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Der Sturm (The Perfect Storm)
By Martha Hindes and Myron Stokes

Imagine what Bob Eaton's true reasons could have been for seeking a merger between Chrysler Corp. and Germany's Daimler-Benz. Despite his eight years as head of General Motors in Europe, he had jumped ship to become Chrysler's chairman half-a-decade earlier which cut him off from any return to GM. If that wasn't enough, he already was entering his late 50s, so any move he needed to make to ensure his immortality in automotive history had to be made soon.

Now, upon surreptitiously meeting with Daimler-Benz chairman Juergen Schrempp in early 1998, there was a chance to put his imprint on what easily could become the biggest, most influential auto maker that ever existed.

It had to be a heady time for a man who, in a surge of supreme self-confidence, saw himself ultimately as the lone leader of the world's largest car company.

Storm Clouds in the Distance

That was three years ago, when the industry was floating in an excess of success with no apparent end in sight. But there were nagging little signs of trouble that were beginning to appear for anyone who bothered to look.

And Bob Eaton was looking.

What he saw in the distance were the makings of a maelstrom of unsurpassed proportions, the beginning of a confluence of seemingly unrelated events that, when they collided, would become so magnified they could only be called a perfect storm.

Eaton had used that very expression in an internal company speech he gave early in 1998, before any word of the impending merger had surfaced. Surely such an alliance would protect both partners from the storm that was sure to come.

That was what Bob Eaton had in his distant vision when he sat down with pen in hand and essentially gave away America's third largest auto company.

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