The end of Wendelin Wiedeking
Last year, I put together an interactive feature for Portfolio.com entitled “Watch Out Below”; it listed nine vulnerable “tall poppies” who were liable to be cut down to size over the coming year. There were three CEOs on the list: Shelly Adelson, Ken Lewis, and Wendelin Wiedeking. Maybe it’s to his credit that Wiedeking managed to hang on longer than the other two. But now he’s been fired, while the other two still have their jobs, even if their reputations are in tatters.
The weird thing is that although Wiedeking’s now gone, the jury’s still out on what he achieved. After all, the tiny sports-car company he transformed over the past 16 years is now being bought for €8 billion on sales of about €6 billion a year. As a hedge-fund manager — which is what he most resembled of late — Wiedeking came spectacularly unstuck, thanks to a liquidity crunch he couldn’t get out of. But the brand he leaves behind him is a strong one, and even with €10 billion in debt it still has significant equity value.
Wiedeking was a classic product of the boom years, and the saga of VW and Porsche will make for many gripping books. There’s no doubt that today’s a low day for him. But I suspect that history will be much less harsh on Wiedeking than it will be on, say, Lewis.