Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Cerberus' bid took many Chrysler workers by surprise

PVOMan - Yes, even I was quite surprised and shock.

Employees at Chrysler Group headquarters in Auburn Hills had whispered for weeks about seeing former Chief Operating Officer Wolfgang Bernhard in the building working on Cerberus Capital Management's bid to buy the automaker from DaimlerChrysler AG.

But Monday morning's announcement that Cerberus won the bidding came as surprise to Chrysler workers."Although we knew something was likely to happen, none of us -- myself included -- were aware of who our new owners would be or when it would be announced," Byron Kearne, vice president of scientific laboratories and proving grounds, wrote colleagues in an e-mail obtained by the Free Press. "I received the news for the first time when Tom LaSorda's e-mail was distributed at 4:42am, same as everyone else.

"I can only speculate that this 'veil of secrecy' was necessary to allow the terms of the sale to progress unimpeded."

Bernhard's future role in Chrysler is unclear -- beyond being called an adviser -- but many said they think his presence aided Cerberus' success.

He is probably best known among non-car geeks from TV footage of him wearing a leather jacket riding a thunderous, 500-horsepower Dodge Tomahawk concept motorcycle into the 2003 Detroit auto show.

In industry circles, Bernhard is known for helping Dieter Zetsche, then the Chrysler Group's chief executive officer, turn the unit around in 2001 and as an expert in manufacturing and cost reduction -- attributes he took to Volkswagen.

He was ousted from Volkswagen earlier this year as leadership changed.

Speculation among industry experts and workers in Auburn Hills is that he will take some role in the new Chrysler.

LaSorda stressed Tuesday that he is in charge of Chrysler and that Bernhard is one of many experts he can tap as needed. "I've got a great bench to go to," LaSorda said.

"He and I are close friends," LaSorda added. "This guy is talented. I would be crazy not to try to tap him. ... But he clearly works for Cerberus. He will not be on the executive team of Chrysler."

Details must be worked out before the deal is completed for Cerberus to spend $7.4 billion to buy Chrysler.

LaSorda said officials will work in coming weeks on a corporate structure, and noted that he is still not sure who his boss will be at Cerberus.

"Who is my boss? I have a number of them right now," LaSorda said. "Right now I've got Dieter on one side ... then we have the new entity."

Bernhard was at a meeting Monday with Chrysler directors and vice presidents.

Zetsche, now DaimlerChrysler's chief executive, flew to Auburn Hills for the meeting and was joined by Cerberus CEO Stephen Feinberg, who also addressed the management team.

"Regardless of who our new owners are, this company will continue to design, develop, test, build and market vehicles," Kearne said in his e-mail.

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