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Chrysler Bares Teeth in Dog-Eat-Dog Business Climate

Eric Mayne From WardsAuto| February 20 , 2008

This is an historic month. For the first time in Westminster Kennel Club’s 132-year history, a beagle won best-of-show.

And precisely this time last year, Chrysler started going to the dogs.

That’s when Dieter Zetsche, then-chief of Chrysler’s former corporate parent, revealed the Detroit auto maker was on the block.

Before the next quarter concluded, the pentastar pack had a new leader – one with three heads.

Cerberus Capital Management LP, namesake of the mythical tri-cranium canine that guards the gates of hell, acquired Chrysler and ushered in a new era. Private equity had reached the pinnacle of the industry’s food chain.

Since then, there has been much gnashing of teeth as observers and insiders wondered how Chrysler would function.

Harken to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, where Jim Press, Chrysler’s vice chairman and president, engaged reporters after a dog and pony show to introduce the ’09 Dodge Ram pickup.

“The three of us combined, there’s a synergy there,” Press says referring to himself, Chairman and CEO Robert Nardelli and fellow Vice Chairman and President Tom LaSorda.

Press is charged with developing product strategy. LaSorda has responsibility for manufacturing and strategic alliances. And Nardelli ties it all together with his business acumen.

“Why does one person have to have all of those attributes?” Press says, responding to questions about Chrysler’s curious management structure. “Why can’t you bring together the best elements of two or three people, put them together?”

Like Cerberus. So what breed would each executive be?

According to Puppyfind.com, Press would be a Blue Tick Coonhound. Bred to track crafty game capable of fleeing through a woodland canopy, they are “good problem-solvers,” the site says.

A perfect fit for an auto maker seeking to retool its product lineup.

The breed also has “a variety of barks for different situations,” which matches Press’ ability to charm the news media.
The pooch’s tendency to drool and “mark its territory” do not apply to the veteran executive.

In deference to LaSorda’s heritage, he would be a Cane Corso Italiano, a.k.a. the Italian Mastiff. Described as even-tempered, highly intelligent and “very versatile,” this breed’s attributes correspond well to someone tasked with infusing an assembly network with innovation.

“They are nearly unstoppable in a fight due to their unusually high pain tolerance,” Puppyfind adds.

Who better, then, to lead Chrysler into a second round of labor talks this fall?

Warning: While athletic, the breed is “prone to bloat” without daily exercise and a proper diet.

Nardelli, the lead dog, can only be a Siberian Husky. Strong, clever and occasionally stubborn, the breed is “full of energy and independence.”

This could explain the new trail Chrysler is blazing through the supplier landscape, evidenced by its deal to import seats from India for the Ohio-built Jeep Wrangler in 2010.

Such a scheme shows “total disregard for just-in-time manufacturing,” says manufacturing guru Ross Robson. “Sequencing, it would seem, is next to impossible.”

But Nardelli vows Chrysler is “scouring the world” for the solutions that best serve its most important constituency – the people who buy the auto maker’s cars and trucks.

Further demonstrating the boldness required of alpha dogs, he warns there may be more anguish ahead for a Chrysler team that has already suffered thousands of job cuts.

“We have no other cuts planned,” he tells journalists during a recent public appearance. “But I can tell you, in 37 years (in business), any CEO who would say they’re done or they don’t have to do anymore, probably hasn’t grown the scar tissue that they need to grow to be a CEO.”

So the message to Chrysler stakeholders is clear: If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch.

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