It was nearly five years ago that Dieter Zetsche and his second-in-command, Wolfgang Bernhard, moved to Detroit to whip a crisis-rocked Chrysler group into shape.
The announcement alone struck fear into the hearts of DaimlerChrysler's American employees. Just two years after the 1998 joining of Daimler-Benz AG and Chrysler Corp., the dynamic pair from Germany seemed rather like an occupying force.
Bernhard was forced quickly into the role of the bad guy, cutting 26,000 jobs and trimming $10 billion from product plans. Although Zetsche also was deeply involved in Chrysler's restructuring, he became the good guy - an inspirational figure and the company's public face.
Zetsche's chummy management style and his efforts to win over American employees, suppliers, dealers and customers paid off quickly. The system worked, and Zetsche brought Chrysler a new, exciting portfolio of products. A competitive company returned to profitability.
Everything improved, and the greatest share of Chrysler's success was attributed to Zetsche. He was the wonder weapon with the walrus mustache.
Had Zetsche not gotten the top job at DaimlerChrysler, he might soon have jumped ship. General Motors and Ford Motor Co. were thought to be after him.
Now Zetsche will return triumphantly to Germany at the end of the year to take over the DaimlerChrysler board chairmanship from Juergen Schrempp.
Zetsche's task is to repeat his success in America - this time, for the entire company.
His homecoming marks not only the end of the Schrempp era but also a fundamental change in the company culture.
That's because Zetsche's greatest achievement was the creation of a positive climate at Chrysler despite years of negative headlines.
Unlike Schrempp, Zetsche is a communicator who works hard to create a positive message and communicate it correctly. And a positive company culture is precisely what DaimlerChrysler needs.
After Schrempp survived a board rebellion in the spring of 2004, his leadership was less inspiring than ever.
DaimlerChrysler's public image bore the stamp of corruption scandals, quality problems at Mercedes-Benz and the attempted turnaround of the notoriously unsuccessful Smart brand.
Schrempp's plans for a world corporation have foundered. It was evident that a comprehensive company leadership was lacking.
Zetsche will have his hands full, especially if he has to look for another replacement for Mercedes chief Eckhard Cordes.
It is still too early to speculate about the new Zetsche era. In any case, immediate strategy changes aren't to be expected.
But Zetsche will make DaimlerChrysler a happier place. He will set clear priorities; he'll ensure that the American and German branches work well together, and he will send clearly positive signals.
Some of this may be wishful thinking. But the rise in DaimlerChrysler's stock price shows that even the international finance markets believe Zetsche will work the miracles that his predecessor had only promised.