FEBRUARY 8, 1999
Boardroom massacre at BMW
FRANK WILLIAMS may be looking ahead to a close long-term relationship with BMW - we believe that the team will even be known as "BMW Williams" - but on Friday came the shock news from Munich that BMW's chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder and the company's head of sales and marketing Dr. Wolfgang Reitzle had both resigned after a stormy meeting of the BMW╩Supervisory Board to discuss the future of the troubled Rover Group, a BMW subsidiary.
Pischetsrieder wanted to invest more money in Rover while Reitzle, apparently sensing that he might be able to oust Pischetsrieder and become chairman, argued that Rover should be radically reduced in size. In the end the Supervisory Board decided that it wanted to end the feud between the two men - which has been building up for some months - and engineered their resignations. The new BMW chairman is to be Professor Joachim Milberg, a former academic at Munich's Technical University, who has been in charge of BMW production since 1994.
It is unlikely that the change of management will alter BMW's plans to enter F1, but it may signal the start of a bidding war for the company between bigger motor manufacturers which are keen to get hold of the prestigious BMW brandname. As soon as the resignations were announced rumors suggested that Ford, General Motors, Daimler-Chrysler, Volkswagen and Fiat are all preparing bids for the company.
Much will depend on the attitude adopted by the Quandt Family, which has controlled BMW since Herbert Quandt bought the company in 1959. Today his widow Johanna controls around 18% of the shares with her children Stefan and Susanne holding another 30% between them. The Quandt Family's interests in BMW have been overseen in recent years by Eberhart╩Von╩Kuenheim. He was BMW chairman for 22 years before handing over to Pischetsrieder in May 1993 although as Chairman of the BMW Supervisory Board he has remained an influential figure. Von Kuenheim seems to have played an important role in the resignations of Pischetsrieder and Reitzle and it has worked in his favor. He was due to stand down from the Supervisory Board in May of this year but the departure of Pischetrieder and Reitzle means that he will now stay on for another year.
While Williams has a solid contract with BMW, it will be worth watching developments in the next few weeks.
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