DaimlerChrysler AG has handed a 40-year-old factory boss the task of blending the international management of the combined companies.
Andreas Renschler has been put in charge of what the company calls 'global executive management development.' He will report directly to the two chairmen of the newly merged automakers, and he will keep offices in Stuttgart, Germany, and in Auburn Hills, Mich.
Renschler, the dairy farmer's son who put Mercedes-Benz into the sport-utility business, now will begin integrating Daimler-Benz AG's often conservative, century-old German traditions with Chrysler Corp.'s less formal, sometimes corner-cutting American ways.
'The challenge for the next few months and years is to establish our culture,' said Renschler, who is currently president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz U.S. International Inc. in Vance, Ala., the source of the Mercedes M class. 'We are looking for a very open environment where communication is easy. That's a lot of change for some people.'
It will be neither Renschler's first job of merging cultures nor his first special assignment for a company chairman.
The Alabama sport-utility venture grew out of a special project in which Renschler reported directly to former Mercedes-Benz AG Chairman Werner Niefer and later Chairman Helmut Werner.
First, at age 33, Renschler led a team charged with deciding whether to kill Mercedes' limited-production European sport-utility, the Gelaendewagen. Then he was asked to determine how Mercedes should enter the booming American SUV market.
That led to his special assignment to create an independent U.S. subsidiary responsible for producing and marketing the resulting M-class line worldwide.
Renschler's Vance subsidiary is a prime example of the sort of culture-blending DaimlerChrysler soon will face.
To pull together Mercedes-Benz's first manufacturing venture outside Germany, he tapped industry veterans from U.S., European and Japanese automakers.
It was Renschler's first job in a factory. He came to the auto industry with an organization-planning background at Hewlett-Packard GmbH.
Executives in Alabama say Renschler made it clear that the Vance company would not run like a Mercedes operation, or even like a Toyota plant, despite recruiting several Toyota managers. Instead, he instructed, it would take the best of all automakers and develop its own rules and regulations, its own procedures, and even its own dress code.
Renschler found himself refereeing heated quarrels between insistent Mercedes engineers and equally insistent recruits from Toyota and the former Big 3. He found himself bucking expectations from Germany about how the plant would be laid out and operated.
On one occasion, to build camaraderie, Renschler led his managers on a wilderness expedition in which the team had to work together to make their way out of the forest.
'The new challenge,' he said, 'is that we have many talented people who live in different cities. We have to find ways to bring them closer together.'