Carl-Peter Forster has been waiting to show the automotive world what he can do since his frustrating and untimely departure from BMW in March 2000.
Forster, 46, was viewed as the heir apparent to Joachim Milberg in BMW's top job. But Forster and two other executives, Wolfgang Ziebart and Henrich Heitmann, disagreed with Milberg over the way BMW's sale of Rover was handled and were fired. The three executives wanted to close Rover, not sell it, according to sources.
In the end, BMW sold Rover to Phoenix, a consortium of British businessmen, for a symbolic 10 (E16) in May last year.
Speculation that Forster would replace Robert Hendry as Opel chairman has been raging since last summer. Forster's long-delayed ascension to the job (see top story) will take place on April 1, according to sources. He'll be the first German head of Opel in 12 years, after four Americans.
Ex-colleagues say Forster has the charisma and background to lead Opel. Born in London in 1954, Forster speaks English fluently. Former associates call him an urbane and sophisticated executive with a grasp of all the major elements of running a car manufacturer.
They say Forster is a strong motivator. His leadership style is forceful and sometimes even demanding. He is a persuasive speaker with a salesman's ability for making other people see things his way.
Former colleagues say Forster -like his former boss Wolfgang Reitzle - is an engineer with an intuitive sense of customer and sales and marketing issues.
'He is extremely self-assured, a trait some critics might see as arrogance,' said one former BMW executive who worked closely with him. 'Forster is a fast learner, capable of quickly mastering the facts he needs to make decisions. He is impatient to get rapid results.' Such attributes will serve him well at troubled Opel.
Forster will have to deal with sliding market share and poor financial results. Opel reported an operating loss of DM982 million (E497 million) in 2000 compared with a loss of DM275 million the year before. Market share in Germany, Opel's largest market, shrank from 13.8 percent to 12.2 percent.
One insider predicts Forster will act quickly, working to change Opel's image by putting a strong accent on branding and communicating the values of the Opel marque. Known for setting tough targets, Forster will challenge the sales department to rise to the task.
'Since he can't quickly change the product lineup, he will focus on creating added value in the existing products by improving current lines
and adding special editions to make them more attractive tocustomers,' said the source.
As a German, Forster may have an easier time dealing with Opel's contentious work force and often polarized management ranks.
GM's biggest European unit has long been a focus of controversy and a tough assignment for GM career executives - usually American - who have run the German company.
Hendry will step down on March 31. GM executives have said they wanted a German executive to replace Hendry, a non-German speaker.
In contrast to previous Opel chiefs with financial backgrounds (including Hendry), Forster has an engineering background.
Trained as an aerospace engineer, Forster joined BMW in 1986 as a section manager in charge of planning, logistics and quality assurance for development vehicles in BMW's product development division.
Prior to BMW, Forster worked as a management consultant with McKinsey & Co. in Munich.
He rose swiftly through the BMW ranks, becoming project manager of the 5 series, then head of BMW's concept car operation from 1990 to 1993. He went on to take charge of the entire 5 series business before becoming head of BMW South Africa in 1996.
Forster completed his rise on February 2, 1999, when he was named to BMW's management board as head of engineering and production.