Robert Eaton
BOB20 robert eaton
Eaton (left) and Lutz pose with the Prowler at the North American International Auto Show in 1993

CEO Chrysler 1993-98

Lutz says: "A gentle leader of modest charisma and command presence, he was badly outmaneuvered by the wily Germans in the ill-fated 'merger of equals.'"

Lutz grade: 229

When Bob Eaton was recruited to succeed Iacocca, he was head of GM Europe. Bob was experienced, polite, well-spoken, and knew the business. He showed the mature, calm confidence and self-assured manner that had been honed in decades of facing upward and looking good at GM. We had a good sharing of responsibilities. The products were hits, and we made sure that Bob Eaton got most of the credit. Bob's considerable intelligence told him to leave well enough alone and not try to insert himself or his authority into something he realized he could hardly improve.

After Daimler-Benz and Chrysler merged in 1998, Daimler's J├╝rgen Schrempp came to Auburn Hills, and he and Bob sketched out the beginnings of what was to be heralded as a "merger of equals." A tall man with a powerful, commanding physique and a stentorian voice, Schrempp was, to put it mildly, a brash giant next to Bob Eaton's small, slightly rumpled, slightly pudgy, and generally low-key appearance. It was pretty clear that this was not going to be a jointly run company, and Bob soon departed, richer by a reported roughly $250 million.

The fortunes of Chrysler soon went south. Bob Eaton became a pariah, the architect of Chrysler's semi-demise, the gullible fool who had been tricked by the worldly J. Schrempp. What got lost in all the vilification of Eaton was that he had done what the private enterprise system expects of its CEOs: He ran a great company, made it a desirable partner, and merged it into a larger company, in the process creating enormous wealth for Chrysler's shareholders. Bob Eaton had his reputation unfairly tarnished.


  @FortuneMagazine - Last updated June 04 2013 07:34 AM ET
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