Former Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche is bucking decades-old tradition, declining to take on the role of chairman of the company after his retirement as CEO nearly 18 months ago.
In the past, the outgoing CEO would assume the role after a two-year hiatus. However, Zetsche, 67, announced last weekend he would not be taking on the role due to some investors expressing their unhappiness with the prospect.
“Naturally I would like to have done the job. I also believe I would have done it well. But in the end I decided that I do not want it, that I renounce this opportunity,” he told the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung. “The fact that after 40 years of work I am not regarded by some as an asset, but as a burden, I do not need that.”
It wasn’t that long ago that Zetsche got to take a bow at the annual meeting to sustained applause from Daimler shareholders as he wrapped up his final meeting as CEO.
During his 43-year career, Zetsche touched almost every part of the company and for the last two decades, deeply involved deeply in shaping and fortifying the company as the industry shifted to face challenges like electric vehicles, carbon emissions, product preferences and more.
“This enables Daimler to reorient itself under new management, a step which from our point of view is necessary,” Michael Muders, a fund manager at Germany’s Union Investment, told Reuters.
There were other large investors that spoke out against Zetsche’s ascension to the role. This issue for some surrounds Daimler’s own diesel emission scandal. Ingo Speich, head of sustainability and corporate governance at Deka Investment, said that given the unresolved questions about the issue, “the new chairman or chairwoman should be free from conflicts of interest,” Reuters reported.
Earlier this month, Daimler agreed to pay $2.2 billion to resolve a U.S. government diesel emissions investigation and claims from 250,000 U.S. vehicle owners. It mirrors a similar problem that Volkswagen has been fighting its way through, but on a much larger scale — costing VW more than $32 billion.
Zetsche was set to take over for the current chairman, Manfred Bischoff, March 31, 2021; however, Bischoff now must find another successor. “We acknowledge Dr. Zetsche’s decision with great respect,” the company said, according to British auto publication, CarScoops.com.
Bischoff may or may not have someone in mind for the job, but Joe Kaeser, who is exiting his role as CEO of German tech company Siemens, could be a top choice, Reuters reported. The publication noted his ability to communicate well with shareholders and his “openness to Chinese investors” give him a shot at the job.
The latter issue is important as Chinese companies Geely and BAIC control nearly 20% in Daimler through direct stakes and share options.