Hard Choices

Hard Choices: Robert Nardelli


I signed on as Chrysler CEO in July 2007. The industry was robust, but the brand had lost its identity. The first six months were great. We rebuilt the brand, disentangled it from Daimler, pruned the product line. Then came the financial crisis. The first thing we lost was leasing; 20 percent of our business disappeared overnight. Then the fleet business went away, and financing for new car purchases dried up.

It soon became clear that we were in a battle to survive. We cut $5 billion in costs and brought the capacity down by 1.4 million units. It wasn't enough.

The toughest decision I had to make was reducing the workforce by 35,000 people. We desperately needed to preserve cash to keep the supply chain intact. We could have sold assets or furloughed union employees, but because of contractual obligations neither of those options would have made us cash-positive.

I had no choice but to cut staff. It was traumatic releasing them into an economy where it wouldn't be easy to find another job. I had to lay off 5,000 salaried people the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I remember going into a large staff meeting and seeing that the crowd in the auditorium was half what it had been when I started as CEO. It was such a haunting visual.

The union was on board. We all recognized that we were one step away from cataclysm. The UAW didn't roll over, but it recognized that we were in it together. If we hadn't made layoffs, we would not have gotten the first $4 billion from the government. Every supplier would have felt the domino effect.

The 10 percent unemployment rate is misleading. The real figure is closer to 18 percent. Unless this country creates 150,000 new jobs every month for the next four years, we won't get back to where we were in 2007. We need specific programs built to create new jobs—real jobs, not census jobs, not seasonal jobs.

As gut-wrenching as my decision was, it was critical to saving the company. A lot of families made big sacrifices for Chrysler, and I will never forget that.


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