VW works council boss Osterloh facing new tasks

The end of an era is looming in the Volkswagen Group. Who will succeed Bernd Osterloh – and what are the effects?

Bernd Osterloh

IThe end of an era is looming in the Volkswagen Group. Works council chief Bernd Osterloh, a powerful pragmatist who is considered by some to be the secret regent in Wolfsburg, is planning to withdraw from the supervisory board of the car company and from the works council, according to information from the FAZ. The unionist, who will turn 65 in September, reportedly has an offer to become Chief Human Resources Officer at Traton, VW’s truck subsidiary.

There has been speculation in Wolfsburg for some time about a withdrawal by Osterloh, with which the head of the works council also wants to initiate the generation change at IG Metall and in the VW works council. Now Osterloh seems to be the right time: In the spring of 2022, Volkswagen will have two important elections that will cast their shadows in advance. The employee representatives are then elected to the supervisory board, and there are also works council elections.

Bernd Osterloh’s deputy Daniela Cavallo is considered his crown princess. The woman, who was born in Wolfsburg in 1975, has been at Osterloh’s side on the works council since 2019. As the daughter of an Italian who came to VW in Wolfsburg as one of the first guest workers, she also represents the large group of migrants from southern Europe who are now the second generation to work at the Wolfsburg plant.

Important generation change

Should Osterloh accept the offer and join Traton as HR director, he must be replaced on the supervisory board. Cavallo, who would then presumably be determined by the competent registry court, would have the chance, as a new member of the control committee of the group, to make a name for himself and step out of the shadow of her sponsor Osterloh in the election campaign that is about to begin.

An official confirmation for the personnel change on the employee bench of the VW supervisory board was not given on Thursday by either the works council or the supervisory board. In smaller groups, however, Osterloh himself repeatedly pointed out how important the generation change in the works council is. In 2015, he was already on the verge of switching to the management of the Wolfsburg-based company as Head of Human Resources – but then stayed at his post because of the diesel scandal and the risks for VW.

With Gunnar Kilian, Group HR Director has been a former employee and close confidante of Osterloh since April 2018. Kilian is also responsible for Traton on the Wolfsburg executive board. The position of Chief Human Resources Officer has been vacant there for some time.

Osterloh has been a member of the Wolfsburg Group’s supervisory board since 2005. He started his career at VW in 1977 as a production worker and then went through a classic works council career. In 2002 he was elected to the general works council for the first time, where he succeeded Klaus Volkert in 2005, who had to resign due to a bribery scandal.

The 64-year-old Osterloh is one of the most influential employee representatives in Germany and has repeatedly had conflicts with CEO Herbert Diess in recent years, which the two self-confident men fought out on the open stage. Diess was on the verge of falling twice.

With Cavallo, the style of conflicts between the board of directors and the works council is likely to change. Trade unionists who know Cavallo well say that she is as assertive and rhetorically skilled as Osterloh. But where Osterloh liked to torment, she takes things more calmly. Cavallo started as an office clerk at VW in 1994 and has since spent her entire professional life in the company. She was first elected to the works council in 2002.