Media-shy DaimlerChrysler CEO Juergen Schrempp has broken his silence to defend his leadership as socially responsible.
A company's leader should be judged on more than the bottom line, Schrempp told the Financial Times at the Geneva auto show last week. "It is whether we have made a contribution to society. This point is close to my heart."
Schrempp appeared to be referring to preservation of German jobs. His 1998 deal to merge the former Daimler-Benz and Chrysler Corp. created a company virtually invulnerable to takeovers - and layoffs at Mercedes - by virtue of its size, the Financial Times wrote.
Schrempp has given few interviews since an October 2000 session with the Financial Times, a British business newspaper circulated mainly in Europe.
At that time, Schrempp said that he planned to absorb Chrysler as a division of Daimler from the onset. The admission triggered a lawsuit from Chrysler shareholder Kirk Kerkorian.
That suit has not been decided. Shareholder value has fallen since the merger, and Schrempp's global alliances with Hyundai Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. have disintegrated.
But Schrempp defended his tenure, citing successful investment in Mitsubishi's truck business, the EADS aerospace group and Freightliner LLC heavy trucks.
Although the Smart minicar brand has racked up heavy losses, Schrempp said it created "sympathy" for DaimlerChrysler.
He added that BMW's profitable Mini brand gives him hope for Smart.
"Nobody can say that the Mini is not a success story," Schrempp said. "Why is it not possible here? (Smart) is a great vehicle. We just have to get it right."