GRAZ, Austria - It is pure coincidence that Magna International Chairman Frank Stronach chose a fellow Austrian as chairman of the fast-expanding Magna Holding Europe.
But Rudolf Streicher, 59, has a lot more in common with his new boss, Stronach, than his nationality.
Like Stronach, Streicher is a skilled toolmaker who has climbed the social ladder. He missed secondary school and joined the state steel corporation Voest as an apprentice toolmaker.
Fortunately, Streicher's bosses saw his potential. They recommended evening classes to prepare him for university. 'It was very hard,' says Streicher, 'because I continued to work while studying. It took eight years to get my degree.'
Streicher secured an engineering degree from Leoben Technical University, where he now lectures occasionally on business management. Stronach frequently joins the audience.
But Streicher wasn't content with just one degree. He also studied part-time at Graz Academy of Music as an orchestra conductor.
'Now,' he says, 'I commit myself to conducting one charity concert in the Vienna Concert Hall each year before Chrismas.'
Putting his engineering degree to work, he rose to become president of the state-owned aluminum enterprise, Metallwerke Ranshofen-Berndorf. It was making heavy losses, but Streicher quickly turned it around, aided by rising aluminum prices on the world market.
Because Streicher had been a member of the ruling Social Democratic Party since his youth, he was seen as 'a safe pair of hands' for other ailing state enterprises. The government offered him the position of chief executive of the engineering conglomerate Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG.
Streicher started to get rid of Steyr's loss-making subsidiaries. But before he had made much progress, he was offered the Ministry of Transport and Economic Development.
Streicher was unsure whether to take the post - it meant a cut in salary of two-thirds, 'and I had just bought a house.' Although he received no salary from Steyr's owner, the state-run Creditanstalt, the bank agreed to maintain his contract so that he would have a job to return to if he lost political office.
He was a popular minister, and he knew how to keep himself in the public eye. Several times, he conducted leading Austrian orchestras on television.
One of his lasting achievements is the green-and-white 'L' badge on the front and back of European heavy trucks. The 'low-noise' symbol was his way of reducing the flood of heavy trucks through the Tyrol. The Austrian government limited the number of border crossings a truck could make each year - but 'low-noise' trucks were allowed to cross the border more frequently.
Streicher also knew Magna when he was a minister. He determined that subsidies should be paid to Magna to set up its first Austrian factory in 1992.
The Social Democratic Party chose Streicher as its candidate for Austrian President.
His main opponent was Thomas Klestil of the conservative People's Party. Klestil was a high ranking diplomat, but generally regarded as very dull.
Streicher was favored, but Klestil won the race and Streicher returned to his old job at Steyr-Daimler-Puch. The position had just become vacant through the death of his successor.
Streicher's return antagonized Vice President Juergen Stockmar, who had expected to take the top job. Stockmar left for Opel. Now he is expected to join Magna International, Steyr's new owner.
Streicher had become good friends with Magna's owner, Stronach. They share a love of skiing. Streicher bought a flat in the luxury compound that Stronach built next to his European headquarters in Ober Waltersdorf.
Despite their close relationship, Streicher was surprised by Magna's deal with Creditanstalt. Stock Exchange rules prevented Stronach telling his friend about the negotiations.
Once the acquisition has been completed, Streicher will be chairman of both Magna-Steyr-Puch and Magna Holding Europe.
Rudolf Streicher, Chairman, Magna Holding Europe
Born: 1939 in Wallsee, Austria
Education: Engineering degree and
doctorate in metallurgy
from Leoben Technical
University; degree from Graz
Academy of Music
Languages: German, English
1953 Apprentice, then toolmaker, at Voest, Austria's steel company
1971 Head of r&d for all state-owned manufacturers
1974 Member of the board, Metallwerke Ranshofen-Berndorf
1981 President and CEO, Austria Metall AG
1986 President and CEO, Steyr-Daimler-Puch
1986 Minister of Transport and Economic Development
1992 Candidate for President of Austria
1992 President and CEO, Steyr-Daimler-Puch
1998 Chairman, Magna Holding Europe; chairman, Magna-Steyr-Puch