Assessment 2 – 1500 words (+/-10%) Individual Report (60%)
Daimler–Chrysler Merger: A Cultural
In May, 1998, Daimler-Benz1 and Chrysler Corporation, two of the world’s leading car manufacturers, agreed to combine their businesses in what they claimed to be a ‘merger of equals’. The DaimlerChrysler (DCX) merger took approximately one year to finalise. The process began when Jurgen Schrempp3 and Robert Eaton4 met to discuss the possible merger on 18 January 1998. After receiving approval from a number of groups, the merger was completed on 12 November 1998.
The merger resulted in a large automobile company, ranked third in the world in terms of revenues, market capitalisation and earnings, and fifth6 in the number of units (passenger cars and commercial vehicles combined) sold. DCX generated revenues of $155.3 billion and sold 4 million cars and trucks in 1998. Schrempp and Eaton jointly led the merged entity, as co-chairmen and co-CEOs. DCX sources were confident that the new company was well poised to exploit the growth opportunities offered by the global automotive market in terms of geographical and product segment coverage.
However, analysts felt that to make the merger a success, several important issues needed to be addressed. The most significant of these was organisational culture. German and American styles of management differed sharply. A cultural clash would be a major hurdle to the realisation of the synergies identified before the merger. To minimise this clash of cultures, Schrempp decided to allow both groups to maintain their existing cultures.
The former Chrysler group was given autonomy to manufacture mass-market cars and trucks, while the Germans continued to build luxury Mercedes. However, analysts felt that this strategy wouldn’t last long. When Chrysler performed badly in 2000, its American president, James P. Holden, was replaced with Dieter Zetsche from Germany. Analysts felt that Zetsche would impose Daimler’s culture on its American counterpart. A few senior Chrysler executives had already left and more German executives were joining Chrysler at senior positions.
In an interview with the Financial Times in early 1999, Schrempp admitted that the DCX deal was never really intended to be a merger of equals and claimed that Daimler-Benz had acquired Chrysler. Analysts felt that this statement probably wouldn’t help the merger process.
Clash of cultures
DCX’s success depended on integrating two starkly different corporate cultures. ‘If they can’t create a climate of learning from each other,’ warned Ulrich Steger, a management professor at IMD, the Lausanne business school, ‘they could be heading for an unbelievable catastrophe.’ Daimler- Benz was characterised by methodical decision-making while Chrysler encouraged creativity. Chrysler was the very symbol of American adaptability and resilience. Chrysler valued efficiency, empowerment, and fairly egalitarian relations among staff; whereas Daimler-Benz seemed to value respect for authority, bureaucratic precision and
centralised decision-making. These cultural differences soon became manifest in the daily activities of the company. For example, Chrysler executives quickly became frustrated with the attention Daimler-Benz executives gave to trivial matters, such as the shape of a pamphlet sent to employees. Daimler-Benz executives were equally perplexed when Eaton showed his emotions with tears in a speech to other executives. Chrysler was one of the leanest
and nimblest car companies in the world; while Daimler- Benz had long represented the epitome of German industrial might (its Mercedes cars were arguably the best example of German quality and engineering).
Another key issue at DCX was the differences in pay structures between the two pre-merger entities. Germans disliked huge pay disparities and were unlikely to accept any steep revision of top management salaries. But American CEOs were rewarded handsomely: Eaton earned a total compensation of $10.9 million in 1997. Complications would arise if an American manager posted to Stuttgart ended up reporting to a German manager who was earning half his salary. Chrysler could cut pay only at the risk of losing its talented managers. Schrempp mooted the idea of overcoming the problem through a low basic salary and high performance-based bonus, unlike anything seen in Europe. Base pay would be lower than Germans were used to, but the pay structure would have more variables such as stock options (an American feature).
Germans and Americans also had different working styles. The Germans were used to lengthy reports and extended discussions. On the other hand, the Americans performed little paperwork and liked to keep their meetings short. Americans favoured fast-paced trial-and-error experimentation, whereas Germans drew up painstakingly detailed plans and implemented them precisely. In general, the Germans perceived the Americans as ‘chaotic’ while the Americans felt that the Germans were stubborn ‘militarists’.
Chrysler managers believed in spotting opportunities and going for them. However, post-merger, they were trapped in the German style of planning, constantly being told what to do. Steve Harris, Chrysler’s former communications chief (who defected to General Motors) commented, ‘The Germans played literally by the book – theirs. You’d go into a meeting and have to turn to Volume 7, Section 42, page 597.’ The Germans prided themselves on analytical research that produced a plan, while the Americans reached for the impossible and kept coming up with new ideas to achieve these ‘impossible’ goals.
Before the merger, Daimler-Benz was known for its top down management approach. Chrysler, by contrast, seemed to be a humble collection of colourful consensus managers. DCX claimed that the merger process would be complete in 12 months. However, analysts felt that the authoritarian German management methods would prove foreign to the non-hierarchical style at Chrysler, making the integration of the two cultures difficult. From the start, the cultural differences made DCX’s post-marriage period of adjustment difficult. No sooner was the merger announced; Schrempp started issuing reams of organisational flow charts to the employees. Every phase was given titles like ‘synergy tracking’; and every group had its weekly meeting schedule. DCX also set up a ‘post-merger integration’ (PMI) structure in which 12 ‘issue-resolution teams’ were assigned to push and cajole their counterparts into combining everything from supplies to research. Every time there was disagreement, the integration process for that group was halted until a solution was found.
Attempts to bridge the chasm
DCX took several initiatives to bring the two cultures closer. Press reports indicated that in Stuttgart, the more formal Germans were experimenting with casual dress. The Germans were also taking classes on cultural awareness. The Americans at DCX were encouraged to make more specific plans, while the Germans were urged to experiment more freely.
Analysts felt that there were many indications that the Americans and the Germans might come closer. The Americans were impressed by their German counterparts’ skill with the English language (though they tried to cut down on slang to simplify speech when the Germans were in town). To reciprocate, many Americans were taking lessons in German. When the DCX stock began trading on 17 November 1998, German workers celebrated with
American-style cheerleaders, a country & western band called The Hillbillies, doughnuts and corn on the cob. At a Detroit piano bar, the Americans were taken by surprise when they realised that the Germans knew the lyrics of old rock-and-roll songs.
In 2000, there was a management exodus at Chrysler headquarters in Detroit: two successive Chrysler presidents, James Holden and Thomas Stallkamp, both American, were fired. Holden was fired after only seven months in the position. Stallkamp replaced Holden and was forced to resign after only 12 months as CEO. Unreal as it might seem, two highly regarded Chrysler executives were fired from their CEO positions in the space of 19 months. Zatsche, the newly appointed CEO of Chrysler USA, was a Daimler executive and a close confidant of Schrempp. He, in turn, appointed Wolfgang Bernhard, another Daimler executive, as COO. Neither had any real exposure to the US marketplace. This turn of events demoralised Chrysler’s workers. According to an employee, most of the workers were disgusted and frustrated because they felt they were being punished. The employees were expecting big layoffs, and were worried that the company would be sold out.
Analysts felt that after the merger Chrysler would no longer exist as an entity. In fact Chrysler was reduced to a mere operating division of DCX. The Daimler-Benz management presence permeated every important function at Chrysler USA. There was no Chrysler presence on the DCX supervisory board or the board of management. By the end of 2000, there were only 128000 Chrysler employees still working in the US operations, all anxious and demoralised. Ex-Chrysler managers felt that Daimler-Benz was steadily leading Chrysler into a state of chaos.
Schrempp himself said that he never intended the merger be one of equals. He openly acknowledged that if Daimler-Benz’s real intentions were publicly known before the merger, there would have been no deal. However, in a press interview, Schrempp largely retracted his statements by saying that if the strategy were to take over Chrysler Daimler would never have included them in the name of the new corporate entity. Analysts felt that these contradictory statements had severely tarnished Schrempp’s image, both in Germany and the US.
Given these chaotic circumstances, Chrysler reported a third-quarter loss of $512 million for the period ending 30 September 2000; and its share value slipped below $40 from a high of $108 in January 1999.
DCX in trouble
Analysts were of the opinion that DCX should eliminate between 20 000 and 40 000 jobs at its North American Chrysler division and permanently close at least one of its 13 plants in the US and Canada because of huge financial losses in 2000. After third-quarter losses of more than half a billion dollars, and projections of even higher losses in the fourth quarter and into 2001, Schrempp told employees that Chrysler had only 13.5 per cent of the US market, but it was staffed as if it had a 20 per cent share.
In early 2001, DCX announced that it would slash 26 000 jobs at its ailing Chrysler division. ‘No one wants this to happen. I personally wish it didn’t have to happen,’ said Zetsche. He called the moves painful but necessary in the face of ‘brutal’ competition and low US sales. Zetsche said a large part of the job cutting would be through retirement programmes, layoffs, attrition and other means. About three-quarters of the job cuts would be made in 2001, he said. In addition, production would be curbed at factories in Canada and four states in the US by slowing assembly lines and trimming the number of shifts.
However, analysts interpreted this move as a failure of the German and American auto-makers to live up to their promise. One of them said, ‘Instead of making the billions of dollars in cost savings and synergies at the time of the merger, they’re making desperate cuts to get Chrysler back in the black.’
Why the merger failed to realise synergies
Analysts felt that, strategically, the merger made good business sense. But opposing cultures and management styles proved to be a hindrance to the realisation of synergies. Daimler-Benz attempted to run Chrysler USA operations in the same way as it would run its German operations. This approach was doomed to failure. In September 2001, Business Week wrote, ‘The merger has so far fallen disastrously short of the goal. Distrust between Auburn Hills and Stuttgart has made cooperation on even the simplest of matters difficult. Coming to terms with issues like which parts Mercedes-Benz would share with Chrysler was almost impossible. The Germans and the Americans had been out of sync from the start. The two proud management teams resisted working together, were wary of change and weren’t willing to compromise. Daimler- Chrysler have combined nothing beyond some administrative departments, such as finance and public relations.’
Mergers and acquisitions take place to realise the synergies between the two or more companies involved.
1. Using Cultural theories, explain why do you think the Daimler-Chrysler merger failed to realise the synergies that were expected from it?
2. Discuss some realistic recommendations which will help to address the issues that should be addressed to make cross-cultural merger a success.
Choose either pay & rewards or recruitment, and critically discuss whether it is best for MNCs (multinational corporations) to globally integrate their (pay & rewards or recruitment) HR strategies for managers or whether it is best to adapt them to local conditions. Provide specific examples and case studies from the literature as support.
Choose ONE out of the following two international HR strategies, focusing on either:
This essay is placed in the broader debate on global integration versus local adaptation. Global integration requires the transfer of HR practices. According to Ghoshal and Bartlett’s (1998) concept of the ‘transnational’ company, the transfer of practices among the MNC network is the most efficient way to innovate and share best practice. However, not all MNCs engage in diffusion; not all practices are transferred; and not all outcomes are the same.
The answer would benefit from a critical understanding of key IHRM models. It should carefully weigh pressures of global integration vs. pressures of local adaptation of HR practices. You should critically weigh different influences on the transfer process: The MNC sector; the organisational structure and corporate strategy of MNC (e.g. the method of affiliate establishment as either Greenfield investment or merger); the influence of national institutional and cultural systems of home and host countries; and organisational politics. Do these promote or hinder the transfer of HR practices? You do not need to discuss all of these, but show you are aware of alternative explanations. Focus on what you consider to be the most important influence on the transfer process specifically when it comes to recruitment or pay of managers. Consult the readings from on Pay, or on recruitment. You can also use examples and readings from Term 1.
This essay could either argue for a strong local adaption of pay/recruitment policies, or for strong global integration. Consider whether global integration necessarily means the direct translation and standardisation of HR policies, or whether global integration and local adaptation can go hand in hand.
Provide specific examples. Draw on the key and further readings of the lectures and seminars, and find additional sources. You can complement the reading list with sources written in your main mother tongue as long as they relate to HRM and/or ER.
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