You've heard the old saw that a camel is a horse designed by a committee.
Well, New Chrysler's proposed nine-member board of directors is starting to look like a camel.
The Treasury Department will name four directors, while Fiat will name three. The Canadian government -- which will give New Chrysler an $800 million subsidy -- gets one director, and the UAW gets a director, too.
Now, one can argue that each of these organizations has a legitimate place in the boardroom. And Fiat's Sergio Marchionne, New Chrysler's presumed CEO-to-be, is a skillful, take-charge guy.
But it's difficult to see how Chrysler's board can focus effectively on the none-too-simple task of making money. New Chrysler could turn out to be an American version of Volkswagen, a company that struggles to balance the conflicting needs of investors, unionized employees and Lower Saxony, the provincial government that owns a major chunk of stock.
Will New Chrysler focus on long-term growth or short-term profit? How will the company decide where to locate assembly plants -- in Canada, the United States or Mexico? And does anyone believe the company can negotiate an arm's length labor contract with the UAW, whose retiree health care fund will own 55 percent of the company?
To get a sense of the headaches involved, I phoned Gerry Greenwald, Chrysler's former vice chairman who later ran United Airlines from 1994 through 1999. At the time, employees owned 55 percent of United Airlines, and its unions had two seats on the board.
During Greenwald's tenure, the company bought more planes, added routes, hired more workers and made money. But United Airlines subsequently ran into financial trouble, and Greenwald says union leaders were torn between the conflicting priorities of union and company.
"The union guys never quite wrapped their arms around it," recalls Greenwald, who now helps run the Greenbriar Equity Group, an investment group in New York. "It takes a really special union person to adjust."
Greenwald says Doug Fraser, the former UAW president who helped mastermind Chrysler's turnaround in the early 1980s, was that kind of guy. Will UAW President Ron Gettelfinger demonstrate Fraser's savvy?