If one learns from making mistakes, DaimlerChrysler surely has earned a Ph.D. in what not to do in a merger.
What went wrong at DaimlerChrysler? What does Co-Chairman Robert Eaton know in his heart as he makes his precipitous departure, retiring March 31? And what can we learn from this momentous coupling of industrial giants?
The problem isn't the strategy of combining the assets of the two corporations. Nor is it the timing of the marriage. Both were surely defensible. But DaimlerChrysler made tactical errors right from the onset. The first 18 months were marred by a series of mistakes.
Overstating the case: Combining the companies makes sense as national borders melt away and global businesses grow. Chrysler's strengths and Daimler's needs fit hand-in-glove.
But the new company's early prediction that it would be the biggest and most profitable auto company on the planet encouraged stratospheric expectations.
That annoying huff-puffery made DaimlerChrysler look bad. After all, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors are still around and are a giant step ahead of the pack in most respects, with Toyota nipping at their heels.
Prematurely proclaiming contentment: The deal was described as a marriage of equals. Two equally powerful CEOs would share the throne, though they barely knew each other.
Knowledgeable observers never swallowed that assertion. The history of such instant linkages is dreadful. This was either a transparent attempt to keep people on both sides happy or a simple self-delusion.
In fact, no one ever expected Daimler-Benz CEO Juergen Schrempp to do anything but rule Chrysler from Stuttgart.
Lame-ducking the boss: Eaton emasculated himself early on by announcing his imminent early retirement to take effect any time - maybe soon, but perhaps not for three years.
Who goes to a lame duck for answers? Or for decisions? Eaton's people took no comfort from his attempt at a shared stewardship. Instead, they saw through it. If Eaton was not long for this world, they'd better start pleasing the new German boss. Senior executives began to bail out.
Announcing incredible and immediate economies: Chrysler and Daimler, before they became business partners, overlapped in a few places, so the extravagant prediction of billions in savings was beyond reasonable belief.
Some joining of efforts would, of course, yield modest economies in purchasing and engineering, but nothing earthshaking.
DaimlerChrysler boasted that in its first five years, it would save a couple tractor-trailers full of money. It couldn't and didn't.
Forcing a culture blend: Before the historic 1998 merger, Daimler-Benz was known for its top-down management approach. Chrysler, by contrast, was a humble collection of colorful consensus managers.
DaimlerChrysler said they could be merged in 12 months. But authoritarian German management methods proved so foreign, compared to the nonhierarchical style at Chrysler, that the management-merger-of-equals effort had to be junked, resulting in more disillusionment, resulting in more departures, involuntary and otherwise.
They included Thomas Stallkamp, a fine Chrysler president and cost cutter deluxe, thrown to the wolves.
Taking Wall Street for granted: Chrysler and Daimler-Benz felt certain that DCX would easily earn a spot in the Standard and Poor's 500 index.
After all, this deal was planned and presented as an enhancement of a strong American corporation, a shimmering American success story.
Surely, U.S. investors would want this new and improved automaker represented in the world's closely followed stock index.
But DaimlerChrysler, now incorporated in Germany, was rebuffed.
Chrysler suffered a devastating drop in market value on the New York Stock Exchange as index-fund holders dropped Chrysler stock in the United States, much of it to be snapped up at bargain prices by German buyers.
The last visible vestiges of the original Chrysler management team have disappeared with Eaton.
The pretense that DaimlerChrysler is two companies operating as one under mutually compatible management has shattered. Chrysler Corp., as we knew it and loved it, is dead. We will know it in the future as one of several DaimlerChrysler subsidiaries.
Whether Chrysler and Daimler-Benz would have been better off as separate, but not strategic, partners is an academic exercise.
Years from now, results of the buyout will probably be rewarding to company shareholders. For now, however, it is a company combination that got off to a bad start and made mistakes from which we all can learn.
Chrysler, rest in peace.