PersonaliaCar manufacturer

Day X is approaching for BMW leadership

BMW CEO Oliver Zipse will reach the in-house age limit of 60 years for board members in 2024. Hence, the decision regarding a succession plan is drawing closer.

Day X is approaching for BMW leadership

Oliver Zipse is currently firmly in the saddle. The CEO of BMW has steered the Bavarian automaker on course in its transformation towards electromobility. Deliveries are robust, profitability is solid, and prospects are good thanks to new electric models. Nevertheless, the CEO of the Munich-based automaker sometimes finds himself in an outsider role within the industry. This was evident in the run-up to the IAA Mobility trade show, which ended on September 10th. The CEO criticized the EU's ban on combustion engine cars, describing the farewell to new gasoline and diesel cars by 2035 in an interview as "reckless." Due to a lack of raw materials, Europe would become dependent on imports, making it politically susceptible to blackmail.

Age limit in sight

That aligns with BMW's concept of "technology openness." Unlike some colleagues from competitors, Zipse advocates for running on multiple tracks when it comes to propulsion, as long as customers desire it. His motto is that the customer decides.

Meanwhile, the day X is approaching when the decision will be made about who could succeed Zipse. The graduate engineer from Heidelberg will turn 60 on February 7th next year. His five-year contract expires in mid-August 2024. From the company's perspective, Zipse is reaching the retirement age. At BMW, it is customary not to extend contracts for board members who have reached the age of 60 ("Corporate Governance Statement" from March 2023). Younger executives are expected to take their place at that point. Exceptions to this rule are rare. The supervisory board extended the contract of the then Chief Financial Officer, Friedrich Eichiner, by one year until May 2017, even though he had exceeded the age limit at that time. This was because Harald Krüger had taken over the BMW helm from his predecessor, Norbert Reithofer. Eichiner was considered a confidant of Reithofer, who moved to the supervisory board. The former CEO has served as its chairman since then.

Critical phase for the company

Regarding Zipse, the supervisory board will likely decide at the end of 2023 or the beginning of 2024 whether to make an exception for the present CEO or nominate a successor. According to BMW's statutes, in the "normal case," the personnel committee of the supervisory board "deals with the question of an extension or succession approximately one year before the end of a board mandate."

In the middle of the current decade, BMW is launching an offensive with a new generation of electric models to compete with the growing competition in this segment. The market introduction of these vehicles is underway. In the transformation to electric mobility this is a critical phase for the company. In this context, there is a strong argument for extending Zipse's contract by one year to ensure a smooth transition. However, the supervisory board could also make a decisive move and present a new designated CEO. As is customary at BMW, corporate chiefs and other board members are recruited from within the company.

Succession candidates

Looking at the list of possible candidates among the six board colleagues of Zipse, Milan Nedeljkovic (born in 1969) would have a good chance of succeeding him. BMW has traditionally appointed production executives to the CEO position as manufacturing is one of the key areas. The Serbian-born mechanical engineer has been in charge of the department since 2019. Nedeljkovic took over the role from Zipse, who previously held the position on the board. Zipse himself assumed the role of CEO in August 2019, following the premature resignation of Krüger, who had become weary of his duties. Zipse's appointment as CEO was, therefore, the result of a fortuitous turn of events. If Krüger had continued and convinced the supervisory board, this change at the helm of the company likely would not have occurred. Zipse has been working for BMW for 32 years. Before his promotion to the board, he was the head of the Mini factory in Oxford.