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Global Economy

Top managers with "handshake quality"

If you talk to people who know Oliver Blume these days, then these words keep coming up: He is sociable. Facing. Always at eye level. And something else you often hear: his nickname. "Oli" is what he is called by people who have known him for a long time. A comparable nickname for his predecessor Herbert Diess? Unthinkable.

And maybe you can already see where the biggest difference between these two top managers lies. One, Herbert Diess, comes across as cool and distant to his fellow human beings, many also say: tough as nails, not afraid of any conflict. The other, Oliver Blume, "Oli", stands for the opposite. Approachable, binding, with handshake qualities, according to circles of the works council.

The workforce expects the right signals

The way top managers manage their workforce, how they interact with them, is important in every company. But in hardly any other company is it as important as in the Volkswagen Group – because the employees there have a much greater say in government than in other companies. Co-determination is at the core of Volkswagen's DNA. And that's why it's not only crucial that the car manufacturer with its around 670,000 employees has someone at the helm who is highly qualified. It also has to be someone who knows how to deal with VW's peculiarities and who knows how to send the right signals to the workforce.

Oliver Blume, so the hope of many in the group, could be such a leader. It fits the picture that the 54-year-old grew up almost in the shadow of the VW towers. He was born in Braunschweig, did his Abitur there and studied mechanical engineering at the Technical University, after his military service in the Gifhorn district. He is a team player, say companions who played tennis with him in Braunschweig. One who was already noticed in the Bundeswehr, others say. Not only because of his size, but also because he had a lot of energy, wasn't afraid to be the center of attention and could imitate superiors in a very funny way.

The bar is high

Oliver Blume starts his new job with so many accolades that he can only break the bar, fears automotive expert Stefan Bratzel from the Center of Automotive Management in Bergisch Gladbach. "The danger is that he will be praised so highly that he will not be able to live up to expectations in the end." The tasks lying ahead of Blume are huge and Blume is "not a magician". So far, at any rate, Blume has only allowed himself one blunder: through a questionable exchange with Federal Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) on the future of synthetic fuels. These are important for Porsche, but not for the VW Group as a whole. The topic should – and should – therefore remain a side issue, says Bratzel.

One of the things the industry expert appreciates about Blume is that he can think very strategically and agree on binding, achievable goals with his team. This has led to success at Porsche. Business is good, the sports car manufacturer is the source of returns in the Volkswagen Group. Blume wants to continue to lead Porsche – in addition to his job as VW boss. It should be questionable how long he can keep up the workload. Because Herbert Diess has successfully trimmed Volkswagen in the direction of electromobility and presented good figures; at the same time, he leaves his successor with numerous construction sites. "Herbert Diess set the goals correctly, but he wasn't that strong when it came to implementation," analyzes Bratzel. "Because he didn't manage to get people behind him with his style."

Software development as a construction site in the group

Blume must succeed now, especially with the major software construction site. Volkswagen increasingly wants to develop the software for the cars of the future itself, but is lagging far behind its own schedule; it hooks and crunches at every nook and cranny. Whether Blume will stick to the fact that in the future 60 percent of the software in the cars will come from the company: uncertain. And something else is already becoming apparent: Blume wants to reduce the size of the group's board of directors, which had recently swelled to twelve members under Diess. They will pay close attention to how he manages that in Wolfsburg. Assertiveness and tact – with all the power bases in the VW Group, Oliver Blume will urgently need both.

One of these centers of power: the general works council chaired by Daniela Cavallo. The first date for a joint appearance in front of the workforce has already been set. Oliver Blume will then only be in office for five days – and will interrupt his board meeting for this digital appearance. He has also already agreed to attend the works meeting at the end of September. Herbert Diess actually wanted to skip it last fall and instead meet with investors in the USA. Only after an open argument with Daniela Cavallo did he buckle and still came.

They registered this difference with the works council. "Promising" is that, it says there. But: At the end of the day, Oliver Blume is not measured by his binding words, but by his actions. And the economic success of the Volkswagen Group.

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