4 men who shaped Chrysler, and a 5th poised for his chance

Lee Iacocca loved the limelight. Photo credit: JOE WILSSENS

On Tuesday, Feb. 17, Chrysler LLC must present to the U.S. Treasury Department its plan for survival. But the company's survival — plan or no plan — is very much in doubt.

For 20 years Chrysler has been a boom-or-bust company, shaped by a string of larger-than-life personalities. In this issue, we profile four men who put their stamp on the company, and a fifth who might.

Lee Iacocca's talented executive team created a lean profit machine in the 1990s. But his dislike of President Bob Lutz drove Iacocca to pick outsider Bob Eaton to succeed him.

Billionaire Kirk Kerkorian's 1995 takeover bid failed, but he stampeded Chrysler Corp. into an alliance with Daimler-Benz AG.

In that ill-fated "merger of equals," the low-key Eaton was outmaneuvered by Daimler-Benz Chairman Juergen Schrempp. But Schrempp's ruthless style triggered an exodus of talent at Chrysler.

In 2007, former Home Depot CEO Bob Nardelli arrived and slashed costs, boosted vehicle quality and lured key execs from other automakers. But a sales meltdown crushed his budding recovery plan.

A white knight, Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne, is poised to acquire Chrysler — but only if U.S. taxpayers bail out the company. Will Congress go along?

Each man had a vision of what Chrysler should be. Four helped shape Chrysler, and one aspires to do so. But trapped in its feast-or-famine heritage, Chrysler's prospects are murkier than ever. 

You can reach Jesse Snyder at

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