The unexpected ouster of Ernst Lieb, the popular – and seemingly successful – CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA has created far more questions than answers, a deepening mystery in an industry where secrets are seldom held for long.
After word leaked out that the 56-year-old German executive would be relieved of his duties – “effective immediately” – there were none of the usual corporate press releases indicating Lieb might be looking to “pursue other opportunities,” the traditionally gentle way to say carmaker and car executive have parted company.
Instead, even company insiders say they are in the dark and wondering what might have led to Lieb’s sudden departure at a time when Mercedes is gaining both sales and market share in its bitter battle with traditional rivals BMW and Lexus.
The unexpected departure is clearly creating headaches for Mercedes just as it enters the 2012 model-year with new products like the redesigned C-Class. An upcoming meeting with dealers to discuss strategy for the new year has been indefinitely postponed.
A number of possible explanations are being floated for the sudden firing, including a dicey move authorized by Lieb meant to bolster September sales numbers, a decision to invest heavily in sports marketing, and – according to a report from Germany – Lieb’s inappropriate use of his corporate expense account. But one source apparently in the know insists that the ouster has “nothing to do with business,” and was entirely a “personal” matter.