Union Rep Becomes First Woman On VW Board

The daughter of an immigrant, union leader Daniela Cavallo ascends to a leadership position within the German automaker's corporate structure.

German automobile giant Volkswagen has appointed Daniela Cavallo to serve on its executive committee. The promotion came on the heels of the IG Metall union executive’s elevation to chairperson of the Group Works Council of VW a few weeks earlier.

In these two powerful roles, Cavallo will be the first woman to influence the strategy of the automaker. She will also lead the collective salary negotiations for 660,000 employees. Her election is quite a surprise in Germany, where women have a hard time attaining positions of leadership in business, especially in the male-dominated car industry.

A trade unionist, of Italian descent, she had a powerful advocate: Bernd Osterloh. As an IG Metall representative, he was head of the works council for 15 years. When VW appointed him to human resources responsibilities at Traton, Volkswagen’s trucks subsidiary, he recommended his second-in-command, Cavallo to succeed him. Osterloh introduced the 46-year-old to his contacts at VW and even brought her to meetings with the heirs of the founders.

The new incarnation of the German codetermination management model, Cavallo, is a pure product of Volkswagen. She began her apprenticeship in 1994, following in the steps of her immigrant father. Soon, the leaders of IG Metall noticed her and brought her into leadership roles. As a labor leader, she has shown a management bent. In 2002, she negotiated the creation of a low-wage sector in the company, and a few years later played a leading role in signing the “pact of the future,” which included eliminating 30,000 jobs.

Her mandate at the VW executive committee will be to prepare the transition to electric vehicles while protecting as many jobs as possible. She will find powerful allies on the committee, such as the representatives of Lower Saxony, who themselves are advocates for employment. Known as the king of Wolfsburg, Bernd Osterloh pulled no punches with Herbert Diess, Volkswagen’s CEO. Will queen Daniela be smoother?