When Professor Carl Horst Hahn (92) walks onto the stage of the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on Saturday, he will add another honor to the long list of tributes that he has received. During a career that spans nearly 70 years, his résumé includes many different career stops, awards and memberships. The photos, prizes and inscriptions in his Wolfsburg office impressively document his life’s work: Images of international personalities like Pope John Paul II, tennis legend Steffi Graf, Soviet reformer Mikhail Gorbachev and Chinese leaders cover the walls. Family photos of his wife, Marisa, and their four children fill the gaps in-between.
“Person of the Year” in China
In the 1980s, Hahn laid the foundation for the success of the company in China while he served as CEO of the Volkswagen Group – and for the long-term success of the entire Group as well. As a partner who helped establish the automotive industry in China, Volkswagen shaped the economic and social development of the country in the decades that followed like no other car manufacturer. China’s transformation into an economic powerhouse was made possible by the country’s policies of reform and opening that were introduced 40 years ago. To mark this 40th anniversary in 2018, the Chinese magazine China Newsweek is honoring 40 personalities for the services they provided during China’s period of reform. Four of them will be honored as “Person of the Year” this weekend in Beijing as representatives of the entire group – Carl Hahn will be one of the four. For the 92-year-old Hahn, the award in China is one of many. But there is still something very special about it. “This honor is the biggest gift you can receive in life,” Hahn said. “I have had such a rich life, and I am grateful for it every day. I could not have done it all on my own. I had many associates and supporters. I would like to thank each of them, including my former Board of Management colleague Dr. Martin Posth. I will accept the award on behalf of them and the Volkswagen team in China and throughout the world.”
Already as a child: Close contacts with the automotive industry
Born in 1926 in the east German city of Chemnitz, Hahn was the son of an industrialist. His relationship with the automotive industry began during his childhood. Before World War II his father served as a high-level executive at the automaker DKW in Zschopau, a city near Zwickau, and later at the newly established company Auto Union in Chemnitz. His family started over again in Ingolstadt after 1945. Following the war, Hahn’s father and Richard Bruhn reestablished Auto Union in Ingolstadt with the help of the Bavarian State Bank. In the process, they laid the cornerstone for the Group brand that is known today as Audi. After majoring in business administration in Paris, Hahn earned his doctorate at the University of Bern. He initially worked at the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) in Paris.