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Bob Eaton’s Reign of Terror: Life From Eaton to Zetsche

Many people worked to build up Chrysler after the government bailout in 1979. We all believed in one thing...we were building to be the best the world had ever seen. Not just a common auto manufacturer, we were all variously prodded, goaded, praised, condemned, and bled towards a common goal, from Bob Lutz to each of us working in the most menial capacity.

1992 Chrysler executives

Common vision and the belief that we could make a difference individually was what drove us to make ourselves secondary to the advancement of what we believed. Unless you have believed, and I mean truly believed, in an idea that was so all-encompassing, so all-powerful, that it trancended your own wants and needs, you will never know the joy of accomplishment that was Chrysler Corporation under the leadership of Bob Lutz.

Rumors came and went in the weeks before Iacocca announced the appointment of Eaton as his successor. Most of us were under the assumption that Bob Lutz was both the logical and the only "heir apparent" to Mr. Iacocca. Many years later, Iacocca even admitted that he had made a major blunder because of the personal pride and animosity of what happenned shortly before the announcement was made.

It was spread around as a rumor that Bob Lutz had confronted Mr. Iacocca about the CEO position, and actively campaigned, cajoled, promoted, and desperately wanted the CEO position - as it turned out, in the same manner and forcefullness that Iacocca himself had done to Henry Ford II, which had gotten Iacocca fired from Ford Motor Company. Iacocca didn't do what was done to himself, but brought in someone from the outside to run the company and, as it was told to me, "ride herd" on the uncontrollable Lutz.

We have all seen the results of the downward slide that began almost immediately...that has been far more than adequately chronicled by Evan Boberg in his book. The empire building, so long ridiculed as a management style under Lutz, had started back in full swing almost before the ink was dry on Eaton's employment contract.

At this point, a group of formerly dedicated Chrysler employees made the decision to leave, all within 24 hours. The top twelve design engineers all quit Chrysler in protest of Eaton and his policies. This group, branded as "rabble rousers" and "disgruntled former workers" by Eaton in the Free Press and the Detroit News, started to work together to assist Chrysler suppliers to prevent these loyal companies from failing to meet the needs of the Corporation. The Quality Improvement Process, partnering with the suppliers to bring about savings thru the Japanese kerietsu method of joint development of components and systems, all started out with the best of intentions and best of results.

Slowly, the Eaton clan brought in the worst of Lopez's GM purchasing techniques, browbeating suppliers, mandating price cuts, arbitrarily voiding contracts, and sharing confidential supplier information with other suppliers to get cost cuts.

This all led to the DaimlerBenz takeover in 1998. Eaton needed money to keep his reputation and Schremp was in a buying mood to bolster his reputation. Jurgen Schremp was portrayed in the popular press as the white knight of Daimler-Benz, capable of no wrong. All failures that were discovered were the fault of others who were "less capable" than Schremp. What all the industry analysts failed to realize was how much hype was surrounding both Chrysler's stability and production, and Daimler's failures in management of Freightliner, American LaFrance, AdTrans, Fokker, and other companies.

Stripping all the companies of their assets like a vulture strips a rotting carcass, Daimler could, quite legally, project outstanding results as the "profits" grew. Their failures were yet to be discovered, like the people that were swindled by Daimler with the "sale" of AdTrans, which is in court now due to "overinflated value."

Much has been made of how the "Germans" did this or that. I gained a lot of respect for both Zietche and Bernhard. If anything, these two guys demonstrated that they really cared about Chrysler and what it meant. This took a while, but after seeing things like the Tomahawk and ME412, I feel they truly wanted to make Chrysler be alive again - not for personal gain, but to bring back the spirit of the Corporation that had been talked about, but was lacking due to Eaton's reign of terror.

When the surprise announcement of Bernhard leaving to go back to Germany came about, there was much concern about some behind the scenes wrangling. Schremp ruled with an iron fist and tolerated no back talk from his subordinates. Mercedes was so upstaged by the ME412 that there were rumors Schremp had a hissy fit and tried to end everyone's career that was associated with the project.

This was a benchmark event. The ME412 showed Dieter and Wolfgang to no longer be solidly entrenched in the Mercedes camp. They had proven themselves to be unreliable in taking orders - something obviously needed to be done. After all the press Chrysler received on the LX, the ME, and other programs, they seemed to be impenetrable. They, as a team, could pick up where Lutz left off. [Therefore, Bernhard had to be eliminated.]

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