DaimlerChrysler Chairman Juergen Schrempp: A close ally of Cordes
A contest is shaping up between Chrysler group CEO Dieter Zetsche and Eckhard Cordes, the 53-year-old Schrempp acolyte named Mercedes-Benz AG chief last week.
At first glance, the pair seemed evenly matched. Zetsche, 51, is an executive enjoying a run of success at Chrysler. But Cordes, 53, is a longtime Schrempp ally who fixed the group's vast commercial-vehicle operations.
But some with close ties to DaimlerChrysler believe the matter is settled.
"I have heard the race is over, and the winner is Cordes," says a former DaimlerChrysler executive.
Why? Cordes and Schrempp are tight. Within the group, the slim son of a north German leather merchant is known as "Little Schrempp."
Schrempp's contract was extended this year until 2008, though some believe he won't stay that long.
The chairman would not comment on Cordes as his possible successor. He said the board made a good decision.
"That is what they decided," he said last week. "Everything else is open. I intend to stay for a while. There is no reason for speculation."
Cordes will replace Juergen Hubbert as head of Mercedes-Benz on Oct. 1. His career took an unexpected turn when former Chrysler group COO Wolfgang Bernhard washed out in April as Hubbert's scheduled replacement.
Schrempp and Cordes met 18 years ago when Cordes was chief accountant at Mercedes do Brasil. He and Schrempp teamed up later in their careers to sell DaimlerChrysler's troubled AEG appliances and Fokker aircraft units. Cordes also was a lead negotiator in the 1998 merger of Daimler-Benz and Chrysler Corp. and DaimlerChrysler's 2000 acquisition of a stake in Mitsubishi Motors.
He has had no experience in passenger-car operations.
On the personal side, Cordes has three children. His wife, his second, once was former group chairman Edzard Reuter's assistant.
The former unidentified DaimlerChrysler executive says, "I don't think it will be easy for him to be a Mr. Mercedes in the Juergen Hubbert sense."
When the supervisory board's decision was delivered to him last week, Cordes said with a smile: "I did not expect this."
AutomobilWoche contributed to this report