Former Chrysler CEO Bob Eaton is commonly said to have finished his career in disgrace, having effectively sold the company to Daimler in a 1998 "merger of equals" that ended disastrously. Lee Iacocca once said choosing Eaton as his replacement was "the biggest mistake of my life."
But in his new book, Icons and Idiots: Straight Talk on Leadership, former Chrysler and General Motors exec Bob Lutz leaves Eaton out of the "idiot" category. That's a bit of a surprise, since Lutz was passed over when Eaton was lured by Iacocca from General Motors.
Lutz, who hung around as Eaton's No. 2, said: "Bob and I agreed that we would work together, mutually support each other in word and deed, and that the last thing either of us wanted was to create a pretext for the imperial Iacocca's urgent return."
In summary, Lutz wrote, "All in all, we had a good sharing of responsibilities."
After Eaton retired, enriched by the merger, his former DaimlerChrysler co-chairman, Juergen Schrempp, helped bury Eaton's reputation. Schrempp alleged that the two bosses secretly shared the vision of Chrysler as an operating division within a corporation dominated by Daimler. Eaton denied the claim.
Lutz wrote: "What got lost in all the vilification of Bob was that he had done what the private enterprise system expects of its CEOs: he ran a great company, made it a desirable partner, and merged it into a larger company, in the process creating enormous wealth for Chrysler's shareholders.
"Bob Eaton had his reputation unfairly tarnished. He was tagged a pathetic loser. By the important metrics on the scorecard he was a winner."