When blue-collarCorp. publicly announced in May 1998 its "merger of equals" with the jewel of Germany, Mercedes-maker -Benz AG, the groans heard round the world emanated from Detroiters who take their car companies seriously and treat their chief executives as homegrown royalty.
Generations of families, after all, had worked for or been influenced by the Big Three in the Motor City.
To them, and to a multitude of U.S. industry watchers, the so-called merger was, in fact, the selling of an American icon; nothing would ever be the same. Indeed, as the deal-of-the-century quickly dissolved into the clash-of-cultures, admissions were made thathad bought , an event that fast-forwarded the international consolidation of the global industry, which continues to this day.
It seems only fitting, then, that two Detroit journalists have produced a book that peels away the layers of intrigue that enveloped what some consider the "biggest industrial merger of all time" as it secretly unfolded along the corridors of power.
Taken For a Ride: How Daimler-Benz Drove Off with Chrysler (William Morrow, 348 pages $26) by Bill Vlasic and Bradley A. Stertz tells us much of what we already knew but draws a compelling picture of how it happened, placing us in the audience of a Shakespearian drama that includes some of the automotive industry's legendary "thespians" of our day.
The breezy narrative, written by Mr. Vlasic, a reporter for The Detroit News and a former Business Week correspondent, and edited by Mr. Stertz, an assistant managing editor at The News and former reporter for The Wall Street Journal, is the culmination of 200 interviews and years of reporting on the events as they unfolded.
The book opens with the 1995 aborted takeover attempt of Chrysler by its biggest shareholder, eccentric billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, along with retired Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca. The "Kerkorian caper" sets the stage for the next group of players, as Chrysler Chief Executive Robertfinds himself unable to shake his fear of Chrysler's vulnerability.
A taciturn loner by nature, the former engineer was a thinker but not a consensus builder. "had come to feel he was the protector of Chrysler and the people who built it, sold and drove its cars and trucks," Mr. Vlasic writes. "But he struggled with expressing himself."
While Mr. Eaton's travails make for compelling reading - particularly his public crying episodes - the story becomes riveting once the main player commands his rightful place on stage, where he dominates every scene. Described as "tall, stern-jawed, and possessed of a magnetic presence," Daimler-Benz CEO Juergen Schrempp seems everything that Mr. Eaton is not.
"Schrempp was a man who enjoyed other people, valued relationships, and reveled in hearty discussion. He relied heavily on a small cadre of influential advisors who orbited around him like planets around the sun, brainstorming with him during working hours and dining and drinking with him late into the night."
Mr. Schrempp knew his lines - when to thunder and roar; when to be tender and sincere. Most importantly, he knew how to get what he wanted. Unfortunately, the only Chrysler guy who would have been his match was exiting stage left.
Chrysler Vice Chairman Robert Lutz, soon to be pushed out by Eaton despite his reputation as the driving force behind Chrysler's product renaissance in the 1990s, was fluent in German, culturally European and had worked forand in Germany before heading up of Europe. "Lutz embodied the soul of a company that couldn't be kept down, an organization that thrived on pressure," Mr. Vlasic writes.
There were others who made up the rough-and-ready Chrysler team that first attracted Mr. Schrempp. Among them, gritty manufacturing guru Dennis Pawley, whom Mr. Schrempp later pleaded with not to retire. And outspoken President Thomas Stallkamp, dismissed by Mr. Eaton to the shock and dismay of the American side after carrying out a key role on the Post Merger Integration team.
Despite knowing that Mr. Schrempp ultimately has his way, running the show with Daimler occupying the high ground, going along for the ride makes for some irresistible late-night reading. "The deal's not necessarily destined for failure," Mr. Stertz says at the launch of the book, "just a piece of America lost." Nor is the story of the melding of these two proud companies over.
Indeed, with DaimlerChrysler's recent purchase of a 34% controlling stake in Japan'sMotors Corp, a new chapter is just beginning.