Transformational Leadership

Chrysler's ‘design Dome’ Transforms Into Showroom

Lauren Woods asked:

The Chrysler Technical Center, which is dubbed as the ‘design dome’ of the automaker, temporarily loses to function as such. In the past few days, the dome has been transformed into a showroom to attract more suitors.

The Chrysler Group transforms the hush-hush dome into a warm showroom, with open books, as well as wines and dines investors. The dome was previously used by the automaker’s executives when they come to critique the upcoming product lines behind closed doors. But this week, the dome has been transformed into a showroom for Wall Street investors who desire to purchase a car company.

Models like the all-new Dodge Ram which is set on display at the ‘design dome’ could serve as a great appetizer for starving investors. The top management of the struggling automaker has hosted two of the largest private-equity in the United States. Representatives from the Blackstone Group and the Cerberus Capital Management have been given access to the Auburn Hills-based automaker to analyze a possible buyout.

Representatives of the Blackstone Group met with Chrysler CEO Tom LaSorda. They dined with LaSorda’s executive team at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum. Buyout experts from the Cerberus Capital Management also got a similar treatment from the automaker early this week.

The private-equity giants pored over financial reports of Chrysler. They also have critical look at the automaker’s operations and leadership. The information was made available by DaimlerChrysler last month.

The meetings were deemed an audition of sorts for the Chrysler CEO and his senior managers. “This is a very important job interview for management, but the question is whether they’re the right team for Blackstone or Cerberus going forward,” said Colin Blaydon, the director of the John H. Foster Center for Private Equity at Dartmouth College.

When asked about the visits, Chrysler declined to give any comment. From the revelation that “all options” were being considered for Chrysler, as delivered by DaimlerChrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche, details of the sales process have been closely guarded by the company.

Nonetheless, the appearance of Blackstone and Cerberus in Auburn Hills is a vital link towards potential bids for the ailing unit of DaimelerChrysler. These private-equity firms are no ordinary – they carry with them tens of billions of dollars in capital to invest. According to the experts in the industry, it is either Cerberus or Blackstone which would purchase Chrysler outright, restructure its operations and take it public – or DaimlerChrysler would sell it to other automakers.

The Cerberus executives spent Monday and part of Tuesday at Chrysler. They met first with LaSorda. The latter delivered an overview of Chrysler’s operations and its competitive position in the global auto market. Other presentations were given by Eric Ridenour, Chrysler’s chief operating officer; Frank Ewasyshin, the manufacturing head; and Trevor Creed, the chief designer.

Blackstone’s contingent arrived Wednesday for its two-day visit. Sources familiar with the team said it was led by Neil Simpkins, a senior managing director who serves as chairman of TRW Automotive Holdings, the Livonia-based auto supplier that Blackstone acquired in 2003. The officials of the firm also visited other Chrysler operations before leaving.

Experts say Chrysler is trying to make a great first impression. “A company always wants to show the unique characteristics that makes the business successful,” said Scott Meadow, a professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business.

Meadow added, “The key thing is the predictability of cash flow. That is the fundamental engine that drives these financial transactions.” Hence, the struggling automaker is expected to showcase hot designs and vehicles, quality auto parts that could include powerful engines and Injen cold air intake. The introduction of the state-of-the-art car technology is also anticipated to lure the investors.

People familiar to DaimlerChrysler said that the General Motors Corp. executives also have talked with the automaker regarding the possible acquisition of Chrysler. Colin Blaydon, the director of the Center for Private Equity and Entrepreneurship said that the possibility exists that a private-equity firm might team up with an automaker such as GM to do a Chrysler deal. “(Chrysler) is not a standard private-equity deal,” Blaydon said. “I wonder whether this is one where private equity would need a strategic player to step up.”


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