George Cheese, 18, was “over the moon” when he got the position as an apprentice at an Audi car dealership in Reading, UK, but soon started coming home covered in bruises and had multiple holes burned into his clothes, says The Telegraph  and  Guardian. Sadly around six months later, the teenage apprentice mechanic committed suicide on 9 April 2016 as a result of colleagues bullying him over this period by burning his clothes and locking him in a cage, an inquest has heard.

According to The Telegraph“:

Berkshire coroner Peter Bedford was told that no action was taken after George reported the problem and he had later told his mother that his boss, dealership manager Terry Kindeleit, had seen him the day he got locked in the cage at the garage by force, doused him in a flammable liquid and set fire to his clothes. Mr Kindeleit had reacted by laughing and walking away. 

Mr Kindeleit, giving evidence at the inquest, told the coroner that some of the pranks were “in response to George’s behaviour such as being cheeky or lippy”, but added that his personal makeup would not allow him to turn a blind eye to anything inappropriate. “I made it clear that George was important to the value of the dealership,” he said.

Mr Kindeleit told the coroner that when George’s parents had approached him to talk about the abuse, George had been sitting in a corner of the room with his head down and had later told him that he did not wish to make a formal complaint.

Based on this, Mr Kindeleit said he had concluded that George was making it up and said he would not have been surprised if the story was completely fabricated by the “troubled individual.”

However, Mr Kindeleit did not deny that he had witnessed George being locked in a cage and set on fire and had reacted by laughing and walking away.

I’m gobsmacked, that Mr Kindeleit can even think to say these things, but then I should not be because there is a culture of ducking and diving without taking responsibility at VW and Audi which are part of the same group. This story shocks, saddens, sickens and angers me to the point where I will not purchase anything from Audi or VW, and I will use my platform as a global speaker to encourage other to do the same, until these two automotive giants demonstrate consistently that they have changed their attitude and corporate culture. The aberrant story of George Cheese along with numerous others – see WE HAVE TOTALLY SCREWED UP, a post I wrote in October 2015 about the VW diesel emissions scandal –  clearly suggest a pervading corporate cultural cancer at VW Group. There is something deeply troubling and rotten in the state of  Audi and VW. There is sickness that is endemic across the group from the Board right to the shop floor. This is not the case of a few rouge individuals as the senior leadership, board and VW Group PR machine will have you believe.  VW and Audi are the epitome a company hell bend on not using the power of business to do well, by doing good and thereby Achieve Remarkable Things.

Personally I would love to work with the VW Group using our Achieve Remarkable Things framework to help build a questing and social intrapreneurial culture where passionate colleagues champion doing remarkable things by challenging the impossible, taking things to higher levels and deliver meaningful benefits not just to shareholders but customers, suppliers and the wider global community. The VW Group should take interest because according to Forbes Magazine social intrapreneur questers on quests to make their world a better place, are today’s most valuable employees.

A 2017 study revealed that organisations driven by socially minded quester intrapreneurs on quests to deliver meaningful benefits:

  1. Have outperformed their stock market peers by 206% over the last 10 years
  2. Capture on average 46% more share of wallet
  3. Are capable of charging 12% more than premium priced brands

According to Bloomberg, VW has paid over $15 billion in fines for their diesel-cheating scandal and a further $4.3 billion was agreed in 2017 as part of a criminal misconduct charge. Just think of the remarkable and truly valuable things VW could have done with money if instead of cheating customers it had been used for meaningful innovation. This is ironic because according the the World Economic Forum VW tops the list of companies who invest the most in research, ahead of Samsung and Intel. You have to wonder to what effect this investment of $15.3 billion in R&D is being directed towards, cheating their customers, beating their employees or delivering meaningful benefits. It does not appear that meaningful benefits are trickling down to customers and employees, there is no point being the biggest investor in R&D if your corporate culture is sick and stinks. 

The same study mentioned above, involving over 300,000 people, 1,500 companies, 33 countries and 15 industries, also revealed that 75% of people believe companies need to do more. More alarmingly the study discovered that people would not care if 94% of brands disappeared. Where do you sit VW Group, are you a meaningful brand or disappearing brand?

The VW Group is operating from a burning platform, emerging automotive pioneers like ElonMusk’s Tesla, who are achieving remarkable things are going to give this established brand a run for it’s money, soon the Tesla 3 will be available. But it’s not too late for  VW and Audi to turn things around and truly deliver something that is akin to the “people’s car.”

My challenge to VW and any company wanting to achieve remarkable things, in a century where the world desperately needs meaningful innovation, is speak to us, we have the framework that will help. VW has been and can again be a great company achieving remarkable things. If there are any passionate VW Group employees and social intrapeneurs who want to make a meaningful difference, and I have to believe there are, please contact us, the world needs more remarkable organisations and VW/Audi should be up there as a shining beacon for what good corporate citizenship is. Contact us please.


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