Hebert Demel

Chief executive officer, Fiat

Nationality: Austrian.

Born: 1953, in Vienna, Austria.

Education: Technical University of Vienna, 1971–1978; PhD, 1981.

Family: Married (wife's name unknown); children: four.

Career: Institute for Combustion Engines and Automotive Engineering, 1978–1984, scientific/engineering assistant; Robert Bosch, 1984–1990, senior manager of ABS/ASR applications and quality assurance; Audi, 1990–1995, senior manager, then CEO; 1994–1997, chairman of the management board; Volkswagen, 1997–2002, president of Brazilian affiliate; Magna Steyr, 2002–2003, CEO and president; Fiat, 2003–, CEO.

Address: Fiat, Via Nizza 250, Turin, 10126, Italy; http://www.fiat.com.

■ Hebert Demel became the first non-Italian to be hired as the chief executive officer of Fiat in 2003. Demel worked in the automotive industry throughout his entire career, meeting with success at both Audi and Volkswagen before moving on to Fiat. He was able to turn Audi around by turning the company into a key luxury-car producer; there he was known as a team player and a manager who did not give up when problems arose.


Demel was born in 1953 in Vienna, Austria, where from an early age he was interested in cars and racing. His parents sent him to a racetrack to do lube jobs for three months in the hopes of turning him away from the automotive industry; their plan backfired, with Demel only growing more interested in car engines and racing. He attended the Technical University of Vienna from 1971 to 1978, earning a mechanical engineering degree. In 1981 he earned his doctorate.

In 1984 Demel gained employment with Robert Bosch in Stuttgart, Germany, where he worked for six years in many

Hebert Demel. AP/Wide World Photos.
Hebert Demel.
AP/Wide World Photos

different areas, including traction control and transmissions. He also worked on the development of antilock brakes and in quality control.


In 1990 Demel was hired by Audi to work in Ingolastadt, Germany, as a manager for the development of engines and transmissions. He worked his way up through the ranks, eventually being promoted to president, chief executive officer, and in 1994 chairman of the management board. His work led to Audi's transformation into a manufacturer of premium automobiles.

In 1996 Demel left Audi to become the president of Volkswagen's South American operations in Brazil, where he was responsible for the company's interests in both Brazil and Argentina. He was able to lead the company successfully through an economic crisis in the late 1990s, learning much about the Brazilian automobile market that would prove helpful when he worked for Fiat. While in Brazil, Demel altered management and product structures and was able to uphold Volkswagen's market share through a two-year recession.


In August 2002 Demel was hired to be the chief executive of Magna Steyr, the Austrian automotive-parts producer; he had wanted the position because he would have the chance to run a company the way he wanted. Magna Steyr hoped that Demel would be able to increase their contract manufacturing, design, and assembly for other car companies. Time magazine noted, "Demel brings the expertise of a major car company to what was a mere supplier of drive trains and other components" (December 2, 2002). Demel stayed with Magna Steyr for less than a year before moving to Fiat.


Demel became Fiat's CEO in 2003. As noted in Automotive News Europe , the company felt confident in hiring Demel "because he had broad experience in the two most important markets for the Italian carmaker: western Europe and Latin America" (October 3, 2003). Upon taking over, Demel faced many challenges; he needed to alleviate debt problems, reorganize the company, and create better business models for the future.

Demel did not bring executives with him from Magna Steyr in order to assist in his restructuring efforts at Fiat. He remarked in Automotive News Europe , "I don't conquer companies taking people with me, because I work to get the best out of their own organization"(October 20, 2003). Demel made some immediate changes with respect to positions and company structure but did not comment on his broader ideas when he first began the job.


Before long Demel made further strategic changes at Fiat. He created new management positions that would report directly to him; he also let some of Fiat's previous top executives go. He hoped that these changes would result in a more cohesive structure and enhanced communication within the company. He wanted all of the top managers to deal directly with him so that he could offer support and immediately learn of any problems.

Demel faced the challenge of leading Fiat into the production of appealing cars with improved function and style by 2007, hoping to introduce up to 20 new models to increase profits. He was confident that he would be able to transform Fiat much as he had previously done with Audi. Demel was a team player who worked through problems to make his companies more successful.

See also entry on Fiat SpA in International Directory of Company Histories .

sources for further information

Ciferri, Luca, "Demel Won't Take Steyr Team to Fiat," Automotive News Europe , October 20, 2003, p. 1.

——, "Fiat Selects Demel for Top Auto Position: Ex-VW Brazil Boss Chosen for Troubled Italian Automaker," Automotive News Europe , October 6, 2003, p. 1.

Purvis, Andrew, "Herbert Demel: Chief of Magna Steyr," Time , December 2, 2002, p. 67.

—Deborah Kondek

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