July 26, 2006
A Tale of
Two Chairmen: Dr. Z and Mr. Lee
chairman of Chrysler Corporation is starring in the company’s
commercials. That much is not new. But just about everything else is,
which is why I have a feeling it might work a little better this time.
who is old enough will of course remember Lee Iacocca in the 1980s
starring in commercials selling Lee Iacocca – I mean, selling Chrysler
cars. There’s Lee talking about safety. There’s Lee yelling at his
executive team. There’s Lee standing next to the Statue of Liberty.
Wait. I don’t think he mentioned Chrysler in that one. Well, anyway,
Lee wrote a
book, called Talking Straight, which is sort of like writing a
book called No, Really, I Can Be Trusted, Really. He wrote a book
called I Gotta Tell You. (Tell me what?) At one point, he
appeared to be mobilizing to go to war against Japan. Apparently they
dropped a bunch of cheap compact cars on Pearl Harbor. Hunker down,
Hirohito! You’re dealing with
everywhere. Lee was going to run for president. Lee was the answer to
every question ever asked, perhaps even “What smells?”
did conquer Japan, and it was only a few years after his reluctant
retirement that another Axis power – the Germans – conquered Chrysler.
brings us to Dr. Z.
Zetsche, the Turkish-born, German-raised engineer is the chairman of the
21st Century DaimlerChrysler, and we can stipulate a few
things about Zetsche right away. He wasn’t born here, so he can’t run
for president, and he doesn’t seem to want to anyway. If he yells at
people in his boardroom, it’s news to me, and it would presumably remain
that way as he doesn’t seem to be the type to invite a TV camera in
before commencing the tirade.
written any books, they were probably in German, so I couldn’t read them
if I wanted to. (Just because my last name is Krause doesn’t mean my
first name is Wilhelm. Come on. Grandpa Krause fought in the European
Theater for the good guys.)
is the star of DaimlerChrysler’s new commercials. See Dr. Z show
up at a youth soccer game to answer Mrs. Soccer Mom’s question about
minivan quality. See him get under a guy’s car in his driveway and
explain how the engine works. See him stand by and take it while a
10-year-old girl disses his moustache. See him take an ambushing
journalist for a spin and scare the bejeezus out of him by crashing an
SUV into a wall.
How can you
not love a guy who makes a journalist’s life flash before his eyes?
lets the redneck guy from one of DaimlerChrysler’s other commercials
play director and yell at him.
content of the commercials is pretty standard fare. We are asked to
believe that the soccer mom wrote an e-mail saying, “I know Chrysler
invented the minivan, but how’s the quality?” The ambushing journalist
asks, “What have been the benefits of the merger between Daimler Benz
are real questions, I had better start answering the one I got this
morning that read “Tell me why your columns are so funny!” Ah. Let me
count the reasons.
implausible content aside, the Dr. Z commercials sort of work, precisely
because Zetsche doesn’t seem to mind being the butt of the joke.
Self-effacing is good. When Daimler Chrysler marketing executives first
presented the idea to ad agency BBDO and the soon-to-be-Dr. Z, Zetsche
said, “No way,” which is good. A CEO shouldn’t want to be the star. And
if he ends up the star, he should act like he considers himself a
ridiculous occupant of the limelight.
that he’s in it, Zetsche seems to be having as much fun as anyone, and
you know those wacky Germans! They’re always the life of the party, so
all of America will gladly join in laughing at, not with, Dr. Z.
DaimlerChrysler is doing well 20 years from now, but no one remembers
Dieter Zetsche, I don’t think Zetsche will care. Lee Iacocca? He has
another book coming out next year, titled Where Have All The Leaders
Gone? I don’t know where Lee has gone, but the real leaders are busy
leading, and even if they do end up in the spotlight, they manage to
remember that it’s not all about them.
© 2006 North Star
Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.
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