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Friday, February 5, 1999 Published at 12:01 GMT

Business: The Company File

Battle for the driving seat

Rover may be the downfall of Berndt Pischetsrieder

BMW chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder could be on the verge of losing his job for failing to turn around loss-making Rover but unions fear his ambitious rival Wolfgang Reitzle is waiting in the wings.

Berndt Pischetsrieder

Last September 50-year-old Bavarian Berndt Pischetsrieder was riding on the crest of a wave.

He had outmanoeuvred Volkswagen chairman Ferdinand Piech for the rights to the Rolls-Royce brand name and was promising to build a new generation of top quality Rolls cars.

Just six months on and his job is on the line and the investment community is openly applauding the prospect of his departure.

[ image: Berndt Pischetsrieder: Time to say goodbye?]
Berndt Pischetsrieder: Time to say goodbye?
The BMW board are said to have run out of patience with his ability to turn around loss-making Rover.

It may be a sad end to a long career with BMW.

Berndt Pischetsrieder joined the company as an engineer in 1973 and held several top jobs before becoming chairman of the board of management in 1993.

The Munich-born engineer surprised industry insiders when he took over the top job, beating the favourite, Wolfgang Reitzle, the man now tipped to become chairman.

Mr Pischetsrieder is a popular figure with the unions. He negotiated a radical deal on working practices and redundancies which they hoped had secured the future of the Longbridge plant in Birmingham.

Duncan Simpson, chief Rover negotiator for the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, said: "Mr Pischetsrieder has secured the confidence of the unions because he is an honest and open negotiator. He has also demonstrated his long-term commitment to Longbridge."

Even Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott told the BBC he wishes him well: "We have done the agreement. We hope that will be held and the chairman will be fighting for it. Good luck to him."

The Bavarian is a car enthusiast - one of his most prized possessions is a Rolls-Royce Phantom II. There was even a famous accident in 1995 when he lost control of a McLaren F1 sports car while hot-rodding outside Munich.

He refuses to shave off his trademark closely cropped beard and likes to wear smart suits and brogues.

His great-uncle Sir Alec Issigonis designed the Mini, which is built by Rover.

Wolfgang Reitzle

According to industry lore, Wolfgang Reitzle, 49, is still seething about being passed over for the top job back in 1993.

He was supposed to be the heir apparent to former BMW boss Eberhard von Kuenheim.

But Mr Reitzle was overlooked after it became known that he had been considering jumping ship to head rival car group Porsche and Bernd Pischetsrieder was chosen to head the company in his place.

However this time round he is hotly tipped for the top job.

[ image: Wolfgang Reitzle: Waiting in the wings]
Wolfgang Reitzle: Waiting in the wings
He has been described by commentators as a hatchet man which does not bode well for Rover workers.

Mr Reitzle has worked for the German firm since 1976 and has been behind a string of successful BMW models.

He has already taken over from present chief executive Bernd Pischetsrieder once before, when he succeeded him as chairman of the Rover group in 1995.

Dr Reitzle, who has Clark Gable looks, is regarded as a high-flyer. Born in Bavaria, he studied mechanical engineering in Munich before joining BMW as a production technology specialist.

He has held several top jobs with BMW including head of engine production, head of the technical planning division and general manager.

Dr Reitzle was chairman of Rover between 1995 and 1997, but union leaders fear he wants to cut production of Rover cars, possibly threatening the future of the giant Longbridge plant in Birmingham.

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