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Our mission – the future.

The route has been mapped out, the strategy finalized: “Our aim is to make the Volkswagen Group the leading automaker by 2018 – economically and ecologically.” Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn, Volkswagen’s Chairman of the Board of Management, is a perfectionist who knows the value of technological excellence, but also the importance of teamwork and stamina. These are all qualities without which ESA astronaut Hans Wilhelm Schlegel would never have made it into space. The two men talk about visions, people and the similarities of their chosen paths.

Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn, Volkswagen’s Chairman of the Board of Management and ESA astronaut Hans Wilhelm Schlegel talk about visions, people and the similarities of their chosen paths. (photo)

The chemistry is right – thanks to physics. Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn, Chairman of Volkswagen AG, and Hans Wilhelm Schlegel, Chief Astronaut at the European Space Agency (ESA) in Houston, do not need long to find a common wavelength. Both have passed through similar schools of thought in the course of their scientific training. And both are physicists who have learned to get to the bottom of problems through in-depth analysis. Winterkorn is known as an automotive manager par excellence – someone who is au fait with every last technical detail. Schlegel was in space on two separate occasions, where he also undertook complicated repair work outside the spaceship.

However, these two men have more than hands-on expertise in common. Both are driven by challenging goals and fueled by impressive stamina. Winterkorn is working on the step-by-step implementation of Volkswagen’s “Strategy 2018”, which aims to establish the Group as the world’s leading automaker. And Schlegel and his colleagues have their sights set far beyond their current missions at the International Space Station (ISS). As far as Mars, in fact.

Seeing stars – The planetarium in Wolfsburg is one of the ten largest of its kind in Germany. The projector beams over 9,000 stars onto the domed ceiling and makes the sun, moon and planets rotate. (photo)

SEEING STARS – The planetarium in
Wolfsburg is one of the ten largest of
its kind in Germany. The projector
beams over 9,000 stars onto the
domed ceiling and makes the sun,
moon and planets rotate.

Producing cars and sending astronauts into space both involve bringing together and motivating international teams from different cultures. Winterkorn is responsible for nine brands, 63 production facilities, 153 markets and approximately 400,000 employees all over the world. Schlegel, who lives in Houston, Texas, not only trained as an astronaut in the USA, but also as a Russian cosmonaut in the Zvezdny Gorodok (“Star City”) Space Center near Moscow. He is seen as an expert in communicating between different mentalities and technical cultures and has therefore been instrumental in cultivating international cooperation in space travel. Both men must work to maintain the belief of all those involved in their long-term missions, even in the face of setbacks.

The keys to success – for automakers and astronauts alike – are long-term strategic planning, technological excellence and a well functioning team. Most important of all is knowing who are the right people for the right positions. Coupled with a certain modesty.

The planetarium in Wolfsburg, where the automotive manager and the space traveler meet, is ideal for re-instilling a sense of this modesty. “You could say that we are all astronauts – after all, looking down from above, our blue planet looks like a giant mother ship,” says Hans Wilhelm Schlegel, gazing up at the building’s dome. At the same moment, the projection of the planetarium shows the Earth rising over the moon as a person on the moon would see it. Previously, the ESA astronaut had visited the Volkswagen research laboratories. In return, Martin Winterkorn asked him about the progress of Galileo – the European global navigation satellite system that is anxiously awaited by many sectors, not least the automotive industry.

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