German dynasty VW set for change as Porsche’s great-grandsons ascend to power

A younger, tech-savvy generation is coming to power in the Volkswagen empire. It's going to be a big change for the business, with ethics counting as much as earnings.
Quelle: Porsche
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“I want to share my wealth instead of just buying a new yacht,” Peter Daniell Porsche once said among family members. The 44-year-old is a millionaire and VW shareholder but also writes poetry and funds a school. With his philanthropic point of view, the great-grandson of Beetle designer Ferdinand Porsche could steer the carmaker in a new direction.

Peter Daniell Porsche and cousins Stefan Piëch, 47, and Josef Michael Ahorner, 57, are set to join the non-executive board of Porsche Automobil Holding SE in May. The Porsche and Piëch families jointly control 52 percent of Volkswagen. The sports car family became VW’s biggest shareholder in 2012 after a series of stock purchases and made Porsche one of Volkswagen’s 12 brands.

Whatever the Wolfsburg-based carmaker, founded by the Nazis in 1937, wants to do, it will depend on the support of Stuttgart-based Porsche Holding to push through strategic initiatives. If the new generation of board members does not agree, they could ostensibly block management decisions. That is, if a majority of the family members cooperate.

The three great-grandsons, already non-executive board members at VW subsidiaries Skoda, Seat and Audi, will bring new perspectives to the world’s largest carmaker, which is still reeling from the diesel emissions scandal. Both Peter Daniell Porsche and Stefan Piëch want to introduce a new understanding of rules, law and morals at VW, a source said. “Both see this as their mission,” the person said.

Peter Daniell Porsche could become influential. As the only child of Hans-Peter Porsche, he may inherit the biggest stake in the holding. All other fourth-generation descendants have siblings, who are expected to split the shares they inherit. Through his investment firm PDP, Peter Daniell Porsche owns stakes in an online property broker, an app to improve people’s health habits, and an eco-friendly restaurant. His businesses show he is not simply a wealthy, smooth-talking altruist. He was educated as a music therapist and a Waldorf teacher, a form of education that emphasizes creativity.

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Stefan Piëch is a businessman too, owning Your Family Entertainment, which makes TV programs for children. The production firm aims to make shows that foster cooperation and self-confidence. “I’d like to do something positive for children,” Stefan Piëch said. “We are a bit like the wooden play tools of the media business.”

Josef Ahorner co-founded a digital marketing firm in 2002 called Emarsys, which counts Office Depot and L’Oréal among its customers. Just like his two cousins, Mr. Ahorner has earned his stripes to join Porsche Holding. All three great-grandsons are expected to fill the void left by former VW chairman Ferdinand Piëch when he unexpectedly resigned in 2015. The current patriarchs and non-executives Wolfgang Porsche and Hans Michel Piëch, both in their 70s, are unable to keep track of the changes transforming the car industry, sources said. Wolfgang Porsche especially has little enthusiasm for electromobility and digital technologies, high-ranking managers said.

One day, the cousins Peter Daniell Porsche and Stefan Piëch could even claim non-executive positions at VW Group because of the size of their stakes in Porsche, sources said. This would give them more direct control over the carmaker’s decisions, although they would share their powers with the state of Lower Saxony, a major VW shareholder, and labor representatives.

Peter Daniell Porsche, who lives with his wife and four children on a farm near Salzburg, Austria, would be the most vocal new board member. In an interview in 2012, he called himself a maverick and said others might label him a troublemaker. At the time, he published an autobiography called “There’s More to Life Than Making Cars,” in which he described how his mother was unkindly treated by the Porsche family. Talking about the family-controlled car company, Peter Daniell Porsche said: “I can only hope… that a bit more social awareness will develop in the group.” He and his cousins can now take on this challenge.

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Martin Seiwert is an editor with WirtschaftsWoche, a business weekly and sister publication of Handelsblatt. Stefan Menzel writes about the auto industry focusing on Volkswagen. Martin Murphy covers the steel, car and defense industries for Handelsblatt. Gilbert Kreijger, an editor with Handelsblatt Global, contributed to this article. To contact the authors: [email protected][email protected], [email protected] and [email protected]