Monday, April 13, 2009

Chrysler's new deal-Different owners and Marchionne-led management team

Article from the Automotive News-

Different owners, a new board of directors and maybe a Marchionne-led management team

TURIN, Italy — As Chrysler LLC negotiates an alliance with Fiat S.p.A. that would satisfy the Obama administration, sources say the companies are discussing a revised ownership structure, a new board and possibly a different management team for Chrysler.

Among the options being discussed is a direct role in Chrysler's operations for Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne — possibly even the chief executive's job.

Sources close to the merger negotiations say that after completing the deal, the plan is to elect a seven-member Chrysler board that would include representatives from Fiat and possibly President Barack Obama's automotive task force.

But the companies face major obstacles in getting the deal done. The ownership of the future Chrysler is still subject to complex negotiations involving Cerberus Capital Management LP, Daimler AG, the UAW and the big banks that hold Chrysler's debt.

A person familiar with the negotiations said the new management structure would divide the roles of CEO and chairman between two executives. The job of Chrysler chairman would be held by an American, the source said.

Since 2007, Chrysler's chairman and CEO jobs have been held by Bob Nardelli, appointed by Cerberus.

On March 30, Obama gave Chrysler and Fiat until the end of April to prove their alliance is workable. The government then would grant Chrysler up to $6 billion in additional loans. Chrysler already has received $4 billion.

Obama impressed

Marchionne (mar-kee-OHN'-nay) — the energetic, chain-smoking architect of Fiat's turnaround — has led the Italian automaker since 2004. In his March 30 speech about the auto industry, Obama praised Marchionne and described Fiat as a company where "the current management team has executed an impressive turnaround."

Another source familiar with the negotiations said Obama's task force may even dictate that Marchionne be directly involved in running Chrysler.

It's unclear whether Marchionne would try to exert hands-on control of Chrysler in the style of Carlos Ghosn, the CEO of Renault and Nissan. But there is evidence that he might try. The 56-year-old executive already spends several days each month in the United States, usually at the offices of Fiat's Case New Holland subsidiary in suburban Chicago.

Every other Friday evening, Marchionne boards a chartered overnight flight, snatching a few hours of sleep and arriving Saturday morning in Chicago. After two days working in America, he catches the red-eye return flight on Sunday.

Marchionne, who speaks accent-free English, holds both Italian and Canadian citizenships and earned university degrees in Toronto and Windsor, Ontario. He spent a decade working in Canada.

Asked about possible changes, Chrysler spokesman Todd Goyer issued a statement: "Chrysler has no management changes to announce. The job of Chrysler's current management team is to get the company on a solid foundation moving forward."

Obstacles remain

Speaking last week at the New York auto show, Chrysler co-President Jim Press said he is optimistic that Fiat and Chrysler can meet the government's requirements and form an alliance.

But he cautioned that Chrysler is preparing for bankruptcy if the alliance does not work out. "We've got to be prepared to take care of the equity and the assets," he said.

Besides the negotiations over the ownership of the future automaker, Chrysler negotiators are in talks with UAW officials about reducing Chrysler's $10.6 billion obligation to the union's health care trust.

The Treasury Department also is negotiating with the major banks holding $6.9 billion in Chrysler debt, according to a Bloomberg News Service report. Bloomberg said the four largest lenders are JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup, Goldman Sachs Group and Morgan Stanley.

Cerberus has offered to give up its stake in Chrysler. Cerberus Chairman Stephen Feinberg is involved in the negotiations. Cerberus also must iron out a dispute in its effort to acquire Daimler's 19.9 percent stake in Chrysler. Cerberus aims to consolidate its ownership as part of the overall plan to restructure the company.

Speaking at a shareholder meeting last week in Berlin, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said Cerberus was making "unacceptable" demands in negotiations to acquire the remainder of Daimler's stake.

The two sides have been wrangling since November over a Cerberus request to acquire Daimler's stake. Daimler sold majority ownership of Chrysler to Cerberus in 2007.

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