In the midst of Continental’s crisis, the well-connected supervisory board chairman Wolfgang Reitzle has to find a new chairman. The difficulties of the Dax group hit him personally.

Wolfgang Reitzle faces difficult times at Continental.

Wolfgang Reitzle has experienced many crises in his managerial career, but the recent time at the Continental Corporation has been one of the particularly tough episodes. The auto supplier and Dax group from Hanover, which has long been spoiled by its success, but increasingly looks like a restructuring case, has prescribed an austerity program, the extent of which is unparalleled in the industry plagued by corona and technological change.

In the midst of the crisis, CEO Elmar Degenhart is leaving the ship. The chairman of the supervisory board Reitzle, 71 years old, has to find a successor, if possible by the next supervisory board meeting on November 12th. The head of the automotive division, Nikolai Setzer, is a favorite. But possibly entanglements and power struggles in the company flush another candidate to the top.

Degenhart, in office for more than a decade, has recently come under increasing criticism from unions and shareholders. For some, the austerity program with 30,000 affected employees went too far, others criticized the sluggish execution. In addition, there are said to have been health problems that have recently worsened.

Quick action for Reitzle

When rumors of his resignation began to circulate in the markets again, Degenhart found himself under pressure. According to reports, he is said to have briefly informed Reitzle of his decision on Thursday evening, whereupon the chairman of the supervisory board started the process for a mandatory stock exchange report in a quick action. In the widespread press release, he praised the outgoing CEO as a “role model” with a great track record. He respects Degenhart’s decision and “the personal reasons behind it”.

The message behind this is clear. Reitzle does not want to have driven Degenhart’s resignation himself, on the contrary. He would have preferred to continue with the CEO, is scattered in corporate circles. Recent events in which he was thin-skinned make it clear that Reitzle himself was exposed to increasing pressure.

When, for example, a wave of indignation broke out in North Rhine-Westphalia because Conti closes his tire plant in Aachen, the angry supervisory board chairman wrote a letter to the state parliament member Hendrik Schmitz (CDU). In it he complained about a lack of support for the industry and described the criticism of Conti from politics as “particularly unfair”. He later followed suit and publicly criticized that the auto industry was being politically destroyed by stricter guidelines and other interventions.

Not just a governor, but good connections to Schaeffler

Reitzle, who started his career at BMW, later became head of the Dax group Linde and has since been a member of various supervisory boards, should also have his reputation as one of the most important German business captains in mind. His post at the head of the Conti Control Council, to which the Annual General Meeting had last elected him until 2024, was never in serious danger. His connection to the major shareholder, the Franconian entrepreneurial family Schaeffler, is too good for that.