As Dr. Z Prepares to Move On, Daimler Taps a Swede for CEO Job
Daimler AG and its Mercedes-Benz division won’t have Dieter Zetsche at the helm for much longer. The mustachioed, jeans-loving chief executive, who’s headed the automaker since 2000, leaves the position in May, the automaker announced Wednesday.
Dr. Z isn’t leaving the company — come May, the 65-year-old will accept the role of chairman of the group’s supervisory board. Occupying Zetsche’s former position as head of Daimler and the Mercedes-Benz brand will be the first non-German CEO in the company’s exceptionally long history.
Ola Källenius, a Swedish national, currently serves as group research chief and development head for Mercedes-Benz. Joining the automaker in 1993, the 49-year-old Kaellenius eventually found himself in charge of sales for the Mercedes-Benz division. He later served as head of the automaker’s AMG performance sub-brand before stepping into the role of development chief in 2016. Källenius joined the board of management in 2015.
Zetsche won’t take on the chairman role immediately, but company policy requires him to step down as CEO following the annual shareholders’ meeting to start a two-year cooling off period. The longtime boss officially replaces Dr. Manfred Bischoff in the chairman seat once his five-year term ends in May, 2021.
“As a long-standing member of the Board of Management and Chairman of the Board of Management, Dieter Zetsche has played a key role in shaping Daimler AG and has ensured its strategically outstanding positioning for the mobility of the future. His expertise and experience are extremely valuable for our company,” said Bischoff in a statement. “Dieter Zetsche is predestined also to lead the company’s Supervisory Board prudently and successfully.”
As for Dr. Z’s successor, Bischoff, not surprisingly, had nothing but praise. “In Ola Källenius, we are appointing a recognized, internationally experienced and successful Daimler executive as Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars.”
Zetsche backed that up, saying, “In various positions at Daimler, Ola Källenius has earned not only my respect, but also the recognition of his colleagues in very diverse areas. At the same time, he contributes a valuable international perspective.”
The hiring of Källenius and the relaxing of rigid, quintessentially German management norms at the automaker is a strategic move. Daimler wants to become more nimble, more modern, and better able to turn on a dime to capitalize on the opportunities of a changing automotive landscape. The rise of electrification and autonomy requires it. To this end, Zetsche began bringing more voice, and funding, to lower-level employees — those typically suppressed by cumbersome upper management (unless they submitted a fully fleshed-out plan).
Speaking to Reuters, Juergen Pieper, an analyst at Bankhaus Metzler, said, “Kaellenius can certainly ‘sell’ a new era better than alternative candidates could have.”
Other changes are afoot at Daimler. Wilko Stark, head of Daimler and Mercedes-Benz strategy, becomes head of Mercedes-Benz procurement and supplier quality on October 1st. Sajjad Khan, current head of digital vehicle and mobility, takes control of Daimler’s connected autonomous and electric vehicle architecture organization.
Given the rising importance of the automaker’s AMG sub-brand, Tobias Moers, CEO of Mercedes-AMG GmbH, will report directly to the head of Mercedes-Benz Cars. All appointments are effective October 1st.
[Image: Daimler AG]
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