New boss, ownership take over at Chrysler

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Chrysler began its new life as a private company today with an auto-industry outsider taking the wheel.

Bob Nardelli, who left Home Depot in January after a shareholder rebellion over his outsized pay, was named to head the company, replacing Tom LaSorda, who is taking the No. 2 slot.

Mr. Nardelli and Mr. LaSorda shared a handshake and posed for pictures during a celebratory event at Chrysler’s headquarters in Auburn Hills.

“We’ll move forward with speed and a renewed focus on meeting the needs of our customers,” Mr. Nardelli said.

Some wondered what effect Mr. Nardelli’s hiring would have on contract talks with the United Auto Workers, but Mr. Nardelli was quick to point out today that union President Ron Gettelfinger already has been contacted about the executive shake-up at Chrysler in a two-hour meeting.

Mr. LaSorda, Chrysler LLC’s newly named president and vice chairman, still will be at the forefront of “what could be a landmark negotiating period” not only for Chrysler, but for the auto industry, Mr. Nardelli said.

Like other U.S. auto companies, Chrysler has been struggling to make a profit while sales are falling and pension and retiree health costs are rising.

Former Chrysler executive Wolfgang Bernhard, a senior adviser to Cerberus, had been widely expected to be named chairman. He was offered a position with the company but elected not to accept it.

On Friday, DaimlerChrysler AG transferred an 80.1 percent stake in Chrysler to New York-based Cerberus Capital Management LP, one of the world’s largest private equity companies, in a $7.4 billion deal. The German automaker, which is to be renamed Daimler AG, retained a 19.9 percent interest in Chrysler.

Cerberus Chairman John Snow previously had said Cerberus planned to keep Chrysler’s management team in place and give it the freedom to implement its restructuring plan, which calls for shedding 13,000 hourly and salaried jobs in the U.S. and Canada by 2009.

Mr. Nardelli helped increase revenue and profits at Home Depot and boost the number of stores the company operates. But he resigned from the company after it came under intense criticism for his hefty pay and slumping stock price. Mr. Nardelli left Home Depot with a golden parachute worth $210 million.

Mr. Nardelli said today that his compensation at Chrysler would be based on the company’s performance.

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