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Chrysler: Crafting a Reprieve
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Doppelganger

Let's reverse the situation a moment and consider how Germans might have reacted in light of the events of the past two-plus years.

The setting is the company's Stuttgart, Germany headquarters. Employees are growing dismayed. There's been a worrisome trend of more and more American voices sounding through the hallways each day as additional Germans quietly disappear from top jobs.

To protests from Germany's top newspapers such as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), the American chief of DaimlerChrysler - having purged his German rival from the co-chairman's job - had just dropped a bombshell.

His admission to the Financial Times he had used false pretenses in acquiring Mercedes-Benz dismissed any thoughts that the relationship ever was intended to be a partnership.

Is there any doubt how the Germans or their Bundestag would have reacted? Would that parliamentary body have watched passively as billions in cash was swiftly transported across the Atlantic, some $6 billion alone in the past month? And would they have idled rather than acting quickly to regain control as outrage among the affected workforce continued to mount?

Annulling A Bad Marriage

In fact, would they have delayed for even a day in moving to annul the marriage that, effectively a form of economic obstruction, was threatening to undermine their economy.

From his base in Las Vegas, billionaire investor and corporate raider Kirk Kerkorian had grown unhappy enough with the company's dismal financial reports to take action. In January he sold half his stake in the company, leaving him with a 2.3 percent share.

His $8 billion lawsuit against the company could be expanded into class action. And, if angered further, he had the potential to become a commanding general in a charge against Schrempp. He would have to be appeased.

Back in the early 1990s, Kerkorian - a master of the end game and at the time Chrysler's largest shareholder - had wanted to run Chrysler, or at least to own control of it. But he was thwarted in his bid.

Chance For Revenge

Despite his advancing age, he could still be angry and humiliated enough to push for the only acceptable solution: Cut Chrysler loose from Daimler and make it a wholly-American company once again.

There has been more dissatisfaction outside the U.S. as well. Already reports have been rampant that Kuwait also is growing concerned about its ownership of the company. And the oil-rich Mideast state would be unlikely to allow such a rift to disrupt international relations.

But Kuwait could be a trump card for Schrempp if he could convince the Kuwaiti Investment Fund to purchase some of Kerkorian's massive stock holdings. If Kerkorian agreed to the sale, that would help eliminate him as a threat.

And Schrempp has the supreme confidence to take a step that brazen. Associates back in Germany had portrayed him a fearless, arrogant and merciless in his efforts to get what he wanted.

'The Softest thing about Schrempp is his teeth...'

The opening of the book, Juergen Schrempp and the Making of an Auto Dynasty (McGraw Hill 1998) quoted his self assessment: "I, Juergen Schrempp, believe in Juergen Schrempp."

In the same book an industry insider painted a ruthless portrait of the Teutonic giant: "The softest thing about him is his teeth."

So, going to the heads of government would be no problem for Schrempp. A switch in stock ownership to the Kuwaitis not only would ease the pressure, but it might help to smooth the alliance between the three governments involved, putting him in the role of a peacemaker.

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