days before he was abruptly fired as president and CEO of DaimlerChrysler’s US
unit, James P. Holden was unaware he was about to be replaced by a new management
team from Germany, reports Ward’s AutoWorld.
A master marketer who was promoted 15 times in 20 years at the company, Mr.
Holden kept his salesman’s optimism to the bitter end, insisting that Chrysler
was still controlled by American managers and that the company’s financial troubles
weren’t as bad as they looked.
Mr. Holden’s optimism stands in stark contrast to the gloomy assessment of
Dieter Zetsche, Chrysler’s new German president, who is predicting big losses
in the fourth quarter and beyond and is expected to announce white-collar layoffs
and more temporary plant closings to stem the flow of red ink.
Interviewed by editors from Ward’s AutoWorld magazine on Nov. 1 – in what turned
out to be his last formal interview as head of the Chrysler Group – Mr. Holden
spoke like a man who was fully in charge, and confident he would get the troubled
automaker turned around in fairly short order. He stated emphatically that Americans
were fully in control of the Chrysler Group, and that he had DC Chairman Juergen
Schrempp’s full support in his effort to get the company turned around. (Mr.
Schrempp was the man who fired him less than two weeks later.)
What’s more, Mr. Holden stressed that DC’s current problems are relatively
easy to fix compared with the hurdles the automaker faced in the past. He also
downplayed Chrysler’s $US500 million loss in the third quarter.
"We had a bad quarter. I don’t know why everybody’s digging the hole,"
he told interviewers from the magazine. Instead, he outlined plans to cut $US3
billion – or $US1,000 per car – from Chrysler’s costs to get the automaker’s
earnings back in the black, and confidently said, "We have more going for
us than we do going against us."
It’s currently unclear whether Mr. Holden was deliberately understating Chrysler’s
financial woes in order to buy time, or whether the new German management team
is overstating balance-sheet problems in an effort to win concessions from workers
and justify the takeover by German managers.
Mr. Holden was also clearly dismayed by Schrempp’s comments in the Financial
Times that he had never intended DaimlerChrysler to be a merger of equals and
deliberately deceived Chrysler executives about his intentions. Acknowledging
the comments had a terribly demoralizing effect on Chrysler’s 125,000 employees,
he finally took the stoic approach and said: "My message to my folks was:
Get over it and get to work, because we have plenty of problems of our own device,
and we need to go fix the stuff that is controllable, and that’s what we’re
going to do."
A full transcript of the interview is available at www.wardsauto.com