Interview with Oliver Blume
Oliver Blume, Chairman of the Volkswagen Group Board of Management and Chairman of the Executive Board of Porsche AG
Mr Blume, you were born in Lower Saxony and grew up here. What does your new role in the Volkswagen Group mean to you?
A great deal. For me it’s a great honour to have been offered this position. I have worked for the Volkswagen Group for 28 years, was active with four brands and the company has been very good to me – now I want to put my experience to the service of the group. With passion and team spirit. Success is always the product of a strong team.
You know the main players quite well already, as well as the people and the region. How important is a connection to home for you?
You only have one home. I was born in Braunschweig, grew up near Wolfsburg and studied in Braunschweig. I have a great sense of connection to the people of this region: family, friends, companions along the way. Including at Volkswagen. So, this is my home turf. Interestingly, only one Chairman of the Board of Management has been from Lower Saxony: Heinrich Nordhoff, a positively influential figure.
Your dual role as the Chairman of the Volkswagen Group Board of Management and Chairman of the Executive Board of Porsche AG has been described in the media as highly complex. Is it possible to run the Group and Porsche at the same time?
Absolutely. The strategic leadership of the Group differs significantly from the operational management of a brand. The two roles complement each other perfectly. In the automotive industry, simultaneously heading a group and a brand is not unusual. And it has served the Volkswagen Group well over many years as well. For me personally, linking the two roles is a critical, well-considered decision for the long-term success of the Volkswagen Group and Porsche: being closely involved in the processes and technologies of a company in order to be in a position to make the right strategic decisions in the Group.
What effect would a potential IPO at Porsche AG have on your dual role?
If Porsche AG were to go public, my dual role would have significant advantages. After a potential IPO, Porsche AG would be an independent company with no authority on the part of Volkswagen AG. In my Group role, I will at the same time work on ensuring that synergies continue to exist in both directions in terms of sales volume, components, technologies and plants. If conflicts of interest nevertheless arise, we will strictly separate matters and I would take a neutral position. The Porsche executive board will always be able to make independent decisions. At the end of the day, the Group and Porsche have the same interest: the sustained growth of Porsche with attractive dividends.
How will you manage it all in terms of time?
With teamwork, tight planning and clear priorities. My calendar will not change significantly. I will be at the same meetings that I have been attending for years as part of the Group Board of Management. Board of Management and Supervisory Board meetings, strategy, finance, technology days or brand and plant appointments. Just in a different role now. I will also gain some time by giving up the Group Production and Group Environmental Protection portfolios. I will also delegate more than ten other mandates, such as the Supervisory Board of Seat and share Group responsibilities with my Finance colleague Arno Antlitz. The same applies with Lutz Meschke at Porsche. He has been my proven deputy and board member for Finance here for years.
Word has it that you have already started talking directly with managers about the status of projects and approaches to solving problems. Sounds like you’re hitting the ground running ...
... indeed, there will be no need for a 100-day orientation. I have the great advantage of knowing the Group well, with an extensive network of colleagues in place. So, we’ll be able to get off to a roaring start. I have a clear plan and am delighted to have a strong team. Both in the Group and at Porsche and all the other brands. Team spirit, fairness and passion are key. If we all pull together and focus on achieving the objective, together we can do anything with this Group.
How much Porsche will be coming to Wolfsburg with you in terms of management culture?
My management culture is the experience from four brands: Audi, Seat, Volkswagen, and Porsche. I’ve been able to learn new things with each station and the different cultures. Personally, I always think in terms of opportunities. Building on successes, learning from setbacks. Just like in sport. It’s a question of performance and team spirit. I set the guiding principles but leave enough room for maneuver for people to bring their creativity to bear. I value mutual appreciation and cohesion. That creates a positive dynamic. I see myself as a player-manager. As a strategist and implementer. Good leadership is always the key to success. The right focus and speed make it possible.
Teamwork is very important to you. And the Group Supervisory Board also expects precisely this teamwork from you.
The Supervisory Board can count on it, as can all of my other colleagues in the Group. This perspective is very important: I like people. People are always at the centre of things for me. I live and breathe this culture. Success is a team effort. I know how to lead and inspire teams. And that is what I will bring to the Group. I want our team to be at the top of its game. Part of that is to keep getting better all the time. Porsche has only remained Porsche by constantly changing. I like to say this about Porsche, but it’s equally true for the Group as well.
What will be your personal focus in leading the Volkswagen Group?
I manage a company according to five basic principles. Our Group will only be as successful as our fantastic brands are. So, my focus is on brands, products, people, entrepreneurial spirit and sustainability. All of these dimensions have to be in lockstep with each other.
What are the main strengths you see at Volkswagen?
The Volkswagen Group stands for the management of strong brands with attractive products. We have a highly qualified team. Our Group has a global presence. We achieve economies of scale through volume. As the biggest industrial firm in Europe, we have a large societal and social responsibility: for the economic development of entire regions like Lower Saxony and for more than 670,000 jobs around the world. The Volkswagen Group is one of the world's leading technology companies. All of these factors are a strong basis for the future.
Where do you see a need for improvement?
First, I would like to emphasise that the Group Board of Management around Herbert Diess did a very good job both strategically and technologically. They laid the right groundwork. A good strategy is important. And it is always successful when it is translated into the company’s everyday operations. Systematic, transparent and accountable implementation of objectives is of great importance to me. On the basis of our major construction sites, I have drawn up a ten-point plan. With these concrete programmes operated out of the Group Board of Management, we’ll be able to hit the ground running from day one and achieve success quickly. The focus is on our financial robustness, the advancement of our products, software and technologies, regions like China and North America, as well as sustainability and the capital market.
Will you stick with the strategy of electromobility?
Absolutely. E-mobility is the future. We will keep up the current pace and where possible, actually increase it. I am a fan of e-mobility. I stand by this path through my work at Porsche as well. We got a very early start on e-mobility in spite of resistance and in 2021 roughly 25 per cent of sales worldwide were electric vehicles. By 2030, this figure should rise to over 80 per cent electric sports cars. At the same time, our plan is for the company to be carbon-neutral in 2030. I would like to bring this experience to bear in the Volkswagen Group as well. For me, the important thing is to imagine our vehicles from the customer’s perspective. From the design to the technologies and equipment.
CARIAD is one of those ‘construction sites’. To what extent are major changes to be expected there?
First things first: setting up CARIAD as the central competence centre for software is absolutely the right approach. It’s normal for the build-up of a company to be an onerous process. Now we have to keep evolving. What software with what functions can we realistically implement in what timeframe? What does that mean for the cycle plans of our products? What core competencies do we want to have at CARIAD, where are the right points of contact to the brands and with what partners do we want to collaborate? It’s also a question of the ongoing development of our processes, tools and the organisation. We will assess everything with an open mind and develop a swift implementation plan.
With e-fuels, Porsche embarked on its own path. Volkswagen is completely focused on e-mobility. Is there a contradiction there?
Not at all. A comprehensive view of climate protection requires a double-e approach: e-mobility and e-fuels as a complementary technology. There are currently more than 1.3 billion combustion engines worldwide. Many of them will still be on the market in 30 to 50 years, though varying starkly by region. Every per cent of e-fuels as an admixture in the fuel immediately reduces CO₂ emissions. At Porsche, too, we are completely committed to e-mobility and see e-fuels as complementary. They make sense when they are produced in places in the world where there is unlimited sustainable energy. We are involved in a pilot plant in Chile that has strong winds throughout the year. There, the question of the higher energy demand in the production of these fuels is irrelevant. When manufactured on an industrial scale, we assume that prices of less than $2 per litre could be achieved in the future. Beyond the existing vehicle fleet, these fuels are primarily important for the shipping and aviation sectors. Within the Group, Lamborghini is advancing e-fuels as a complementary technology as well. In the Group, we will continue to concentrate the technological development on this front at Porsche alone.
You emphasise speed and focus. Can the big tanker that is Volkswagen really gather that much speed?
The Volkswagen Group can muster a huge amount of power. Our industry is experiencing the greatest transformation in its history. In the next five years, there will be more changes than in the previous 50. This transformation generates a lot of energy. At the same time, a transformation requires stability. We have to find the right rhythm here. Define a clear strategy, resolutely follow through and check the direction at appropriate moments.
With all this going on, will you still have free time for your family and exercise?
It’s important to be well organized and have the right priorities. You have to strike a balance to have energy for the job. I’m a family person. And sport is very important to me. Whether it’s jogging, mountain biking or tennis. I can really let go and disconnect while exercising. And the good feeling it gives you is like a boost of energy.
You emphasise the importance of your family. How do you look back on your own childhood?
I had a great childhood and school years in normal circumstances. My football team was important to me. My father ran a supermarket for a long time here in Wolfsburg. My mother worked at a bank. That all shaped me. The important thing for me is to treat everyone as an equal, regardless of who they are or what they do. Dealing with people constructively and having mutual respect are very important – and that’s equally true for family life as it is in the workplace.