BERLIN: Former Volkswagen boss Ferdinand Piech, who has died at 82, was the autocratic heir of a storied motoring dynasty who drove VW from the brink of bankruptcy to become a global empire.
He was celebrated as a visionary corporate leader and brilliant engineer who knew every model leaving the production line down to the last bolt.
But the man with the steel-blue eyes was also feared as a ruthless manager and master of intrigue who used his connections to fight his many battles.
During his over half-century career he turned VW into a 13-brand empire and pillar of the German economy with now 660,000 employees.
But in the end he left it in anger shortly before the company faced its worst ever crises with the "dieselgate" scandal. "Piech wasn't just any car boss," judged top-selling Bild daily. "With him, a piece of German economic history dies. He was the last auto manager to build his own cars."
News weekly Der Spiegel dubbed him the "Engineer of Power ... A brilliant technician and Machiavellian master".
Ferdinand Karl Piech was born in Vienna on April 17, 1937. His father Anton ran the VW plant founded by Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler during World War II. His mother Louise was the daughter of Ferdinand Porsche, inventor of Beetle.
As a child, Ferdinand battled dyslexia and brought home poor grades. He was sent off to a tough boarding school -- a "dark time" which hardened his character, as he later recalled.
He studied mechanical engineering and wrote his master thesis on Formula 1 engines, then started at Stuttgart-based Porsche.
There Piech oversaw the design of the iconic Porsche 917, sales of which took off after it won races including the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Two years later he switched to Audi, turning the VW subsidiary into a premium car maker that could compete with BMW and Daimler's Mercedes, and becoming its chairman in 1988. Piech then applied his magic to Wolfsburg-based VW, taking over in 1993 when it suffered massive losses. He fired managers, streamlined production and rapidly boosted sales and profits. He ran it until 2002 when, under company policy, he had to retire at age 65. —AFP1993 when it suffered massive losses. He fired managers, streamlined production and rapidly boosted sales and profits. He ran it until 2002 when, under company policy, he had to retire at age 65.