Daimler appoints R&D chief as new CEO

Ola Källenius to take over from Dieter Zetsche from mid-2019

Citing “challenges presented by the transformation of the automotive industry”, Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz and Smart, has announced a succession plan for the roles of CEO, chairman, and head of research and development.

In a statement overnight, Daimler confirmed Ola Källenius will replace Dieter Zetsche as the company’s CEO and the head of the Mercedes-Benz passenger car brand. Källenius will begin his five-year term as CEO at the end of the company’s next annual general meeting on May 22, 2019.

The appointment will make the management board “younger and thus giving it new impetus”, said Michael Brecht, the head of Daimler’s works council.

Källenius

Currently 49 years old, Källenius will be the first non-German to lead the German truck and luxury car maker. Källenius joined Daimler in 1993 after gaining degrees in finance and management.

From 1998 he served in various senior roles at the company’s new plant in Tuscaloosa, USA, which was built to produce the M-Class.

He ran the AMG division between 2010 and 2013, was sales and marketing chief for the Mercedes-Benz passenger car unit, and since the beginning of 2017 has been the car division’s head of research and development. Källenius has also served as an executive director at McLaren Automotive.

The Swede’s ascension to the top job comes at an important juncture for the company, with the automaker attempting to transform itself into a mobility company, investing heavily in electric vehicles, and caught in the middle of a trade war between the US, and Europe and China.

Zetsche

Thanks to his walrus moustache and his deep embrace of German humour, Zetsche — or Dr Z during an advertising campaign during his time as Chrysler CEO — is one of the most easily recognised automotive executives.

Dieter Zetsche will continue with the company, and will move to the company’s supervisory board. He is slated to takeover from Dr Manfred Bischoff as Daimler’s chairman from the 2021 annual general meeting.

After serving a two-year cooling off and transition period, Zetsche will be promoted to the role of chairman. Daimler says his elevation to the role will ensure “continuity for the sustained success” of the company.

Now 65 years old, Zetsche has been with Daimler since 1976. After various roles in research and development he was appointed as the CEO of Chrysler in 2001, just three years after the “merger of equals”.

He replaced Jürgen Schrempp as Daimler’s CEO in 2006, and in 2007 managed to offload Chrysler to Cerberus, a private equity firm. Burdened by expensive labour contracts, an ageing and thirsty range, and a collapsing economy, Chrysler filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009.