Annette Winkler

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Annette Winkler
Born (1959-09-27) September 27, 1959 (age 62)[1]
Wiesbaden, West Germany
Alma materGoethe University Frankfurt
OccupationMember of the advisory board of Mercedes-Benz South Africa (2019-present)

Annette Winkler is a German business executive who was the CEO and director of Smart Automobile, the division of Daimler AG noted for manufacturing and marketing the two-passenger Smart Fortwo and four-passenger Smart Forfour city cars, from 2011 to 2018.

As the first woman to head a Daimler brand,[2] Automotive News Europe described Winkler's 2010 appointment as "a significant victory for women in a male-dominated industry".[3]

in early 2018, Daimler announced Winkler retirement as the division’s CEO at the end of September, 2018 after 23 years with the company. She was appointed as a member of the advisory board of Mercedes-Benz South Africa as of January 2019.[4]


Born in Wiesbaden, West Germany in 1959,[5] Winkler completed training as an industrial clerk and thereafter an internship at the Karlsberg brewery in Homburg, Saarland.[1] From 1980 to 1984 she studied in Frankfurt; received a degree in economics; completed her doctorate in business administration;[6] and completed her thesis on corporate valuation and jurisprudence[7] at the Goethe University Frankfurt.


At age 27 and upon her father's retirement,[1] Winkler assumed the sole management of his construction company,[5] A. Winkler Sohn GmbH & Co. KG,[8] a family-owned business since 1824.[1] Sales increased from 4 to 60 million euros under her direction.[8] She was named the 1992 Entrepreneur of the Year[8] by champagne house Veuve Clicquot.[7] Six months after leaving her father's construction company, it was in receivership.[8]

Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche first met Winkler in 1995 at a convention in Stuttgart, where she stood out as a particularly strong speaker. Though she had no prior automotive or publicity experience,[8] Daimler appointed Winkler that same year[8] to head public relations and communications for Mercedes-Benz (1995–1997).[9]

Winkler went on to head a Mercedes-Benz commercial truck dealership in Brunswick (1997–1999)[10] — where she learned and become licensed to drive heavy trucks in nine days, in order to better understand the needs of her customers.[10] She subsequently became CEO of Daimler (then DaimlerChrysler) of Belgium and Luxembourg (1999–2005) and after that the Vice President of Global Business Management & Wholesale Europe (2005–2010).[9] In 2010, succeeding Ulrich Walker, Winkler was appointed CEO of Smart, just as the brand was falling below the critical 100,000 annual sales figure and faced renewed competition with the Audi A1 and Fiat 500.[8]

Winkler currently oversees co-development with Renault of the forthcoming third generation Smart Fortwo (C453/W453 build series), indicating the vehicle will retain the rear-engine configuration, overall length as well as its hemispherical steel safety cell, marketed as the Tridion cell.[11]

Also, under Winkler's direction, Smart has focused on car sharing and rental programs — namely Daimler AG's Car2Go subsidiary[12] — as well as development and marketing of electric bicycles.

As of 2014, Winkler sits on the board of directors at Air Liquide, a French multinational company which supplies industrial gases and services to various industries, and is a Member of the Counsel for Foreign Economic Affairs of the German Ministry for Economics.[13]


Growing up, Winkler was a classical music aficionado, played the piano, and at one time considered starting a concert agency.[6] Since 1992, she has been married to an attorney.[6] Winkler speaks fluent German, English, Dutch and French[7] and is an avid bicyclist, having cycled many of the prominent mountain passes of the Tour de France.[10]

Winkler drives a Fortwo Brabus or Fortwo Electric Drive and as of 2012 still owned a Smart fortwo she purchased in 2000 while living in Brussels, when she had been the head of Daimler of Belgium.[7] Colleagues describe her as a "ständig aufgeladene Batterie" — a battery that's always fully charged.[14]


  1. ^ a b c d "Annette Winkler Biographie".
  2. ^ "Winkler to lead Smart brand". Automotive News, August 2, 2010.
  3. ^ "Why Annette Winkler's promotion is such a big deal". Automotive News Europe, DOUGLAS A. BOLDUC, August 11, 2010.
  4. ^ "Annette Winkler hands over management of smart". marsMediaSite. Retrieved 2019-01-23.
  5. ^ a b "Interview with the boss of Smart: "The iPhone love plays into our hands" (in German)". Spiegel, 01.28.2014.
  6. ^ a b c "The woman who is to refloat Smart (in German)". Tages Anzeiger, Zurich, Switzerland, Vincenzo Capodici, July 27, 2010.
  7. ^ a b c d "cult brand smart gets unconventional boss (in German)". Carsten Herz und Martin Buchenau, August 31, 2010.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g "Annette Winkler, Die Frau vom Bau (in German)"., Susanne Preuß, , 11.07.2011.
  9. ^ a b "Women in the Auto World: Dr. Annette Winkler". Auto Venus, Lesley Wimbush, 2/12/2012.
  10. ^ a b c "25 LEADING WOMEN IN THE EUROPEAN AUTO INDUSTRY, Annette Winkler". Automotive News Europe.
  11. ^ "Das ist keine Geheimniskrämerei (in German)". Manager Magazine Online, Wilfried Eckl-Dorna, Nov 18, 2013.
  12. ^ "How Smart's CEO Plans To Get Its Mojo Back". Forbes, Matthew de Paula, 5/5/2012.
  13. ^ "Air Liquide SA, Board Members". Business Week.
  14. ^ "This is Germany's Smartest Boss (in German)". Bild, 01.09.2011.