Juergen Schrempp boasts that he was just being a good negotiator when he tricked Bob Eaton and Chrysler Corp. into being taken over by Daimler-Benz AG.
Now, he says he's going to use his personal persuasiveness to get the investment community to appreciate DaimlerChrysler AG's great story.
Given the number of people within both Daimler and Chrysler who are being forced to re-evaluate his candor, the forceful Schrempp is going to have to be awfully clever to get investors - who don't like auto stocks, period - to flock to DCX.
And this comes while Chrysler group sales drop, incentives rise and morale crashes - and while Chrysler, the great profit machine of the 1990s, loses big money in the quarter.
Meanwhile, Chrysler group executives grouse about 'the Germans,' as the value of their own stock options drops, and they look for somebody to blame for their company's shocking fall from the heights. And rumors in the supply community suggest that a lot of Chrysler's talent will be jumping to competing automakers shortly.
It was just two years ago at the Paris auto show that Schrempp's top lieutenants were describing to me the kind of company that was about to be created. It doesn't look like today's company.
`NO MERGER OF EQUALS'
Remember: Two weeks ago, Schrempp told the Financial Times that he knew from the time he approached Chrysler that this would be no 'merger of equals.' That seems true enough. Eaton, Chrysler's now-retired ex-chairman and Schrempp's former nominal 'co-CEO' of DaimlerChrysler, was deluded if he thought otherwise, given that the Daimler executives had the majority of the votes.
But how were those two great automakers to be organized? As one integrated company or as a holding company with a Chrysler division?
Schrempp told the Financial Times that he never intended to integrate Chrysler's operations into DaimlerChrysler. 'If I had gone and said Chrysler would be a division, everybody on their side would have said: `There is no way we'll do a deal,' ' Schrempp was quoted as saying. 'But it's precisely what I wanted to do.'
Flash back now to Paris, 1998. DaimlerChrysler is a month from its official creation. Bob Eaton, looking very tired, is making the pitch for all the value that this merger of equals is going to create.
He assures me that people from many levels of each company will shift responsibilities between Germany and the United States. Germans will work for Americans, and vice versa.
'If you don't move back and forth, it's just a holding company, not a merger,' Eaton says.
At the Mercedes stand during the same Paris show, Juergen Hubbert, the powerful and ethical head of Mercedes-Benz passenger cars, is arguing the same thing. It'll be an integrated company, he assures me.
I believe he meant it.
But it was clear even then that the American Chrysler executives were suffering one misapprehension. The top Mercedes officials couldn't wait to take over Chrysler. The Chrysler execs didn't understand that.
Eaton said Chrysler President Tom Stallkamp could become chairman of DaimlerChrysler someday, and Chrysler product-development chief Chris Theodore could run product programs in Stuttgart.
Within a year, Theodore had bolted to Ford Motor Co., and Stallkamp, who saw what was happening to Chrysler and had the nerve to try to stick to the plan, was fired.
Today, we have a Chrysler group that just bled red ink in the strongest American market in history. Most of the top Chrysler leaders of just two years ago are gone or going.
And Juergen Schrempp vows to go on the road to tout DCX stock.
For his road show, I'll give him some advice that is often repeated by radio philosopher Garrison Keillor: Always tell the truth. Then you don't have to remember what you said.
You can e-mail Peter Brown at [email protected]