Chrysler Execs Assure Workers, Effective Turnaround

By: Mike Bartley

Top Chrysler executives have initiated a major internal communications thrust to explain to still-jittery workers what the sale of the Auburn Hills automaker to Cerberus Capital Management LP will mean to them.

After months of ambiguity about Chrysler's plight, the truth finally came into the open. Doubts were cleared with the announcement of the German DaimlerChrysler AG that its American division will be sold to the private equity firm. But a myriad of queries were laid on the table.

On Monday, Chrysler CEO Tom LaSorda hosted a town hall-style meeting with 400 workers, the first of a series planned in the coming weeks. LaSorda said, "Cerberus is 100 percent committed to Chrysler and employees need to buckle down on the turnaround plan." The Chrysler Chief Operating Officer, Eric Ridenour, reiterated the message in a note to all employees Tuesday. "This situation represents a win-win for Chrysler - and I am excited about the prospects for the future," he wrote.

In his note Tuesday, Ridenour delivered a detailed update of the company's turnaround plan. The latter called for job cuts, plant closures and a push into global auto markets. He said that the strategy will enforce a "built-in discipline that's been lacking before."

Chrysler's plan comprises 29 sub-teams working in seven key areas. The areas include product strategy, capital management, as well as quality and material cost management. Targets and deadlines are set and team projections are followed. "If the projections are not on track, we know about it quickly."

To further manage material cost, the Detroit automaker is employing new strategies, including taking teams off site for a 14-week period of "intense, dedication to concentrate on specific challenges." Chrysler's latest restructuring will lead to the "long-term survival of our company," Ridenour said. "Let's give it our all and show the world what kind of company the new Chrysler is going to be."

Both LaSorda and Ridenour have been trouncing the message that Auburn Hill automaker's employees can determine their future by executing the so-called Recovery and Transformation Plan that was announced February 14.

Mike Aberlich, a spokesman for the automaker, said that employees are understandably nervous and uncertain about the future. "We are still in the first phase of learning about Cerberus and who they are and what it means," he added. "We are answering questions. People know the end result but not the end game, how it will affect them."

In a measure of how the employees crave for information, it took 14 minutes for 400 employees to sign up online for LaSorda's first town hall-style meeting. Some asked LaSorda tough questions like why executives were recently awarded bonuses. But they were responded to with ease and proficiency like how manages auto emissions.

More such forums are scheduled for the next three weeks. One salaried employee described the ambiance this week as "pretty much business as usual here but everybody wants to know what is going to happen."

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