As the president of Volkswagen of America Inc. from 1959 until 1964, Carl H. Hahn played a crucial role in establishing the German automobile company in the American market.
Hahn was born in 1926 in Chemnitz, Germany. His father, Carl Hahn Sr., was an Austrian engineer and co-founder of the Auto Union (today Audi AG). Carl Hahn Jr. studied economics in Germany, Switzerland, and England, as well as political science in France, and received his doctoral degree in 1952 in Bern, Switzerland. Hahn began his career with the American automobile company Nash and with Fiat in Turin, Italy. In 1953, Hahn worked for the OEEC (Organization for European Economic Co-operation, since 1961 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development: OECD) in Paris, where he was responsible for establishing business contact with the United States.
In December 1954, 28-year-old Hahn started working for Volkswagen in Wolfsburg as an assistant to the chairman Heinrich Nordhoff. He ascended rapidly through the ranks, and within four years was the president of Volkswagen of America. From 1959 until 1964 he was responsible for the American subsidiary and helped to popularize the Volkswagen brand which, in the United States, was symbolized by the Beetle. In New York, Hahn hired the American advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach, which was responsible for VW ads in the US market from 1959 throughout the 1960s. During his stay in the United States, Hahn married Marisa Truina, the sister-in-law of romance novelist Danielle Steel. They have four children, who were all born in the USA.
The experience of working with American marketing techniques, uncommon in Germany at the time, had an impact on Hahn’s way of thinking. While in the United States, he helped facilitate the opening of Doyle Dane Bernbach’s first international office in West Germany, where he introduced the firm to the VW parent company in Wolfsburg.
After returning to Germany in 1965, Hahn served as a member of the Executive Board in Wolfsburg until he moved to Continental AG in 1972. Starting in 1982, Hahn again worked for VW, holding the position of chairman for eleven years. He also served as a member on supervisory boards of numerous companies. Today, Hahn works as a consultant and gives speeches concerning global enterprise.
Hahn, Carl H.. Meine Jahre mit Volkswagen. München: Signum, 2005.
Kiley, David. Getting the Bugs Out The Rise, Fall, and Comeback of Volkswagen in America. New York: Wiley, 2002.
Kleinschmidt, Christian. Der produktive Blick: Wahrnehmung amerikanischer und japanischer Management- und Produktionsmethoden durch deutsche Unternehmer 1950-1985. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2002.
Railton, Arthur and Rudi Maletz . Der Käfer: der ungewöhnliche Weg eines ungewöhnlichen Automobils. Pfäflikon/SZ: Verlagsgesellschaft Eurotax, 1985.
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