Rumors that Carl-Peter Forster would be hired as chairman of Opel have been circulating since last summer.
The rumors were true, but it took several months for Opel obtain the 46-year-old executive's services. That was because of a non-compete contract with his former employer BMW, where he left his job a year ago this month.
Sources say that BMW's supervisory board was determined not to let Forster out of his contract early. BMW had already seen too many of its former executives quickly jump to other carmakers.
BMW management and the Quandt family, which owns 48.1 percent of BMW, lost two generations of top management in two bloody boardroom battles a year apart. Both battles centered on BMW's money-losing Rover business. First Chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder and No. 2 Wolfgang Reitzle departed after a stormy seven-hour session on February 5, 1999. Then Forster and marketing chief Henrich Heitmann and product development chief Wolfgang Ziebart lost their jobs on March 16, 2000.
Reitzle was the only BMW executive in recent history who did not have a non-compete clause. So he was able to join Ford's Premier Automotive Group within a few weeks after leaving BMW.
Reitzle got his exemption from standard BMW employment policy after an abortive attempt to resign in 1991. Ferdinand Porsche had offered him a job as chairman of the management board of Porsche AG. But BMW Chairman Eberhard von Kuenheim refused to let Reitzle out of his contract. As a condition for his returning to BMW, sources say Reitzle demanded the non-compete clause be removed from his contract.
All other board members had non-compete clauses in their contracts, and Forster and Heitmann have remained technically BMW employees. They could not leave for another company until their contract was dissolved by the supervisory board.
Ziebart, who went to work for a supplier (Continental Teves), found it easier to leave. But those who wanted to leave for a competing carmaker found it difficult.
Pischetsrieder, for example, reportedly had to approach the Quandt family to finally get agreement from the supervisory board to join Volkswagen's management board last summer. VW announced the hiring of Pischetsrieder about six months earlier.
Forster had such difficulty getting permission to leave for Opel that at some points the negotiations even stalled, sources say. Although originally Forster was well-liked by the Quandts and was regarded as the BMW heir apparent, his outspoken and self-confident public appearance soured his relationship with the family. Sources say this may have been the reason for the lengthy negotiations.
Originally, the contracts of Forster, Heitmann and Ziebart were due to run out until 2002, according to sources.