Monday, September 10, 2007

Chrysler shows it's a payer, and a player

Left to right: Ex-Toyota ace Jim Press; Asia hand Phil Murtaugh; marketing wiz Deborah Wahl Meyer


David Sedgwick
Automotive News
September 10, 2007 - 12:01 am ESTStephen Feinberg is the George Steinbrenner of the auto industry.

The founder and chief executive of Cerberus has opened up his wallet to hire the auto industry's best talent for Chrysler.

And he could change the way that auto executives are recruited and paid with Wall Street-style equity packages that dwarf current pay scales.

He already has hired three all-stars - former Toyota execs Jim Press and Deborah Wahl Meyer, along with former GM China chief Phil Murtaugh. In this scenario, Chrysler Chairman Bob Nardelli is like Yankees Manager Joe Torre, orchestrating Steinbrenner's high-priced talent.

Even before all these folks get their keys to the executive washroom, we can draw a couple of conclusions about Feinberg's tactics.

Like Steinbrenner, Feinberg is hands-on. He gets personally involved in Chrysler's key decisions. Cerberus started romancing Jim Press, head of Toyota's North American operations, even before Feinberg announced that Nardelli would be chairman.

Another conclusion: Feinberg likes executives who are willing to ride roughshod over the corporate bureaucracy. I won't rehash Nardelli's adventures at Home Depot, which you already know about.

So let's spend a few minutes with Murtaugh, the former General Motors executive who built GM China into a juggernaut. Murtaugh is a bantam rooster - an unpretentious guy who likes to run his own show.

Four years ago I had dinner with him at the Bombay Club in Tokyo. Over Indian curry and Singha beer, he told me he wouldn't want to work in Detroit because he didn't want to be surrounded by corporate "suits."

He won't have to. Chrysler will ask him to manage its crucial small-car joint venture with Chinese automaker Chery Automobile Co.

My guess: He's the right guy for the job. He shares Feinberg's disdain for corporate hierarchies, and he will share Nardelli's sense of urgency.

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