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Peter Schutz, CEO Who Turned Around Porsche’s Fortunes, Dies at 87

Monday, October 30, 2017

Article by Norman Mayersohn
Photo courtesy Porsche

Peter Schutz, the Berlin-born, American-raised chief executive of Porsche A.G. from 1981 to 1987 credited with saving the foundational 911 model from extinction, died on October 29, 2017.

Mr. Schutz's wife, Sheila Harris-Schutz, told The New York Times that he died in Naples, Florida, of complications of Alzheimer's disease.

In preventing the end of production for the rear-engine 911 – the plan had been to replace that long-running car with newer front-engine 944 and 928 designs – Mr. Schutz may well have saved the entire company. Yet his choice to defy the decision of the Porsche board in just his third week on the job was not a case of a heroic persuasion resulting from an impassioned plea. It was accomplished in a straightforward directive to his engineers.

Writing in Road & Track magazine in 2013, Mr. Schutz described the encounter this way:

“I remember the day quite well: I went down to the office of our lead engineer, Professor Helmuth Bott, to discuss plans for our upcoming model. I noticed a chart hanging on his wall that depicted the ongoing development trends of our top three lines: 911, 928, and 944. With the latter options, the graph showed a steady rise in production for years to come. But for the 911, the line stopped in 1981.

I grabbed a marker off Professor Bott's desk and extended the 911 line across the page, onto the wall, and out the door. When I came back, Bott stood there, grinning. ‘Do we understand each other?’ I asked. And with a nod, we did.

The 911, now in its 55th year of production, remains the company’s signature model, selling alongside a proliferation of sport utility vehicles and sedans that carry the Porsche crest.

Peter Schutz was born in Berlin in 1930. His family moved to the United States when he was 11 to escape the persecution of Jews in Germany. He earned a degree in mechanical engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology and went on to hold positions at Caterpillar and Cummins. In 1978 he returned to Germany to lead the Deutz Engine division of Kloeckner-Humboldt-Deutz A.G. 

In 1980, as Porsche struggled with profitability and sales declines, Mr. Schutz was invited by Ferry Porsche to interview for the chief executive job. Under his leadership, the company returned to competition at the 24 Hours of Le Mans – successfully – and developed the groundbreaking 959 supercar. The company’s global sales grew to 53,000 in 1986, nearly doubling the 28,000 annual sales when he began.

That he was American was seen as a key factor in Mr. Schutz’s hiring. At the time, he cited the United States as an obvious market for Porsche, describing the cars in a  New York Times article as ''a technological artwork that is probably more entertainment than transportation.”

 

 

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