A contest is shaping up between Chrysler group CEO Dieter Zetsche and new Mercedes-Benz chief Eckhard Cordes.
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.
However, some with close ties to D/C believe the matter is settled.
"I have heard the race is over, and the winner is Cordes," says a former D/C executive.
Why? Cordes and Schrempp are tight. Within the group, Cordes, the 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. "Everything else is open. I intend to stay for awhile. There is no reason for speculation."
Cordes will replace Jürgen Hubbert as head of Mercedes-Benz on October 1.
Cordes' career took an unexpected turn when former Chrysler group COO Wolfgang Bernhard washed out in April as Hubbert's scheduled replacement. Bernhard subsequently left the company.
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 D/C's troubled AEG appliance and Fokker aircraft units.
Cordes also was a lead negotiator in the 1998 merger of Daimler-Benz and Chrysler as well as D/C's acquisition of a stake in Mitsubishi Motors Corp. in 2000.
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 D/C executive says, "I don't think it will be easy for him to be a Mr. Mercedes in the Jürgen Hubbert sense."
When the supervisory board's decision was delivered to him, Cordes said with a smile: "I did not expect this."
– Automobilwoche contributed