Tom Stallkamp is a legend, a Chrysler legend.
As a purchasing boss and later president of the company, he operated so effectively with suppliers, colleagues and employees that his name is still revered nearly two decades after his departure.
The now 71-year-old Stallkamp was a firsthand witness to the 1998 grouping of Daimler-Benz and Chrysler — and was the first victim of the "merger of equals." Today, he says DaimlerChrysler was neither a merger nor equitable.
Stallkamp says his role in the history that was made in 1998 began in November 1997, when he saw DaimlerChrysler boss Juergen Schrempp pop into Chrysler CEO Bob Eaton's office.
"I was standing outside my office — my office was right next to [Chrysler President Bob] Lutz's on the top floor [of Chrysler's Auburn Hills headquarters]. I was talking with Lutz, when Schrempp walked in to talk to Eaton," Stallkamp recalled.
Stallkamp, now a member of three corporate boards and head of a supply chain consulting firm, Collaborative Management, remembers what happened like it was yesterday. He said he and Lutz didn't know why Schrempp was visiting, but they had an idea. After Schrempp departed, Stallkamp and Lutz went to see Eaton.
"That's really strange. Why was Juergen here? You guys were talking for a long time," they asked the CEO.
Eaton made his two fellow executives sign nondisclosure agreements on the spot, then admitted that Chrysler and Daimler were entering talks.
Initially, Stallkamp says, he was one of just five people within Chrysler who knew, including Lutz, who was barred from participating because of his ongoing "not feud, but rivalry" with Eaton, Stallkamp said.
"We were all told, under penalty of whatever, you couldn't tell anybody — even your wife. So, it was really a pretty well kept secret for a while," Stallkamp said.