Gleiss Lutz advises VW on dramatic exit of CEO Herbert Diess

Diess is stepping down three years ahead of schedule to make way for Porsche head Oliver Blume

Herbert Diess Shutterstock

Leading German independent Gleiss Lutz has advised Volkswagen’s supervisory board on the dramatic departure of embattled chief executive Herbert Diess.

Diess' surprise resignation was confirmed ‘by mutual agreement’ after a meeting of VW's supervisory board last Friday in which it appointed Porsche head Oliver Blume as his replacement.

Diess will step down on 1 September, three years before the end of his contract. His four years at the helm of Europe’s top carmaker saw him push VW’s transition to producing electric vehicles (EVs) against the background of conflict with its board and unions. 

Blume, meanwhile, will remain at the helm of Porsche, Gleiss Lutz said, while VW CFO Arno Antlitz will take on the additional role of COO to assist Blume with day-to-day operations. 

The Gleiss Lutz team was led by co-managing partner Michael Arnold, a company law specialist, fellow corporate partner Adrian Bingel, and employment specialist Christian Arnold. The trio are based at the firm's Stuttgart headquarters.

Diess joined VW in 2015 from BMW just months before it emerged that VW had cheated emissions tests. During his leadership he came into conflict with the board and workers council over his determination to push the company to move more quickly towards producing electric vehicles (EVs).

Comments he made last autumn that a mismanaged transition to electrification could see the automaker cut 30,000 jobs worsened tensions, as did remarks about the rapid rise and dominance of Tesla in this market segment. 

In the days running up to the board meeting, the reclusive Porsche and Piech families – major shareholders in Volkswagen – reportedly pressed for a change of leadership with the  supervisory board's top committee, which is made up of family representatives, labour leaders and officials from the German state of Lower Saxony. 

Blume, who has been at VW Group for nearly 20 years and chair of Porsche’s board since 2015, will continue at the helm of Porsche ‘also after a possible IPO’, the carmaker said. 

A Gleiss Lutz team – again featuring Michael and Christian Arnold – advised VW back in February on the potential Porsche listing, with the move reportedly intended to fund the carmaker’s costly shift towards EVs. Estimates at the time for Porsche’s value as a standalone company ranged from €45bn to €90bn, though a subdued market means a listing in Q4 this year could bring in far less than originally thought. 

Gleiss Lutz is a longtime adviser to VW, whose brands include Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini and Volkswagen as well as Porsche. It has been advising the carmaker in relation to the emissions scandal since 2016.

It also advised the auto-giant on the IPO of VW truck and bus subsidiary Traton in 2019 and Traton’s subsequent takeover of US truck manufacturer Navistar.

The Gleiss Lutz team advising on this month's leadership shake up also included, from the corporate team: Vera Rothenburg (partner); Jan-David Geiger, Markus Martin, Moritz Rudzio and Matthias Gärtner (all counsel); and Silke Hoffmann, Teresa Link and Daniel Bernhardt (associates).

Providing additional employment advice were associates Ricarda Zeh, Eva Schiebsdat and Peter Hummel.

Earlier this month, Gleiss Lutz became the first German law firm to secure a land site in Decentraland to open an office in the Metaverse


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