STUTTGART -- Eckhard Cordes, named on Thursday to head DaimlerChrysler's flagship Mercedes Car Group division, is a turnaround expert who made his mark as a loyal ally of Chief Executive Juergen Schrempp.
Cordes, 53, has spent his professional life at Daimler since joining the carmaker as a trainee in 1976 and became such an insider that he helped negotiate Daimler-Benz's super-secret merger with Chrysler in 1998.
Since late 2000 the German manager has headed the group's market-leading commercial vehicles division, where he cut jobs and costs to staunch losses and lead it back to solid profits, helped in part by better market conditions.
"He showed there that he is not just a planner and analyst, but also understands how to run a business," said Willi Diez, a professor of automotive studies at the University of Nuertingen, who follows the company closely.
A native of northern Germany and father of four, Cordes was the group's chief strategist before parachuting in to turn around the trucks and buses business.
Colleagues describe him as open and approachable, and ambitious.
"He can listen well and for a long time but then decide things quickly," one associate said.
Cordes was one of only two management board members to side with Schrempp when the CEO lobbied unsuccessfully in April to keep a financial lifeline open for struggling Japanese ally Mitsubishi Motors Corp.
People close to Cordes say he sided with Schrempp not out of blind loyalty but rather to show he was true to his own line. As group strategist he was a prime architect of the Asian strategy that sought to make DaimlerChrysler a truly global player.
Cordes may not have much leeway to put his personal stamp on Mercedes, however.
Outgoing Mercedes boss Juergen Hubbert, who lorded over the brand for more than a decade, has already launched a new model offensive designed to perk up sales and clinched a deal with German unions to save 500 million euros a year in labor costs.
And Cordes may not have been in the new job long enough to replace Schrempp when the CEO is due to step down in 2008.
"This has become more difficult now but not impossible," Diez said.
Investors expect him to boost profit margins at the division that groups luxury Mercedes-Benz cars, the Smart compact series and prestigious Maybach limousines.
"That has to change," said Georg Stuerzer at Munich bank HVB, suggesting an operating margin of seven to 7.5 percent would be warranted rather than the six percent of late.
Cordes became a candidate to head Mercedes when DaimlerChrysler's supervisory board abruptly decided in April that Wolfgang Bernhard, a rising star known as a cost-cutter, should not get the job just days before he was due to start.