First he swallowed up Chrysler. Now he's forging an alliance with Mitsubishi Motors Corp. DaimlerChrysler Chairman Jurgen E. Schrempp has captured headlines over the last two years in his headlong rush to create a global auto maker. He's also racing to beat rivals on new technology by putting an affordable fuel cell-powered car on the market by 2004.
Schrempp is close to achieving his grand strategy: establishing a presence in all major car markets and model segments. But his toughest task will be convincing investors that his plan is a winner for them, too. So far, it's not. Since the Chrysler merger, the stock has slid 37% to a recent low of $53.25 a share in New York.
Schrempp announced a share buyback program at the April annual meeting, telling shareholders he shared their frustration at the stock's performance. Underacheiving does not come easily to Schrempp. A high school dropout who started at Daimler-Benz as an apprentice mechanic, the 55-year-old Schrempp has introduced bold risk-taking to Germany Inc.'s consensus-driven culture. Even before becoming Daimler-Benz chairman in 1995, he shook things up by streamlining the company's aerospace activities. His performance helped him get the top job. His takeover of Chrysler was hailed as a groundbreaking transatlantic deal.
But then came disappointment, as a stream of Chrysler execs walked away from what was clearly not the "merger of equals" first announced. Margins have been under pressure too, as Chrysler resorts to rebates to keep sales up.
The marriage of Daimler and Chrysler may yet prove inspired. But now Schrempp must prove he can manage deals as well as make them.