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Friday, February 5, 1999 Published at 19:16 GMT

Business: The Company File

Battle for BMW driving seat

Yesterday's men: Wolfgang Reitzle and Bernd Pischetsrieder

The appointment of new BMW boss Joachim Milberg has shocked motor industry experts who had been expecting Wolfgang Reitzle to take over from former chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder.

Joachim Milberg

The rise of Professor Milberg is the good news that Rover's under-threat Longbridge plant was waiting for, motor industry sources believe.

[ image: A new man at the helm at BMW's headquarters]
A new man at the helm at BMW's headquarters
In his 50s and with an academic and engineering background, Professor Milberg is regarded as sensible and level-headed.

Whereas fellow executive Wolfgang Reitzle was expected to pull the plug on Longbridge if he had taken over as BMW chairman, Professor Milberg is likely to have a more favourable view of the 14,000-employee West Midlands facility.

"Milberg is well respected and pragmatic. He is target-driven but I think his appointment will end the boardroom in-fighting," said a motor industry source.

A union source added that Prof Milberg was regarded as "a safe pair of hands".

Bernd Pischetsrieder

Last September 50-year-old Bavarian Bernd 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.

Six months on and he is looking for a new job.

The BMW board is said to have run out of patience with his ability to turn around loss-making Rover.

It is the end of a long career with BMW.

[ image: Bernd Pischetsrieder asked to be released from his post]
Bernd Pischetsrieder asked to be released from his post
Mr Pischetsrieder joined the company as an engineer in 1973 and held several top posts before becoming chairman of the board of management in 1993.

The Munich-born engineer surprised industry insiders when he took over the top job.

Mr Pischetsrieder is a popular figure with the unions. He negotiated a radical deal on working practices and redundancies that 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 secured the confidence of the unions because he is an honest and open negotiator. He also demonstrated his long-term commitment to Longbridge."

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, seethed after being passed over for the chairman's job back in 1993.

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

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

He was hotly tipped to take the top job this time round but has failed to make it a second time.

[ image: Wolfgang Reitzle has missed out on the top job twice]
Wolfgang Reitzle has missed out on the top job twice
Union leaders will not be devastated because he has been described by commentators as a hatchet man.

They feared he wanted to cut production of Rover cars, possibly threatening the future of Longbridge.

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

He was chairman of the Rover group between 1995 and 1997.

Dr Reitzle was born in Bavaria and 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.

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