Monday, September 3, 2007

Nardelli absorbs auto biz

Bob Nardelli (right) admires Larry Mayes’ customized Prowler during the vehicle’s 10th anniversary event, held at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Detroit.

Chrysler’s new CEO impresses during his first weeks on job

Bradford Wernle
Automotive News
September 3, 2007 -- 06:01 CETDETROIT -- When Bob Nardelli was named chairman and CEO, a lot of people were quick to mention his controversial stints at General Electric and Home Depot.

The new guy lacks people skills, does not listen to customers, is an example of excessive executive pay and surrounds himself with ex-military people who will not questions his decisions -- or so his critics said.

When Nardelli met with reporters on August 16 at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum in suburban Detroit, he was asked what he thought about all the bad things that had been written about him.

“I don’t recognize that guy,” Nardelli said.

So far, Nardelli has worked hard to show he’s the right man for the Chrysler job -- and not the tyrant portrayed in some news accounts.

Nardelli has said that in his early days at Chrysler, he will be a “dry sponge.” He aims to get around to all Chrysler departments to listen and learn about the car business, in which he has no experience.

Many meetings

During his first two weeks, Nardelli has been a whirl of motion around Chrysler’s cavernous headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan. He has visited company vice presidents in their offices and dined in the employee cafeteria.

He has met several times with UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and the UAW’s Chrysler negotiating team, headed by General Holiefield. He ventured to nearby Windsor, Ontario, to meet with Canadian Auto Workers President Buzz Hargrove for an hour-long breakfast. And he met over dinner with members of the Chrysler dealer council.

Nardelli, who has long been involved with the United Way charity, lit the torch kicking off the United Way Torch Drive and addressed several hundred Chrysler employees last week at Chrysler headquarters.

His wife, Sue, accompanied him to the Woodward Dream Cruise, a classic car event in suburban Detroit, on August 18. And he talked to a gathering of car collectors at a shopping plaza there.

Nardelli owns a 2000 Plymouth Prowler Black Tie edition that had 1,134 miles on it when he donned a Hawaiian shirt and met with a group of Prowler enthusiasts.

Chuck Eddy, co-owner of Bob and Chuck Eddy Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep in Austintown, Ohio, and a dealer council member, said he was impressed with Nardelli during an August 16 dealer council meeting in Auburn Hills.

Said Eddy: “He took Q&A from the guys for a solid hour.”

Simon Boag, Chrysler executive vice president for procurement and supply, says Nardelli is “asking great questions. I’ve been impressed. He’s very personable. He wants to understand who he’s working with. People are a priority for him.”

CAW President Hargrove said he found Nardelli accessible during a 75-minute breakfast meeting last week at the Windsor Casino.

“He said all the right things,” Hargrove said. “He had been well-briefed on our history and our concerns. The jury’s out on whether he can produce. He gave us all the time we wanted to raise whatever issues we wanted.”

That same morning, Chrysler held a ceremony to start production of the new generation of minivans at the Windsor assembly plant. Nardelli did not attend, leaving it to Windsor native and Chrysler Chief Operating Office Tom LaSorda to preside.

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