VIENNA - Ferdinand Piech, who functions much like a head of state himself, has hired a real one.
The Volkswagen chairman has brought former Austrian Chancellor Viktor Klima into the company and sent him to South America to run VW's operations in Argentina.
It is an unprecedented move in the auto industry. Former chiefs of state sometimes take advisory roles in industry or sit on boards of directors. But rarely do they take day jobs in companies - and it's never happened in the car business.
'It's a little bit crazy perhaps, but VW is a big industrial corporation and that is what I wanted to work for,' said Klima in an interview with Automotive News Europe.
There is almost no one Piech won't hire if he thinks they can help Volkswagen. A few years ago it was purchasing superstar Ignacio Lopez from General Motors; last year it was former BMW Chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder.
Now it is Klima - impressive even by Piech's standards. Klima, 53, resigned as chancellor of Austria in February when his party went into opposition. He will become president of Volkswagen Argentina in October, though he doesn't know Spanish and has never worked in the region of South America before.
Before launching his career in politics in 1993, Klima was a top manager at the Austrian oil company OMV. Trained in economics and computer science, he worked his way up at OMV while it was transformed from a state-owned firm into a public company. Klima eventually rose to vice president for finance, controlling and oil purchasing.
A Social Democrat, Klima served as minister of economy and communications and minister of finance in Austria's left-center coalition government. From there he succeeded Chancellor Franz Vranitzky in 1997.
Klima led the Social Democratic Party for three years and - as prime minister - was president of the European Union in the second half of 1998.
After last October's Austrian general election, Klima's coalition partner, the right-center Peoples Party, joined with Jorg Haider's right-wing Freedom Party. Klima refused to deal with Haider.
Piech, who is Austrian and a member of the government's economics and industry advisory board, met with Klima frequently and enticed him to join VW. He made an offer in March, soon after Klima resigned as chancellor.
In his new job Klima will report to Peter Hartz, VW's vice president for personnel and South American operations. Currently, VW Argentina is supervised by VW do Brasil President Herbert Demel, another Austrian.
Klima will find it tough going in crisis-stricken Argentina, where the car market has shrunk by a third in the past year. VW is third in market share behind Fiat and Renault.
VW's Argentinean assembly plant in Pacheco produces the Polo, Gol and the Caddy light-utility truck. It has a capacity of 150,000 units, though sales last year were just 57,000. A new VW transmission plant in Cordoba is just starting production.
Klima is well connected in the country. Argentina's center-left President Fernando de la Rua and Klima know each other.
Klima is studying Spanish - taught by his daughter-in-law, a Spaniard herself.
'I didn't want to do what other retired politicians do: find a cushy advisory job,' said Klima. 'That's why I looked for a job outside of Austria.
'It's going to be a fascinating challenge,' he added. 'I am - I think - the first former prime minister to go into the auto industry.'