Chrysler Corp. Chairman Bob Eaton, alone in a company-owned apartment in New York, placed a call to billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, the automaker's biggest shareholder.
It was 7:30 p.m. in New York — 4:30 p.m. at Kerkorian's Las Vegas office — on April 11, 1995.
Kerkorian, who owned 36 million shares or 10 percent of Chrysler stock, told Eaton during the call that the next day, he would offer to buy all Chrysler stock and take the company private. Eaton was expecting the news, after several lower-level overtures. He had ordered Chrysler's lawyers to prepare a spirited defense.
The call lasted two minutes. Yet incredibly, the two titans of industry failed to communicate on the most basic point.
Kerkorian wanted to launch a leveraged buyout that would be financed by Chrysler's own cash. Chrysler management would participate in the buyout and would run the privately held company. But Eaton and his top managers saw it as a hostile takeover and were determined to fight.
According to the 2000 book Taken for a Ride: How Daimler-Benz Drove Off With Chrysler — an account of the Daimler-Chrysler merger by Bill Vlasic and Bradley Stertz — Eaton later claimed he had said: "You know what I have to do. You know we can't join you on this."
But Kerkorian insisted that the Chrysler chairman had told him that Eaton would stay neutral. Kerkorian's recollection of Eaton's exact words: "We can't say, hey, it's the right thing to do, but I won't oppose it."
That phone call was Eaton's last chance to head off the ill-fated takeover bid. On April 12, Kerkorian offered $22.8 billion for Chrysler. Eaton and Chrysler bitterly fought the bid, which dragged on for almost 10 months before the two sides negotiated a truce.