years. It went from family owned and family nice to corporate greed. While that was changing, we were a bit behind on food safety with two recalls that should have put us out of business. (Customers don’t care!!) We are second to none in food safety and still getting better. Both were hard on the employees. All upper management must go, replaced form the outside if any change is to happen. Middle managament must have a lot leave too.

  • avatar

    Find a new photo – PLEASE!

  • avatar
    Null Set

    The author of the article, as others have noted, has naively conflated VW’s malfeasance in the diesel escandalo with the extraordinary difficulty of fundamentally changing the culture of a huge, multi-national corporation, an undertaking that almost always fails, and when it succeeds takes a generation (death being the only reliable engine of change).

    If VW were pure as the (diesel) driven snow, it would have exactly the same mountain to climb, or fall from, as it does now.

  • avatar

    Who cares about their culture they are now the number automaker in the world!!!
    I am more worried about GM and their dwindling market share and stock price.

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