Board of management, DaimlerChrylser; chief executive officer and president, Chrysler Group
Born: May 5, 1953, in Istanbul, Turkey.
Education: University of Karlsruhe, MS, 1976; Technical University of Paderborn, PhD, 1982.
Family: Married Gisela (maiden name unknown); children: three.
Career: Daimler-Benz, 1976–1981, research division; 1981–1984, assistant to chief engineer, commercial-vehicle division; 1984–1986, coordinator, commercial-vehicle development activities; 1986–1987, senior manager, chief engineer of cross-country vehicle unit; 1987–1988, head of the development department and chief engineer, Mercedes-Benz Brazil; 1988–1989, member of management; 1989–1991, president, Mercedes-Benz Argentina; 1991–1992, president, Freightliner Corporation; 1992–1997, deputy member of the Mercedes-Benz board of management, chief engineer, development division in passenger-cars business unit; 1997–1998, member of the board of management, sales division, Daimler-Benz; 1998–1999, member of the board of management, sales division, DaimlerChrysler; 1999–, member of the board of management, commercial vehicle division; 2000–, chief executive officer and president, Chrysler Group.
Awards: Named World Trader of the Year, Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, 2003.
Address: DaimlerChrysler Corporation, Auburn Hills, Michigan 48326-2766; http://www.daimler chrysler.com.
■ At age 23, Dieter Zetsche, a graduate of the University of Karlsruhe, joined Daimler-Benz. Over the next 10 years he rose through the company's engineering and management ranks, holding a variety of positions—none of which lasted very long before a promotion. In 1982 he completed a doctorate in engineering and 10 years later he was a member of
Daimler's management board. In November 2000 Zetsche was appointed president of the Chrysler Group, the first German executive to head Chrysler since its takeover by Daimler-Benz in 1998. Commenting on his appointment, Zetsche said, "I had neither a foreboding nor forewarning nor suspicion I was considered" ( Ward's Dealer Business , November 2002). This may have been a blessing, as Chrysler was a mess. Sales of key models were off despite a booming market, incentive programs were costing too much, and the company had lost $3 billion in the three previous quarters.
Zetsche's assignment at the Chrysler Group was simple: Fix it. He had done it before. In 1992 Zetsche played a key role in guiding Mercedes-Benz through the toughest transformation in its one-hundred-year history. In three years Zetsche, as chief engineer, changed Mercedes from a company that introduced three new cars every ten years into one that introduced ten new cars every three years. At Freightliner, Zetsche took a mere 14 months to turn the ailing company into the leading heavy-truck manufacturer in the United States. His success was attributed to a combination of an open, contemporary management style, good engineering skills, and swift decision-making. Peter Pfieffer, chief designer of Mercedes, described Zetsche's management style as spontaneous, friendly, and direct.
That is not to say that Zetsche lacked a "common touch." At Chrysler he avoided traditional executive perks. He ate in the employee cafeteria, discouraged managers from calling him "Doctor," parked in the employee parking lot, and avoided the executive elevator. Zetsche's populist management style was not unique to his Chrysler assignment. In the early 1990s he did away with executive dining rooms at DaimlerBenz's German headquarters in Stuttgart and made sure that there were no separate offices for senior managers; he favored a freewheeling communication style. An intensely private man, Zetsche had a good sense of humor and a flair for the dramatic. At the 2002 Detroit Auto Show, Zetsche piloted a 2002 Ram truck through a mock wall in a Chicago restaurant. Offered a plate of sushi after the entrance, he grinned and asked, "What is this shit? Bring on the beer!" ( USA Today May 3, 2001).
When Zetsche arrived at Chrysler in 2000 employees were still smarting from the Daimler-Benz takeover of their company and anxious over their collective futures. The restructuring plan announced by Zetsche in February 2001 did little to allay their fears. He fired 26,000 employees, closed six plants, and wrestled major discounts from suppliers. While cost-cutting measures were an important part of the plan, the real focus was on product. A "car guy" at heart, Zetsche recognized that "product is the most important part of any auto company" ( Automotive Industries , February 2001). He devoted significant resources to reviving leading-edge concept cars and revitalized the tradition of engineering excellence that had once been the hallmark of Chrysler. Zetsche was a driving force in Chrysler's decision to reintroduce the legendary V-8 hemi (hemispherical combustion chamber) engine and showcased it in premium Chrysler products. Quality issues also needed to be addressed.
In an effort to overcome Chrysler's reputation for inconsistent quality, Zetsche installed the "12 Gates of Quality" program, which was copied from Mercedes-Benz. When designing a new model, engineers were required to pinpoint 12 landmarks en route to the launch date and assign a deadline to each. Every department working on a project had to meet its designated targets before the project could move to the next phase. Zetsche's strategy, while it did not yield immediate results, proved to be a success. While Chrysler-brand sales fell by 3.5 percent in 2003, they rebounded in 2004 and several models experienced record sales.
Zetsch immersed himself in the community. He served on a variety of boards, including the Economic Alliance for Michigan, Greater Downtown Partnership, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Renaissance, and the Detroit Institute of Arts. He chaired the Automotive Youth Educational System, Economic Club of Detroit, and the 2003 dinner for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
See also entry on DaimlerChrysler AG in International Directory of Company Histories .
Brooke, Lindsay, "Time to Turn It Around (Dieter Zetsche Interview)," Automotive Industries , February 2001, p. 11.
Healey, James R., and David Kiley, "Surprise: Chrysler Loves Its German Boss," USA Today, May 3, 2001.
Howes, Daniel, and Bill Vlassic, "Can This Man Save Chrysler: DaimlerChrysler Believes That Zetsch, with Deft Human Touch, Can Get the Job Done," Detroit News , December 24, 2000.
Smith, David C., "Herr Heir?" Ward's Dealer Business , November 2002, p. 15.
Webster, Sarah A., "Dieter Zetsche: His Business and His Life Are Driven by a Humble Heart," Detroit News , May 4, 2003.
—Timothy J. Wowk