Just yesterday, General Motors officially appointed Dr. Karl-Thomas Neumann as the head honcho at Opel. Granted, the 51-year-old executive will report to Steve Girsky and the rest of the Opel Supervisory Board, but for all intents and purposes, it will be Dr. Neumann who will be calling the shots going forward. And given that Opel has been in a tumultuous state of leadership — swapping out bosses as if they were tires on a car — over the last three years, it would seem that a new leader might be what brings Opel some much-needed stability at the top.
But who is Dr. Karl-Thomas Neumann, and will he be able to fix the perpetual sore spot that’s become Opel? As a (painful) reminder, the division has been in the red for over 13 consecutive years, losing $16 billion during that timeframe. And not to spill salt on an open would, but Opel is estimated to lose $1.5 billion to $1.8 billion in 2012 when GM reports its full-year and fourth-quarter earnings on February 14th.
Even so, it would seem that the latest addition to Opel’s executive ranks is fully supported by his managers: “[Dr. Neumann will] be instrumental in leading the company on a turnaround path that will be counted among Europe’s most successful,” said chairman of Opel’s Supervisory Board Steve Girsky. “”This move will ensure that we have the best possible leadership in place as we continue driving toward profitability and growth in Europe”, said General Motors Chief Executive Office Dan Akerson.
So, let’s look at what we know about Neumann — and see where we land.
For starters, Neumann is a Doctor. He studied electrical engineering at the University of Dortmund and University of Duisburg, where he was awarded his doctorate degree. Did we already mention he’s a doctor? Feel free to tick the “education” checkbox.
Then there’s the experience: Dr. Neumann started his career at the Fraunhofer Society as a research engineer. He also worked at Motorola Semiconductor as an engineer and director of strategy for the automotive industry.
But most recently, and perhaps even most importantly, Neumann held several positions at Volkswagen. His most recent appointment there was that of CEO and vice president of the highly-successful Volkswagen operations in China. In that role, Neumann worked out of Beijing from September 2010 to August 2012.
Color us optimists, but one could draw parallels between the “forced” joint venture that non-Chinese automakers are coerced to enter into in China (recall Shanghai-GM/SIAC, VW-SAIC) and that of GM’s most recent partnership with PSA Peugeot-Citroen. Both relationships arose out of rather unnatural “needs”, rather than organic “wants” and “desires”.
Before his position at VW’s Chinese operations, Dr. Neumann also held various managerial positions with the Volkswagen Group. He joined the German automaker in 1999 as the head of Group Research and director of Electrification Strategy. In December 2009, Dr. Neumann was appointed to head up the Volkswagen Group’s Electric Traction. Yupp, tick “experience” off the checklist, as well.
For his part, Neumann has the following to say about his own appointment: “I am excited to lead a company with such a rich German heritage and strong product portfolio. I’m aware that this will be a challenging job, but I’m convinced that together with my leadership team and employees, we will turn around the company.”
Perhaps that shows a realist, as the new boss already knows that he will be in the hot seat, with his work cut out for him, come March 1. And if nothing else, Neumann has all the credentials of a successful leader — at least those that can be measured on paper. But what will also be important is how “The Doc” works with people and how aggressive he will be at making changes — which are obviously needed… and needed quickly.
For its part, GM has forecasted that 2015 will be the year it breaks even on Opel; in the short-term, the goal is to reduce Opel losses by one-third to one-half in 2013. What won’t help accelerate those goals is Europe’s sovereign debt crisis and low consumer confidence, which have thus far resulted in a shrinking market for new cars in the Old World. But if there’s a will, there’s a way… and Neumann, the father of three sons, just so happens to be a passionate marathon runner.
With that, we wish Dr. Neumann as much luck as we possibly can. No pressure.