FRANKFURT - Wolfgang Steib admits that he is not much of a diplomat. The 37-year-old sales director at Peugeot Germany is candid and direct when it comes to difficult matters like trying to convince dealers to give up their independence.
But they appreciate his honesty, even when they don't like the message.
Peugeot Germany is restructuring its sales organization and retail network, and Steib is at the center of the changes. He is pushing small independent Peugeot dealers to become part of larger dealers located nearby.
It's a thankless job, but occasionally he gets thanked anyway.
'It is very moving when a dealer asks me to stay on for dinner after my visit,' he says.
Steib was offered the Peugeot sales director's job in 1997 after a period at Porsche. He was the No. 2 man in the export sales department at the German sports car maker.
After witnessing Porsche's dramatic recovery under Wendelin Wiedeking he was ready to put some of the lessons he had learned into practice elsewhere.
Tall and good-looking, Steib would not look out of place posing as a fashion model in Boss suits. A modest manner reflects his rural Swabian upbringing. But he can't hide the passion he brings to his life and his work. Steib's voice raises to a high pitch as he grows excited about a subject.
Steib grew up in Biberach in southern Germany. As a boy he wanted to become a fighter pilot, and at age 14 he started with gliders. But his childhood dream ended when he was not accepted for jet pilot training during military service.
'I was very disappointed, and therefore did not pursue the idea of becoming a civilian jet pilot,' he says. 'I decided to do something else.' He became involved in politics, intrigued by Helmut Kohl's vision of a politically unified Europe - 'so much more than just an economic union,' he says.
Steib founded the junior association of the CDU party in the Biberach region. He also obtained his private pilot license, and began studying European Law at the University of Tubingen. After graduating, he began a three-year management course at the Ecole des Affaires de Paris. The program took him to Paris, Oxford and Berlin.
'I sold all my valuables and borrowed money from my father to be able to go there,' he says. 'In Paris, I struggled with the language and the subjects, because I was the only one without an economic background.'
While in the UK at Oxford he had his first experience of the auto industry. He accepted a trainee position with Jaguar in Browns Lane, Coventry, and soon decided that the car business was for him.
'I learned so much from John Morgan, the former European sales director,' Steib says.
The senior Jaguar manager identified the young man's potential and assigned him to study whether a Jaguar smaller than the XJ-range could succeed in the German market. Steib's analysis 12 years ago was that such a car had potential if it had premium quality. Some of his thinking was put to use in the planning of Jaguar's new S-type mid-range luxury sedan.
After finishing the Ecole des Affaires de Paris program in 1989, Steib joined Porsche in the export sales department. He survived a period when Porsche sales were plunging and the company went through a series of top sales executives.
'I learned a lot from Wendelin Wiedeking's turnaround program,' he says.
At age 31, he was made responsible for all Porsche-owned importers in Europe and shortly after became second-in-command of export sales. When Peugeot headhunters approached, Steib decided to follow the advice of his mother. She had told him: 'You only know if you can succeed with bigger tasks if you try.'