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Werner, Helmut - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Helmut Werner

mercedes benz company daimler

Metallgesellschaft AG


Named by Business Week in 1996 as one of the 25 most successful managers, Helmut Werner helped revise the German luxury car company and prepared the way for the blockbuster merger between Mercedes’ parent company, Daimler Benz AG, Germany’s biggest industrial company, and Chrysler Corp in May 1998. The new DaimlerChrysler company, with sales of $130 billion and 421,000 employees will become one of the largest automakers in the world. Werner, as Chairman of Mercedes-Benz from 1993 to 1997 did not survive a power struggle with Jurgen Schrempp, Daimler Benz’s chairman, and eventually resigned from the company. He is still an important player in Mercedes’s revitalization and one of the industry’s top executives.

Personal Life

Helmut Werner was born in Cologne, Germany, on September 2, 1936. He graduated from the Abiture Beethoven-gymnasium in 1956 and earned a business degree from the University of Cologne in 1961. He is married to Erika Werner, and the couple have two children, Jens and Britta. An avid skier, Werner annually celebrates the Christmas holidays with his family on the ski slopes. He has called his former position as chairman of Mercedes-Benz “the best job in the world.” He currently sits on the board of directors of the JP Morgan Germany Advisory Council.

Career Details

Prior to his arrival at Mercedes-Benz, Werner began his career with Englebert & Co. in 1961; he became the company’s sales manager in 1969. In 1970, Werner became the general product manager of Uniroyal Europe in Liege, Belgium, becoming the company’s managing director in 1978. He was a member of the executive board of Continental Gummi-Werke AG of Hannover, Germany, in 1979, and served as the company’s chairman from 1982 to 1987. Werner joined the executive board of Daimler Benz in 1987, and was named CEO and chairman of Mercedes-Benz AG in 1993.

When Werner took over the reigns of Mercedes, he succeeded Werner Neifer, who had died after 50 years of service to the automobile industry. Neifer was a legendary figure in the European automobile industry, with a reputation as a conscientious leader who listened to workers’s complaints and solved them. He was also instrumental in the production of the successful 190 Mercedes series and its S class. However, when Werner succeeded Neifer, the venerable company was struggling. It was losing sales to its arch rival BMW and to Japanese luxury brands such as Lexus. Critics charged that Mercedes was out of touch with its customers and was overly burdened by the highest costs in the automobile industry. Losses in 1993 totaled almost $713 million. Identifying key priorities of product efficiency and globalization, Werner acted decisively to reduce spending, built factories outside of Germany, and introduced a new product line, including the Smart minicar, a joint venture with the Swiss firm SMH Swatch, the M-class, a $35,000 sports utility line, and the A-class, a $20,000 subcompact. Werner’s changes resulted in increased sales and profits. In 1995, Mercedes achieved a net profit of $1.5 billion, and the Mercedes division accounted for more than 70 percent of Daimler-Benz’s group sales and nearly all of its net profits. Werner had succeeded in turning Mercedes from a money-losing manufacturer of overpriced cars to a more flexible company offering sleek, desirable, more affordable models. Werner slashed costs and aggressively pushed into new markets, such as small cars and sport-utility vehicles, that extended Mercedes’ portion of the world automobile market.

Werner lost a bid to succeed Edzard Reuter as CEO of Daimler Benz in 1995 to Jurgen Schrempp, which initiated a power struggle between Mercedes Benz and its parent company that wanted more control. Daimler had suffered from over-diversification into such areas as home appliances, financial services, satellites, and most of Germany’s defense and aviation industries. Schrempp moved quickly to replace the company’s unwieldy management structure. He wanted to eliminate the holding company established by Reuter to build a diversified technology company and bring Mercedes, which Werner ran independently, back into Daimler and Schrempp’s direct control. Werner argued against the move, stressing that Mercedes was at a critical point in its turnaround and should remain autonomous. In 1996, Schrempp decided to force the issue, convincing his board to support his reorganization plans. Werner, supposedly, turned down the job of vice-chairman of Daimler, and Schrempp was ordered by his supervisory board to come up with a plan that Werner would support. A final attempt to reach a compromise failed, and Werner resigned his position in January 1997. In a statement he is quoted as saying that he saw “no ability to contribute his industrial experience within the framework of the concern’s new structure.” Shortly before Werner left Mercedes-Benz he was names as one of the 25 top managers in the world by Business Week.

After leaving Mercedes-Benz, Werner served as the Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Expo 2000 and as a member of the supervisory boards of Alcatel Alsthom, IBM Deutschland GmbH, Gerling-Konzern Versicherungs-Beteilgungs AG, and BASF AG. In 1997, he was named a principal in Penske Capital Partners, L.L.C., a company formed to acquire businesses in the transportation industry. In 1998, he became the chairman of Metallgesellschaft, an industrial and trading group.

Social and Economic Impact

Werner was one of a number of leading business executives during the 1990s who helped revitalize their businesses by savvy management skills, cost cutting, and an informed sense of the market. Through Werner’s   leadership Mercedes-Benz has grown to become one of the auto industry’s strongest companies and made possible the blockbuster merger that joined Daimler Benz, its parent company, with Chrysler in one of the largest business deals in history. Werner transformed the image of Mercedes-Benz from a luxury car maker for an affluent few to a wider market by introducing new products, including minicars, sports-utility vehicles, and less costly brands.

All have profited from the cache of the Mercedes-Benz brand name and its reputation for quality and performance. Werner oversaw the creation of a Mercedes factory in Alabama, a recognition of the importance of the American market. A dominant automaker in Europe, Mercedes-Benz has entered the U.S. market aggressively under Werner’s leadership, a move that should accelerate with the Chrysler acquisition.

Chronology: Helmut Werner

1936: Born.

1956: Graduated from the University of Cologne, Germany.

1961: Joined Engelbert & Co.

1969: Promoted to sales manager.

1970: Hired as general product manager for Uniroyal Europe.

1978: Promoted to managing director.

1979: Named to the executive board of Continental Gummi-Werke AG.

1987: Named board member of Daimler Benz AG, responsible for Mercedes-Benz.

1993: Took over as CEO of Mercedes.

1997: Resigned.

1998: Named chairman of Metallgesellschaft.

In addition to his role in Germany’s corporate world, Werner has served as an advisor on various committees for the European Economic Union. One of his most important roles has been his very public endorsement of the Euro, the single European currency. Convinced that forging a sole currency is crucial to Europe’s competitiveness in world markets, Werner has claimed that the European Union is doing a poor job in convincing citizens and businesses of its necessity to economic prosperity. “if we launched a product like that,” the former Mercedes-Benz executive has remarked, “it would flop.”

Wertheimer, Barbara Mayer (1926–1983) - U.S. Labor History [next] [back] Werner, Alfred

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