Generous salaries, lavish pensions and lots of extras such as weekend flights home in a company jet: the life of a VW board member has many advantages.
In the auto industry, the VW Group still offers the best conditions. This is precisely why a number of top managers are drawn to Wolfsburg. Because they also know: Even if they fail at Volkswagen and are thrown out, they usually end up financially soft and no longer have to worry about money in their lives. Just one example is the former CEO Bernd Pischetsrieder, who collected millions for doing nothing for five years. The world’s largest automaker is currently affording the luxury of sending disgraced top managers home and paying them on.
The Stefan Sommer case does not fit into this picture at all. His early departure was announced a week ago – and went down in the turbulent power struggle for CEO Herbert Diess. In any case, Sommer did something that is completely unusual in Wolfsburg: He voluntarily gave up a lot of money.
Summer did not even last two years on the VW board
The doctor of mechanical engineering made a career in the automotive supplier industry, first at Continental, then at ZF Friedrichshafen. There he rose to the position of CEO. Sommer enjoys a good reputation in the industry.
In September 2018 he moved to the VW Group Board of Management, responsible for purchasing. At that time, he replaced the long-standing purchasing director Francesco Javier Garcia Sanz, who had an almost legendary reputation as a tough price hit. In any case, many suppliers breathed a sigh of relief when Garcia Sanz left and Sommer came. Of course, the head of purchasing is always about saving costs for the group. But Sommer wanted to create a different relationship between automakers and suppliers, putting companies under less pressure and working with them more as partners.
Now, after two years in the position, the manager knows: He and VW do not go together. As a newcomer to the company without a power base, it was difficult for him from the start. In addition, there were intrigues and power struggles in a company in which influential employee representatives rule more than anywhere else and where politics is involved. The “Wolfsburg system”, with its own laws, was not Sommer’s world. Also the strategy of CEO Diess, to orient the automaker so uncompromisingly on the electric mobility, displeased Sommer. Outwardly, however, he was loyal.
The summer contract would have expired in September 2021. It is customary for top managers to discuss an extension one year before the end of the term. Sommer recently announced his decision to VW boss Diess and the employee representatives: He no longer wants a new contract. And not only that: He would like to terminate his current contract as soon as possible. His interlocutors were completely surprised when Sommer made it clear that he would not ask for any severance payments or anything like that. The car manager even waived an annual salary that would have been his. In 2019, he earned more than four million euros as Chief Purchasing Officer. “I’ve never seen anything like that here,” said a VW manager.
Executive Board member Sommer is leaving Volkswagen on June 30th. It is said that he took his remaining vacation and has already returned to his house on Lake Constance. Sommer is 57 years old and the industry is convinced that he will soon be in another top position. They are now looking for a successor at Volkswagen. It will probably not come from outside the same way as Sommer, but directly from the group, ie from the “Wolfsburg System”.