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D.F. Krause
  D.F.'s Column Archive

April 16, 2007

Will Kerkorian Finally Get the Girl?


A man always returns to his first love. OK, granted, when he’s 89 years old and has a face that looks like a crumpled paper bag, she might claim to be married, or tell him she’s contracted herpes. But return he will.


Kirk Kerkorian owning a tenth of General Motors never seemed quite right. It was sort of like when Burt Reynolds was married to Loni Anderson. Everyone knew he was pining for Sally Field.


Chrysler is to Kirk as Sally is to Burt. When the object of his heart’s desire went to live with the dashing German fellow instead of settling down with Kirk forever and ever, Kirk took what he could get and hooked up with the girl down the street who at least had the respectable parents.


But Kirk wasn’t happy with her. She never listened to him. Granted, he had some bizarre suggestions for her – like when he wanted her to hook up with a Japanese fellow while Kirk watched. Or when he wanted them to drive the Hummer up to the cliff – then push it over the edge.


They weren’t meant to be together, and a few months ago, Kirk finally left her for good. Somewhere, deep down inside, she was probably thinking, “I bet that Chrysler woman is available again!”


Actually she was probably just thinking, “I thought he would never leave.” Either way, Kirk was a free agent again, and what do you know? That Chrysler woman is available again!


Would the match that was meant to be finally be?


You have to hand it to Kirk. He knows what he wants and he goes for it. As soon as Daimler-Chrysler made it clear it would like to unload its struggling Chrysler Group, Kirk made a $4.5 billion offer.


The two Detroit newspapers – the News and Free Press – ran identical massive front-page headlines: “HE’S BACK!” Actually the Free Press stretched it out like the girl in Poltergeist, who is probably spinning in her grave at the creative affront – but we digress.


Maybe Kirk would finally get the girl! After all, when an 89-year-old man announces his intention to take a “long-term approach” to an investment – or anything, for that matter – he has to mean it, right?


Alas, there are a few problems. When Daimler-Benz bought Chrysler 1998, Chrysler’s major shareholder sued the German outfit for paying too little per share. That, of course, was our boy Kirk. The Germans have this little problem with being sued, and this time around, when they started setting up meeting with prospective buyers of Chrysler, they conveniently forgot to set one up with Kirk!


Kirk also announced upon making his bid that he would immediately demand concessions from the unionized workforce, while demanding that Daimler-Benz continue to pay for a share of existing pension and health care liabilities.


So of course, the unions and existing management immediately got on board – except that they didn’t.


Usually when a match made in Heaven ends up looking more like it was made in Gary, Indiana, there are reasons. The history of this relationship provides a guide. Kirk’s last two attempts to take over Chrysler were of the, shall we say, hostile variety. The best one came in 1995, when Kirk launched a hostile takeover attempt with recently dethroned Chairman Forever Lee Iacocca on his team – the crazy uncle at the wedding, standing in the balcony waving a gun – while Kirk tried to muscle the shareholders into tendering their shares.


But he was young back then. OK, 77. He’s matured. He’ll be different this time. He’ll treat the girl with respect and they’ll live happily ever after. All she has to do is give him a chance.


Will she? Did Sally take Burt back? Oh. She didn’t? Well maybe she would if she’d lost $1.5 billion last year. Never underestimate what true love can accomplish, especially when it rests on the heart of a wacky, octogenarian, paper-bag-faced investor who won’t give up.


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