Who's the best-paid guy in the auto business in Europe? Not DaimlerChrysler's (DCX) Jurgen E. Schrempp, not by a long shot. It's probably Michael Schumacher, 32-year-old lead driver for Ferrari's Formula One team. True, Schumacher says he earns far less than $50 million, the amount outside estimates peg as his annual income--merchandising and endorsements included. But whatever he earns, it's a dazzling sum. His winnings may seem high for someone who never has to face angry shareholders or restructure a division. But consider this: Schumacher has led Ferrari back to its former glory, winning last year's world championship, his third in a 10-year career. The prospects are favorable for a fourth win this season.
There are many reasons why Schumacher so dominates his sport. One is certainly his unbelievable self-control, which is often mistaken for arrogance. And he's so aggressive that opponents accuse him of dangerous and illegal racetrack moves. But when he's not circling the track, Schumacher is known as a demon worker who heads to Ferrari's test track in Fiorano, Italy, to try out new equipment. "Formula One is not only about driving," he says.
Schumacher, a German who lives in Switzerland, is almost solely responsible for the phenomenal success of Formula One in Germany, where weekend broadcasts attract as many as 14 million people, nearly 80% of viewers between 14 and 49.
He's clearly one of the hottest names in sports merchandising. Just ask Oliver Muller, president of Atlas Design, who markets a line of Michael Schumacher neckties, boxer shorts, and other apparel. Muller hopes to generate about $1 million in sales in two years. He has already sold $250,000 worth just three months after launch. "People identify with him," Muller says of Schumacher, a German hero in a sport long dominated by the British. Schumacher's skills combine those of a turnaround artist, box-office draw, and brand. And, of course, he risks his life on a weekly basis. How many CEOs can say that?