Automotive News Europe's 1999 Eurostars are helping to change the course of the European auto industry, starting with top CEO Louis Schweitzer's acquisition of a dominant stake in Nissan for Renault. Here are 12 European executives picked by our editors and reporters for their accomplishments during the past year.
Tommaso Le Pera
Under Tommaso Le Pera, senior vice president of purchasing, Fiat has radically reorganized its purchasing department and started a major outsourcing program.
Since the start of the year, so-called product-line teams have presented a common face to Fiat's suppliers. The goal is to reduce costs by 5 percent a year, and early results look highly promising.
The launch of the new Punto has also seen the start of a significant shift to modular sourcing of major subassemblies. Twenty percent of the sourcing for the new Punto is modular. The share will jump to 40 percent with the new Bravo/Brava.
Fiat Auto's 'SuPer' (Supplier Performance) program has also been relaunched. The strategy is 'to get suppliers to propose more and press us on the specifications,' according to Le Pera. In the longer term, Le Pera is looking to change the culture of the purchasing department to make better use of supplier competencies, and boost its skill levels by employing only engineers.
Le Pera has a strong background in logistics and manufacturing, although he has also spent time in sales and marketing. After graduating in nuclear engineering, Le Pera joined Fiat Auto in 1976. From 1992 he was director of the logistics division. In 1995 he switched to sales, where he was responsible for the Italian market. Le Pera was appointed to his current position in 1998.
Louis Schweitzer has succeeded where his predecessors failed: he has made Renault a real global player in the car industry.
The lanky former French bureaucrat has led a transformation at Renault since he was named president in 1992.
His efforts culminated on March 27 in Tokyo, when he signed an agreement with Nissan President Yoshikazu Hanawa which gave Renault a 36.8 percent stake in Nissan Motor Co. Renault also gained major executive positions inside Nissan's management. The most significant of these was Renault Executive Vice President Carlos Ghosn's appointment as Nissan's chief operating officer.
The deal symbolized the revival of Renault. It came 11 years after the sale of American Motors to Chrysler, eight years after an unsuccessful attempt to take over Skoda, and five-and-a-half years after a failed merger with Volvo.
Schweitzer, 57, began his restructuring of Renault by lowering the French state's level of equity in the company to 44 percent. The result was a much nimbler company that has been an innovator in new products, purchasing and labor relations. Its renewed financial strength put it in a position to buy the stake in Nissan.
Schweitzer proposed the formal alliance to Hanawa in the summer of 1998. He pursued his goal in spite of concerns about the Japanese carmaker's ailing financial situation and Nissan's initial preference for a deal with DaimlerChrysler.
He also convinced Ghosn, his tough No. 2 executive, to leave Renault headquarters in Paris to go to Tokyo and fix Nissan's problems.
Schweitzer's financial skills, his sense of diplomacy, and his connections with the French socialist government will be critical to the success of the Nissan alliance.
But serious questions remain. Can the two different national and corporate cultures co-exist? Will Schweitzer succeed in creating a new kind of euro-Japanese company?
Louis Schweitzer has taken a huge risk. But his daring has helped put Renault on the global automotive industry map.
Executive in an Emerging Market
One of a group of young GM engineers schooled on lean production principles, Scott Mackie was responsible for the successful start-up of the company's new factory in Poland.
Mackie was appointed managing director of GM Poland in August 1996 and has run the new assembly plant in Gliwice that begins production of the Opel Agila minicar this autumn.
Thirty-eight-year-old Mackie was trained at CAMI Automotive, the GM-Suzuki joint-venture factory in Canada. Like others who learned about lean production at CAMI, Mackie was sent overseas to open one of GM's new factories. He adapted techniques based on Japanese just-in-time manufacturing principles but refined at the Opel factory in Eisenach, Germany, and new plants in Brazil and Argentina.
The low-cost, greenfield Gliwice plant, a $300 million investment, is a modular facility that can be expanded as the Polish market grows. It will be the only production site for the Agila, a Suzuki-based car that will be sold throughout Europe.
The first stage of the new factory opened in autumn 1998 and is making the Opel Astra Classic, based on the previous-generation Astra.
Eventually, Gliwice will make about 150,000 cars a year, of which 110,000 will be Agilas.
Born in Ontario, Canada, Mackie has spent his entire 16-year career at GM.
He began as a production engineer with the Buick division in 1983, and moved to CAMI as treasurer and director five years later.
He was transferred to the New York financial office in 1990, and became head of international analysis in 1991. He moved to GM Europe headquarters in Zurich in 1994 to take up the position of vice president, planning.
On September 1, he begins a new job as general director of new ventures for GM Service Parts Operations in the USA.
Diana T. Kurylko
Project Leader for an Individual Car
For Hermann Gaus, the new Mercedes-Benz S-class represented the biggest challenge of his career. Gaus was responsible for the development of the Mercedes-Benz flagship, together with Hans Multhaupt.
The S-class had to regain Mercedes-Benz's reputation for innovation in the luxury-car segment. But Gaus also had to respect strict budget limits while not compromising on quality.
Gaus, who is a member of the board at DaimlerChrysler AG, said the S-class had to fulfill a wide variety of criteria. It had to have more charisma and social acceptability than its bulky predecessor. It had to appeal to younger buyers, while retaining the traditional core values of the Mercedes-Benz brand. It had be full of the latest technology, and it had to appeal to existing S-class owners. The car also had to satisfy US and Asian buyers' appetites for big, roomy sedans.
Gaus got the balance just right. S-class sales are booming in Europe and throughout the world. Customer reactions continue to be overwhelmingly positive.
The 63-year-old Swabian engineer was originally scheduled to retire on January 2001. But the D/C management board has persuaded Gaus to hang on a little longer. He has been promoted to lead development of the super-luxury Mercedes-Benz Maybach, due for launch in 2002. Multhaupt has succeeded Gaus as senior vice president, overall concept, for the S- and E-class ranges.
When Daniel Dewavrin became the head of Bertrand Faure in 1990, the French firm was better known for mattresses and Delsey-brand luggage than for automotive seats.
Today, Dewavrin runs a company that is 51 percent owned by PSA/Peugeot-Citroen, and about to become a key player in the hugely competitive US automotive seat market.
Under Dewavrin, Bertrand Faure began to divest its non-automotive interests. By the end of 1997, the company had become a prime takeover target for big American suppliers. But PSA, through its then-auto parts subsidiary Ecia, moved to take a 17 percent stake in the seatmaker.
The merger of Bertrand Faure and Ecia was completed in June 1998, with Dewavrin retaining the top job.
Earlier this month, Automotive News Europe reported that General Motors was about to award Faurecia a $500 million contract for a new range of vehicles, over North American giants Lear Corp. and Johnson Controls Inc.
The GM contract is the first step toward Dewavrin's goal of making Faurecia a much more global player.
Dewavrin, 63, is a polite, but discreet man who enjoys a challenge. He no doubt learned much from his father, André Dewavrin, a World War II hero who was the head of Charles De Gaulle's secret service in London.
Public Relations Executive
Roland Klein is a jet-setting example of DaimlerChrysler's post-merger integration. D/C's head of global corporate communications and automotive business affairs has bases in both Germany and the USA. Every week Klein boards a plane to hop across the Atlantic between his desks in Stuttgart and Auburn Hills.
The 45-year-old former journalist has been the voice of the merger. He has been called on to painstakingly explain the details of the new DaimlerChrysler. He has done so with precision and efficiency.
Indeed, Klein is a communications professional who enjoys communicating. He is approachable and unpretentious. Reporters like him because he returns calls and has time for them when he does. Klein is also well connected inside D/C. Chairman Jurgen Schrempp uses him as a sounding board throughout the work day.
Journalists and colleague say he avoids rumor and intrigue - not only with the media, but also with his colleagues.
In both the USA and Germany, Klein is regarded as an even-handed boss with a good sense of humor. He has formed a truly transatlantic public relations team.
In an era of 'spin-doctors' and 'event managers' in the public relations trade, Klein is an honorable exception.