At first glance, Juergen Schrempp and Robert Eaton couldn't be more dissimilar. Eaton is a low-key engineer, known more for fundamentals than flamboyance. Schrempp, called 'Neutron Juergen' by colleagues, is a commanding, charismatic presence.
Can they share power as co-chiefs of DaimlerChrysler AG, the German-American giant? More than one corporate marriage has failed because chief executives not used to sharing power couldn't see eye to eye.
'Both of us felt from day one that we should have co-CEOs,' said Eaton. 'On the other hand, we recognize that in the long term that is probably not the best corporate governance.' Eaton, 58, has agreed to step down after three years and leave the top job to Schrempp, now 53.
Last fall, as Daimler was launching the Mercedes M-class sport-utility, Schrempp issued a challenge that made him sound more like an American basketball star than a gentlemanly German industrialist: 'Give Bob Eaton a message: We're coming.'
He was talking about competition for the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Now, Daimler-Benz has come at Chrysler from a much more dramatic angle.
Schrempp said there will be no battle of egos. 'Some mergers have failed because of the selfishness of the chief executives,' he said.
But Schrempp has a history of bitter relations with possible rivals. Edzard Reuter, former Daimler-Benz chairman, accused him of 'ruthless brutality' when Schrempp took over Daimler in 1995. Last year, Schrempp came out on top in a power struggle with former Mercedes-Benz AG Chairman Helmut Werner.
'Juergen Schrempp's personality and his drive for expansion play a big role in this,' said Peter Schmidt of Automotive Industry Data, a research firm in the United Kingdom. 'He wants to build an empire. Problems could arise over who is the boss. It is not the Daimler-Benz style to play second fiddle.'
Eaton is a car guy who once ran General Motors' advanced engineering department. He proved his corporate toughness in turning aside a 1995 takeover bid by Kirk Kerkorian, Chrysler's largest shareholder.
And Eaton can wheel and deal with the best of them. The secrecy surrounding the Daimler-Chrysler merger recalled Eaton's acquisition of half of Saab in 1989, while he was running GM Europe. Fiat had called a press conference on the same day to announce that it was buying Saab.
But Eaton is a team player who has shown he can work side-by-side with a strong personality. Chrysler Vice Chairman Robert Lutz had hoped to lead Chrysler before Eaton was recruited from GM in 1992. But Eaton and Lutz made a triumph of a partnership that few thought would work.
Under Eaton, Chrysler is a model of teamwork. Top executives such as Francois Castaing, Tom Gale and Tom Stallkamp, the president-designate of DaimlerChrysler, received as much credit as the self-assured CEO.
Meanwhile, Schrempp has been remaking Daimler-Benz by force of personality. He orchestrated a listing on the New York Stock Exchange in 1993 and pushed through a reorganization last year that flattened the management structure by combining Mercedes-Benz AG with the Daimler holding company.
His hero is Jack Welch, legendary chief executive of General Electric. He based Daimler's new structure on GE's textbook model and may want to base his own career on Welch's. Merging with Chrysler puts him at the top of a modern, American-style corporation. Schrempp is living his dream.