While Dieter Zetsche acclimates himself to the Chrysler group's corporate culture, his children have adapted fairly easily to American culture. Zetsche's two sons, ages 14 and 16, soon began wearing the big, loose and beltless jeans that are fashionable among American teen-age boys.
Zetsche was not amused. 'I told them that not wearing belts started in prison where they were taken away from convicts,' he says. 'I thought they'd stop wearing those pants. But they thought that made wearing the jeans even cooler.'
Zetsche has rented a furnished house in Bloomfield Hills, a posh Detroit suburb of 4,000 residents that is home to many auto executives. Zetsche says his sons were shocked that their school - the private Detroit Country Day School - required them to wear jackets and neckties. That is a dramatic change from Germany, where jeans and faddish clothes were part of their daily wardrobe.
'They had to drag out their confirmation jackets and went off to school,' Zetsche says. He teased his sons that they were 'all dressed up.'
'The kids at school pulled open one son's jacket and saw Hugo Boss. They thought that was really cool. They wanted to see the other son's label and figured Breitling, being European, had to be equally hip. The kids loved it.'
The United States is not an exotic locale for Zetsche, who lived in Oregon when he was running Freightliner Corp. But certain American institutions still surprise him. The other day, he wandered into a Costco store to buy a couple of batteries. He was startled to find out that he would have to buy a large box of batteries instead, not just one or two.
He did not realize that Costco sells its products in bulk quantities to members of its buyers' club. He walked to the cash register, not knowing he needed to show a membership card.
Another shopper recognized him, stepped forward and helped him complete the transaction. Zetsche walked out with his batteries.