Ferdinand Piëch, the immensely powerful former chief of Volkswagen's supervisory board, is more than likely the root cause of the VW diesel-emissions scandal. Whether he specifically asked for, tacitly approved, or was even aware of the company's use of software to deliberately fudge EPA emissions testing is immaterial.
I sat next to him at an industry dinner in the Nineties, just after the fourth-generation Golf had debuted at the Frankfurt show. I told him, "I'd like to congratulate you on the new Golf. First of all, it's a nice-looking car, but God, those body fits!"
"Ah, you like those?"
"Yeah. I wish we could get close to that at Chrysler."
"I'll give you the recipe. I called all the body engineers, stamping people, manufacturing, and executives into my conference room. And I said, 'I am tired of all these lousy body fits. You have six weeks to achieve world-class body fits. I have all your names. If we do not have good body fits in six weeks, I will replace all of you. Thank you for your time today.' "
That's how you did it?"
"Yes. And it worked."Assuming that this story is true and that this actually is the prevailing culture at Volkswagen, it's not surprising that such a ruse was devised to keep the bosses happy (and EPA in the dark.)*
I presume Truly Wise Bosses when when the turn the screws to your employees (if you have to), knowing when to let them lead, and knowing when they may be turning to nefarious and ultimately destructive means to give you good news.
*It also reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Bill Buford's "Heat", about the famous New York City chef, Mario Batali:
Did Mario know what the kitchen was like without him? According to Tony [CJ's note: one of his sous-chefs], "Mario knows exactly what he doesn't want to know."I think a lot of bosses know exactly what they don't want to know.