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A blog by Leon Oudejans

VW / Audi fraud – part 5 – fear management

16 December 2015


I am puzzled how VW / Audi wants us to believe that the emission scandal is the responsibility of a few managers while at the same time blaming its culture of fear within the company. These two do not mix well unless these few managers are actually very senior executives within that group. Otherwise, it’s merely looking for some fall guys in order to minimise the potentially massive legal consequences following that scandal. Also see part 1, 2, 3 and 4 in this series.

These fall guys will be portrayed as rookies who took decisions that hurt an entire automotive group very badly. The company is the victim, the fall guys are the bad guys. In essence, the company defence tactics look awfully familiar to “Wir haben es nicht gewusst”. This was the exact same excuse that German officers used at the Nuremberg war crime trials after WW2. Please also see my 18 February 2015 blog called Victim role – politicians, bankers and corporate bosses.

Managers follow orders in a fear management culture. They are too afraid to lose their job. It is utterly ridiculous to expect that a manager would take such (ie, emission device) decisions without the prior consent of top management. Such prior consent is likely to have been entirely verbal in view of a future strategy of plausible deniability (Wiki) by top management.

I would not even be surprised that the famous Bosch letter was requested by VW/Audi managers as a last attempt to convince top management of this future wrongdoing. Fear works in mysterious ways. In this Bosch letter, VW/Audi was warned that the device should only be used for test purposes and that it would be illegal to use the device for other purposes. Despite sending this letter, Bosch sold 11 million of these devices. This could well imply top management involvement at both sides.

NYT: “In the years that preceded a marketing push that began with the 2009 model year, there was an intense internal debate about what kind of emissions technology to use, according to a former executive who was involved and asked not to be identified because he did not want to offend Volkswagen”. Note: italic marking by LO.

To some extent, the above has already been acknowledged by Matthias Müller, the new VW/Audi CEO, in his recent press conference. NYT: “Mr. Müller also said he wanted to change the company’s culture so that there was better communication among employees and more willingness to discuss problems. His predecessor, Martin Winterkorn, who resigned after the scandal, was criticized for creating a climate of fear that made managers afraid to admit mistakes“. Note: italic marking by LO.

A mistake is an event. A series of similar mistakes is a trend. An ongoing trend is part of a culture. Culture is defined by top management. Fear management is a tool used by some executives to put their stamp on an organisation. One of my former bosses once said to me that he had the habit of firing 1 or 2 persons in the first month of his tenure. It would make people afraid of him and they would follow his orders without too many questions. Interestingly, this was also in Automotive.

Some relevant quotes on fear:

  1. Fear is the true enemy, the only enemy. Star Trek and misattributed to Sun Tzu
  2. Fear is the only true enemy, born of ignorance and the parent of anger and hate. Edward Albert
  3. And the things that we fear are a weapon to be held against us. Quote by Ian Rush
  4. Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear. Ambrose Redmoon, a pseudonym for James Neil Hollingworth 
  5. I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. Quote by Nelson Mandela


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