Family Business From the Chalkboard to the Boardroom

If Ferdinand Piëch bids farewell to Porsche, the Porsche clan will have even more power at VW. Peter Daniell Porsche, long considered an outsider, could reconcile his quarreling family.
Quelle: Getty Images
Porsche family scion, Peter Daniell Porsche, may still prefer office casual clothes, but at least he's at the office.

Peter Daniell Porsche, the scion of the Porsche automotive dynasty, has never particularly cared about adhering to the etiquette or expectations of the elder Porsche generation. Eyes rolled when Peter Daniell, who goes by Daniell, repeatedly critiqued the leadership style of his uncle Ferdinand Piëch or expressed preference for sharing his wealth with the needy rather than buying a yacht. Within the family, the Waldorf educator slipped into the role of an outsider.

That was yesterday. Today Mr. Porsche is working hard to be taken seriously by the family. For a long time, he has refrained from giving any interviews or marking public statements that contradict the family line. He once preferred to identify himself as the philanthropist behind a school for disadvantaged children, but now a different side is emerging: that of an entrepreneur. He presents a respectable image on his business’ homepage – in a three-piece suit no less. This makeover isn’t just about his identity and attitude, but a reflection of his investments. Porsche SE is maintained by a joint foundation in which Mr. Porsche has the most votes. Everyone is watching closely to see what he will do with his power.

The existence of the foundation itself, which somewhat limits Mr. Porsche’s power, is a good indicator of what kind of leader he might turn out to be, and that he won’t try to dominate the clan. By agreeing to the foundation construct instead of direct ownership, Mr. Porsche and his father deliberately relinquished some of their power. “The more unified the family is, the more influence it can exercise,” he wrote in 2012, prior to the foundation’s inception.

The more unified the family is, the more influence it can exercise. Peter Daniell Porsche, Porsche-Piëch Family Member

Instead of following in his father’s footsteps with a career in business, the 43-year-old Mr. Porsche became a teacher and a music therapist, subscribing to the free-thinking Waldorf education model. He has shunned the lavish lifestyle of his family members, saying he and his family live on €100,000 ($106,200) to €200,000 per year. Anything he earns beyond that as part of his dividends from Porsche SE gets distributed to various charities.

Mr. Porsche says he believes that companies should serve people and wealth should be shared. And he has said that automotive company executives should be paid on the basis of how environmentally friendly their cars are. Lately, however, he has kept such talk to a minimum, showing himself willing to adapt to family expectations. A bit of diplomacy, of course, is at a time of profound friction within the family.

Personal relations between the Piëchs and Porsches have been tense for decades, but when it comes to business, the families have tended to close ranks. That was until this winter, un Ferdinand Piëch reportedly revealed to state prosecutors that he had revealed potential diesel emissions cheating to VW supervisory board members, including his cousin Wolfgang Porsche, months before the scandal became public. VW board members deny that claim.

While the younger Mr. Porsche has been playing a minimal role in the higher echelons of family power, he has built up his credentials through activities in his own investment company. His holdings include a publishing company, a producer of biomass heating systems, a plastics recycler, and a brewery. “The long-term expectation is for the companies to generate, on average, a double-digit profit,” says Rafael Walter, chief executive of the company, PDP Holding, named for Peter Daniell Porsche.

While the holding company is not a charitable organization, that doesn’t mean Mr. Porsche has entirely changed his socially conscious attitude. “The profits can, to some extent, be used to further finance social projects as well,” says Mr. Walter, noting that Mr. Porsche has always had an entrepreneurial spirit and invested in various firms.

In contrast to his uncle’s notoriously brash style, Mr. Porsche doesn’t operate with a sledge hammer. He could have long ago forced his way into important company councils by using his voting rights – even against the will of family. Instead Mr. Porsche is currently biding his time as a member of the supervisory board of the VW subsidiary Skoda. Most observers are expecting Mr. Porsche to be inaugurated into the Porsche supervisory board when his father, Hans-Peter, gives up his seat.

While Ferdinand Piëch made a name for himself as an engineering genius, Mr. Porsche could secure his legacy and place in the family chronicle as the leader who reunites the families and eased tensions. His relationship with his cousins is thought to be good, and he may ultimately be successful in securing his influence over the entire family. If that turns out to be the case, it would not only fit his image as a socially conscious actor, but could also prove to be a smart business strategy.

 

This article first appeared in Wirtschafts Woche, a sister publication to Handelsblatt. To contact the author:  [email protected].