In Opel's recent history one individual has been viewed both as hero and villain: Ignacio Lopez, General Motors Europe's former purchasing boss.
Lopez sparked a bitter legal battle between Opel and Volkswagen, the company to which he defected. But one key Opel executive remembers well how the company benefited from the Spaniard's purchasing programs.
'Lopez was my savior in those days,' recalls Horst Herke, Opel chairman from 1986 until 1989. 'When he came to Russelsheim in 1987, he helped Opel get out of the red and make a profit two years later.'
Herke brought Lopez to Russelsheim from GM's plant in Zaragoza, Spain, where Herke had been managing director. Lopez started there as a manufacturing engineer in the late 1980s. 'He laid some golden eggs,' says Herke, recalling how Lopez set up a program to improve Spanish suppliers.
Lopez eventually rose to the top of GM's purchasing empire in North America. But in 1993 he went to archrival VW, allegedly taking thousands of GM documents with him. German prosecutors last July dropped an industrial espionage case against Lopez and three other former GM executives. Prosecutors agreed to abandon the case against the four men in return for $320,000 in charitable donations.