TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Life was so much different at this place on Aug. 5, 2007. I had just arrived at the CAR Management Briefing Seminars and took some editorial colleagues out for drinks on a Sunday evening at a lakeside restaurant.
Then my cell phone rang.
It was a media relations guy representing investment giant Cerberus Capital Management -- a company that almost never communicated with the outside world. He said they had major news to announce about its recent acquisition, Chrysler.
That was the night Bob Nardelli was named Chrysler's new CEO.
Life at Chrysler would never be the same.
Nardelli's stamp on the automaker would linger long after his unsuccessful stint as Chrysler's boss.
A year later, the economy dived into a rapid recession. Chrysler went into the business equivalent of clinical death, and only survived with billions of dollars in bailouts from the U.S. and Canadian governments. Nardelli personally lobbied Congress for the bailout along with other U.S. executives.
Now let's fast forward to today.
Under the control of Italy's Fiat S.p.A. and CEO Sergio Marchionne, Chrysler has paid back its government loans six years early with interest. The company is taking U.S. sales and market share away from Japanese competitors (who, to be fair, also are dealing with fallout from the March 11 earthquakes).
Chrysler's products are perceived to be rapidly improving – and the company has launched a brilliant marketing/advertising plan to make perception a reality.
Looking back, nobody can claim Nardelli or any other CEO could have saved Chrysler from the impending doom facing the industry when he took over in 2007.
But, in reality, he also never would have accomplished the near-miracle turnaround that can only be credited to Sergio Marchionne.
Four years usually isn't a long time. But for anyone who cares about Chrysler, the last four years have been an eternity.