Change at the Top of the Supervisory Board


Manfred Bischoff hands over to Bernd Pischetsrieder.

Yesterday's virtual Annual Meeting of Daimler AG marked the end of an era: long-time Chairman Manfred Bischoff is leaving the Supervisory Board after 15 years, thereof 14 years as its Chairman. Bernd Pischetsrieder has been elected as his successor.

8 min reading time

by Christian Scholz, Editor
published on April 01, 2021

Manfred Bischoff and the Mercedes star have been inseparable for almost half a century. Yesterday, Ola Källenius thanked the outgoing Supervisory Board Chairman for his many accomplishments on behalf of the Group: "Manfred Bischoff has helped shape a piece of German economic history and has done a lot for our company. During his time as Chairman of the Supervisory Board, he pushed forward many important decisions - including the decision to put e-mobility at the heart of our strategy."

The change at the top of the Supervisory Board also deserves more than a mere side note in the Daimler Magazine. We spoke to Manfred Bischoff and Bernd Pischetsrieder and asked them three questions each. The result is a review of times gone by, a glance toward the major challenges ahead, and an opportunity to take stock of what has been achieved:

Three questions for Manfred Bischoff

Manfred Bischoff
Manfred Bischoff

1. Mr. Bischoff, your Daimler career began in 1976 - that was 45 years ago. Most recently, you were active as Head of the Supervisory Board for 14 years. What is your personal overview, looking back?

The name Daimler has had a special ring for me since I was a child, and there is a small anecdote about that: When I started school in Hirsau near Calw in the northern Black Forest, everyone had to stand up and say what their father did for a living. The smallest in the class stood up, puffed out his chest and said proudly: "Mei Vadder schafft beim Daimler" - "My Dad works at Daimler". He looked around the room and nothing more needed to be said: He was best. I have never regretted giving up my postdoctoral project in 1976 for a job at the former Daimler-Benz AG, in part, because I had the good fortune of becoming business coordinator for the cooperation with Steyr-Daimler-Puch for the G-Class. I was particularly impressed by two things. First, by the great willingness of all participating units to provide support, which for me has remained a key characteristic of Daimler to this day: When it comes down to it, we stand together! And, on the other hand, by the fact that, despite the strong hierarchy that existed at Daimler at the time, it was possible to prove oneself through expertise, good arguments and steadfastness. After I had left the Daimler Board of Management, I certainly did not expect Hilmar Kopper to ask me if I would like to succeed him as Supervisory Board Chairman. What an honor! Looking back, I think we did many things right and well. When we were wrong, we acknowledged the mistakes and corrected them as quickly as possible. Whether it was the Fokker or the Chrysler acquisition, our company has survived many crises. It is a great company and the star is branded on my forehead for all time.

2. Daimler-Benz, DaimlerChrysler, Daimler, and going forward Mercedes-Benz and Daimler Truck: The company's name alone has changed several times since you began your career with the company. You have experienced and helped shape numerous strategies and realignments. What decisions were particularly significant in this context?

Having spent such a long time with the company, there were many momentous decisions that were always made with the intention of achieving the best for the company and its workforce. These include Edzard Reuter's strategy of the integrated technology group with forays into the aerospace and electronics industries and the merger with Chrysler. At the time, these approaches appeared to be the right way forward, even if one would evaluate things differently with the knowledge we have today. However, if you want to drive a company forward, you also have to take risks and dare to do something new. Very often we were right on the money: Take the decision to expand the product range to include the C-Class, the former 190 series, which brought us completely new customers and rejuvenated the image of Mercedes-Benz, as well as later the A-Class with its revolutionary concept. We surprised many people with these ideas. Or, in the last decade, Dieter Zetsche's growth strategy and his goal of becoming the world's largest premium manufacturer - combined with a new design language that was first implemented in 2013 in the S-Class of the W222 series. Most recently, there was the decision for the battery-electric drives and digitalization and the clear focus on sustainability expressed by "Ambition 2039". When I see where our company stands today, the decisions we have made recently - whether strategic, structural, personnel or operational in nature - and the course we have set for the future, I am proud and happy that I have been able to play my part.

A further question on this: Why is the current strategy the right one – also with reference to “Project Focus”?

The strategy of becoming CO₂-free is imperative for our main markets, and digitalization in the car and within the company is imperative if we don't want to be downgraded to - as they say in Swabian - mere "Blechbatscher", or "metal bashers". Switching our main focus in the passenger car area back to our original DNA, namely luxury, makes equal sense and is the right thing to do. Because if we look at the developments on the world markets, it is clear that more and more people can afford a premium vehicle - and also want one. This means that the demand is there. And we have the right products. It is also correct to focus on earnings and not just on the sales numbers, because this makes the company less vulnerable and more crisis-proof in the long term.

And why does “Project Focus” make sense? If you look at the commercial vehicle market today, you will see that the independent, pure commercial vehicle companies are the most successful. In addition, the transformation of our industry requires speed and undivided attention to innovation, now more than ever. In the future, Mercedes-Benz and Daimler Truck will be able to focus all their energy on developing their own business with specific products, technologies and business structures. With a clear focus on commercial vehicles, on the one hand, and premium cars and vans, on the other, we want to create more economically successful companies for the future and thus also job security.

Manfred Bischoff on the premises of the GFG joint venture between Daimler-Benz AG and Steyr Daimler Puch AG in 1979.
Manfred Bischoff on the premises of the GFG joint venture between Daimler-Benz AG and Steyr Daimler Puch AG in 1979.

3. As the saying goes, “You never completely leave”. What do you wish for “your” company in the future, especially in view of the technological and global challenges?

First of all, I wish my successor Bernd Pischetsrieder all the best in this role and have every confidence that he is exactly the right person for the challenges of the transformation. For "my" company, I would like to see the following:

That we live our corporate values, pursue with resolution the path we have chosen with regard to electrification and digitalization, and are rigorous about implementing our strategic building blocks. Everyone in the Group must be aware that we have to be at least as swift as both our old and our new competitors. I am also particularly concerned that we are able to maintain the good atmosphere between employee representatives, the Board of Management and the Supervisory Board, especially in view of the extreme challenges we are facing. Those who bear responsibility should always have the future and success of the entire company in mind. Only a successful company can survive on the capital markets and offer secure and good jobs. And last but not least, I wish that as many first graders as possible will continue to say with the same deep tone of conviction and pride as my former classmate: "Mei Eldern schaffen beim Daimler!", "My parents work at Daimler!" - or, indeed, in the future also: "at Mercedes" or "at Daimler Truck".

Three questions for Bernd Pischetsrieder

Bernd Pischetsrieder
Bernd Pischetsrieder

1. Mr. Pischetsrieder, first of all, congratulations on your election as the new Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Daimler AG. For those who do not know you: How would you describe yourself? And what is it about the automotive industry that still fascinates you after more than forty years in the business?

First of all, I would like to thank my colleagues in the Supervisory Board for placing their trust in me. My thanks and sincere appreciation also expressly go to my predecessor, Dr. Manfred Bischoff. Manfred has played a key role in shaping the company in significant ways over several decades and has orchestrated the work of the Supervisory Board as Chairman to perfection over the last 14 years. It is an honor to follow in his footsteps.

To come back to the original question: To keep things brief, I would introduce myself as a "cosmopolitan Bavarian", an "engineer with mind, heart and soul" and an "auto enthusiast with a huge interest in the technical advancement of automobiles". As is Manfred's case, the subject of automobiles is one that has been a part of my life from an early age: My great uncle was the inventor of the Mini Cooper. This was not the only reason why it was clear to me that I wanted to study mechanical engineering. In addition, I have always wanted to shape things and set the course for the future, which first led me to BMW, then to VW, where in each case I was appointed as CEO. I have been a member of the Supervisory Board of Daimler AG since 2014. In all honesty, I have never even considered changing the industry: The auto industry has always been and - now more than ever - is a driver of progress and innovation. It will therefore never lose any of its fascination for me. Electrification and digitalization, in particular, now offer an incredible number of new opportunities that we need to seize. And that is precisely why it is a matter close to my heart to help guide our company into the future. I can't imagine a more exciting task!

2. What does this reinvention of the automobile, as we often hear it described, mean for the program priorities of the Supervisory Board in the coming years?

The automobile has continued to develop continuously over the years, but it now faces its biggest transformation in 135 years. The key challenges are decarbonization and digitalization. We now have two options: to face these challenges with skepticism and mourn the proverbial "good old days" - or to embrace them with courage, joy and determination. I personally support the latter approach. And the ground has been well prepared: Together with the Board of Management, the Supervisory Board under the leadership of Manfred Bischoff has launched many initiatives - especially with regard to digitalization and electrification: from the electric and software offensive to important strategic partnerships. We will continue to push forward with all this and will actively address the opportunities that arise for us.

Of course, the Supervisory Board is called upon to encourage as well as demand the transformation from the top. In such times of major change, however, the head of a Supervisory Board must also be both a mediator and a facilitator. What I mean by this is that the transformation will only succeed if employees, employers and shareholders are all marching in the same direction. It is particularly important for me to take the workforce with me on this journey. Investments are needed not only in technologies and locations, but also in skills. Employer and employee representatives are in agreement on this. We all have our eyes set firmly on one thing: a successful and independent future for this great company. The implementation of "Project Focus" is a very important factor in this regard because it allows the individual companies to invest in an even more targeted manner, gives them great entrepreneurial freedom and allows them to play to their strengths. That is why I support the project wholeheartedly.

3. Many employees work for Daimler or Mercedes because they love cars. You describe yourself as an "auto enthusiast". What do you say to those colleagues who are also skeptical about the automobile of the future and about their own future place in the company?

Anyone who knows me knows that I definitely have a soft spot for older cars. But the one does not exclude the other. On the contrary, it is only by being aware of the tradition of the automobile and its social significance that we can shape its future successfully. After all, the car has always been the mirror of society and has changed along with it and the needs of people. Today, the path is clearly pointing in the direction of CO₂ neutrality and digital connectivity. What remains is the desire for individual mobility.

At Daimler, we have embarked boldly on this lane change. For those who are still skeptical, I say from my own experience: An electric car can be just as much fun as a V8 model and is also better for the climate and the environment. On a beautiful Sunday, it's also possible to succumb to the charms of an older automobile; in everyday life, however, I am very happy to have the many digital helpers that make driving in a Mercedes of today so much more comfortable and safe. I am quite sure that in 25 years from now at the latest, the combustion engine will, at most, be something for collectors and nostalgic individuals. At Mercedes we never linger in the here and now, but are pioneers, like the generations before us in this company. At Daimler and Mercedes-Benz, we have the ideal prerequisites to remain at the top in the future. We have the tradition and experience, drive for innovation and engineering skill, management that acts with foresight and, most importantly: dedicated employees, some of whom have carried the star in their hearts for decades. Anyone who works at Daimler, Daimler Truck or Mercedes-Benz has every reason to look ahead with confidence!

Dr. rer. pol. Manfred Bischoff was born in Calw in 1942. After completing his studies and doctorate, he joined Daimler-Benz AG in 1976 as project coordinator for the cooperation with Steyr-Daimler-Puch, in particular for the G off-road vehicle. In 1981, he took over responsibility for investments, mergers & acquisitions in the Finance department and became department head in 1985.

In 1988, Dr. Bischoff joined the management of Mercedes-Benz do Brasil as CFO and in 1989 was then appointed to the Board of Management of Deutsche Aerospace (later DaimlerChrysler Aerospace AG) as CFO. In 1995, he became Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler-Benz Aerospace (later DaimlerChrysler Aerospace AG) and a member of the Board of Management of Daimler-Benz AG.

After the formation of EADS in 2000, Dr. Bischoff took on the position of Chairman of EADS. He retired from the Board of Management of DaimlerChrysler AG on December 15, 2003.

On April 12, 2006, Dr. Bischoff was elected to the Supervisory Board of DaimlerChrysler AG and on April 4, 2007 was elected as its Chairman by the Supervisory Board.

Dr. Ing. e.h Dipl.-Ing Bernd Pischetsrieder was born in Munich in 1948. He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from the Technical University in Munich in 1973.

In 1973, he joined the production engineering department of BMW AG. His career took him to South Africa as Technical Director from 1982 to 1985. In 1989, he was appointed to the Board of Management of BMW AG, and later became its Chairman in 1993.

In 2000, Dr. Pischetsrieder joined Volkswagen AG as a member of the Board of Management and was Chairman of the Board of Management of VW AG from 2002 to 2006. After his activity as a member of the Board of Management, Dr. Pischetsrieder served as an advisor to the Board of Management of VW AG from 2007 to 2012.

Dr. Pischetsrieder is a former Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Munich Reinsurance company in Munich and has been a member of the Supervisory Board of Daimler AG as a shareholder representative since 2014.

Christian Scholz

As a child, he once made it into the Mercedes-Benz customer magazine in the 80s with a car drawing. At that time he crossed off-road vehicles and coupés with each other. Completely crazy! And so, after studying, he preferred to use a pencil for writing rather than drawing. After various jobs in public relations, he has been writing for Daimler/Mercedes-Benz since 2012 – about off-road vehicles and coupés and everything else that moves the company.

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