Monday, May 21, 2007

Chrysler group's new frame of mind: Free at last!

Chrysler exec John Felice: Pleased with the company's new owner.

Lindsay Chappell
Automotive News
May 21, 2007 - 1:00 am

For nine years, Chrysler's U.S. employees have been gamely adjusting to top managers in a foreign land with foreign ways.

Now, with the impending breakup of German Daimler and American Chrysler, a loud exhalation is emanating from the Chrysler group's headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Some Chrysler employees are still stunned. But others are starting to perk up. For the first time since 1998, they can just relax and be American.

"Before the merger," comments one longtime manager, "we'd get together to look at an issue. We'd say, 'We should do this.' And so we'd do it. But with Daimler, everything had to go through a formalized process of meetings and reviews and different committees. That just wasn't our style. We knew how fast we could run."

One former Chrysler group executive says he was dismayed to sit through meetings in Germany where conversation was limited to an agenda, blocking out other issues that needed to be discussed.

Meanwhile, German executives were often critical of their Chrysler counterparts, complaining that the Michigan personnel often were unprepared for discussions and lax about details.

In 1999, Chrysler President Tom Stallkamp was fired after blowing up over what he felt to be the Germans' tedious and time-consuming habits in meetings.

Among other things, he had grown exasperated over Daimler executives' predilection for compiling agendas and data in notebooks before a meeting could occur.

John Felice, Chrysler's vice president of manufacturing, technology and global enterprise, is pleased with the company's new owner. DaimlerChrysler AG agreed to sell a majority share of the Chrysler group to investor Cerberus Capital Management LP.

At the Automotive News Manufacturing Conference in Nashville last week, Felice said the Chrysler group had devised the turnaround plan before DaimlerChrysler decided to sell. Cerberus management has fully endorsed it, he said.

"They said, 'It's yours to deliver,'" Felice said. "They said, 'We're here to support you; we have resources for you. Use them or don't use them as you see fit.' "

Says another manager now: "We're really looking forward to going it alone now. There's something liberating about it."

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