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"The monitor works like a catalyst"

Christof Spathelf is the first point of contact for Larry Thompson and his team at the Volkswagen brand. In our interview he explains why the company can profit from the presence of a monitor.

The work with the monitor and his team has been highly cooperative to date, says Christof Spathelf.

Mr. Spathelf, can you tell us what the Monitorship project office actually is?
We have the company on one side, and the monitor on the other side. We at the project office are something like the hinge between the two. We ensure that the ­monitor gets the company contacts and information that he would like to have.

When the search was on for someone to head the project office, why were you chosen?
(Laughs.) You might be better off asking the people who appointed me. But I’ll put it this way: I have built up a very extensive network over the 25 years in which I have been working for the company. When inquiries are made by the monitor, then I can find and contact the correct addressees straight away. Furthermore, my career path has given me a wealth of international experience, and I speak English fluently. And people always say that I am an inclusive person – which, when one is functioning as a type of hinge, is not without importance.

» It isn’t the monitor’s goal to identify culprits. «

Christof Spathelf

What excites you about this job?
It is an interesting and international job – and it’s something completely new. After all, no one in the company has any ­experience when it comes to working with a monitor. This is what I found so interesting. I’m also fascinated by the chance to work together with so many interesting people, like Larry Thompson and his team.

Which issues are the monitor and his team currently scrutinizing?
We, along with other companies, have signed two important agreements with the U.S. Department of Justice. One of them is what is called the Plea Agreement. This basically requires that a compliance system is either put in place or expanded to ensure that events such as the diesel crisis never happen again. The other one is the Consent Decree. It contains highly specific conditions that need to have been met by certain due dates or else fines will must be paid. The decree covers, for ­example, the restructuring of a sub-area of development, the inclusion of an additional question in the mood ­barometer, or the implementation of what are known as “golden rules” in the development process.

What are these golden rules?
They are 13 specific principles that we will factor into the development of software for control units, the standardization of emissions types, and the escalation process in the product safety task force. This is an ambitious assignment that needs to be completed by mid-October. We are lending our support to technical ­development and quality assurance in implementing the rules in specific processes for each and every step within development.

What has been your experience so far? How do employees react to the monitor and his team?
Naturally there are a few people who exhibit a bit of skepticism. But by and large, I have found everyone with whom we have had contact so far to be very open and cooperative. In the end, it isn’t the monitor’s goal to identify culprits, but rather to reveal any weaknesses – and give advice on how to make improvements.

» Everyone needs to be aware that specific rules apply at work as well. «

Christof Spathelf

Christof Spathelf

The 59-year-old has been working at Volkswagen since 1992. Previous positions include heading production in South Africa and Emden, and the paintshop in Wolfsburg. Before assuming responsibility for the Monitorship project office in April, he was in charge of production planning and strategy for the Group.

Could the monitor ultimately be considered an opportunity for Volkswagen?
Absolutely. I would like to see that underlined three times. It’s not exactly easy for a company with so many employees to change overnight. We should consider the monitor to be an external catalyst that is expediting this process.

How can each individual employee ­contribute to making Volkswagen a better company?
We can introduce a compliance system, establish rules, describe processes – at the end of the day, it’s important that the ­people who work in this company think and act with integrity. This is something on which the monitor places great value. ­Everyone needs to be aware that specific rules which are considered perfectly normal in everyday life apply at work as well. This holds true for each and every individual – from trainees right through to the chairman of the board.