Bob Nardelli is just the latest in a long line of non-Chrysler guys to run the joint.
If we expect to see the Chrysler enterprise around in five years -- either as a stand-alone operation or as a significant, identifiable part of some global hookup -- the new Chrysler needs to improve the way it develops local talent. It also needs to commit itself to finding the right people for the right jobs.
When I started on the beat, Lynn Townsend was Chrysler CEO. Townsend was followed by John Riccardo, both of whom migrated to Chrysler's old Highland Park headquarters from the automaker's auditor, Touche, Ross, Bailey & Smart.
After Henry Ford II fired Lee Iacocca in 1978, Riccardo brought Iacocca on board as the No. 2 guy at Chrysler. But you knew he wasn't going stay in second place when at the press conference introducing the former Ford man, Iacocca referred to Riccardo as Johnny.
Before long, Iacocca had the top job.
Lutz passed over
When Iacocca reached retirement age, he looked past all of Chrysler's home-grown talent and his own No. 2 guy, Bob Lutz -- who had worked for Ford, BMW and General Motors. Instead, Iacocca tapped Bob Eaton, a bright GM executive who had been elbowed out of the race for the top at GM.
When Daimler-Benz bought Chrysler, the marching orders came to Auburn Hills from Stuttgart. Chrysler guy Jim Holden was the top local honcho for about a year before being fired in favor of Mercedes man Dieter Zetsche.
Many Chrysler stakeholders may have been tempted to yell "Liar, liar, pants on fire!" when Nardelli was named CEO. After all, the Cerberus folks had intimated that Tom LaSorda was their guy. LaSorda claims a Chrysler heritage, even though he came to Auburn Hills after a career in manufacturing at GM.
But alas, it wasn't to be. Worse yet for the partisans, bona fide Chrysler guy Eric Ridenour won't be around anymore. He had been the No. 2 exec behind LaSorda.
Maybe in this day and age of job-hopping and resume building it doesn't matter where the CEO comes from, as long as he or she gets the job done, which at Chrysler will involve motivating employees and other stakeholders.
Mending is priority
Right now, plenty of Chrysler dealers and suppliers are unhappy, so mending those relationships needs to be a priority for the new regime. When he was CEO at Home Depot, Nardelli built a reputation for showing up at retail stores and acting like a customer. That's the kind of bold stroke that the new Chrysler could use in rebuilding relations with suppliers, dealers and retail customers.
Getting the job done at Chrysler will require talent and a commitment to do the right thing for the right reasons, not just being a hired gunslinger who'll wander on to the next range war when this one is over.
Nardelli's reputation is that of a guy who motivates his team with money, and that might attract and keep great people.
But if they aren't doing it for the love of the company, its products and the auto industry, Chrysler will again be mediocre -- at best.
At worst, it will be gone.
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at [email protected]