Artikel »A world champion of advertising … himself.
Jürgen E Schrempp by Jürgen Grässlin«
in The European 10 - 16 August 1998

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»Based on many confidential papers.« »The book is often quite entertaining.
It is interspersed with soap opera-like intrigues…«

Biography »A world champion of advertising … himself.
Jürgen E Schrempp by Jürgen Grässlin«


»A world champion of advertising … himself.
Jürgen E Schrempp by Jürgen Grässlin«

»For the first time Daimler-Benz's top manager has entrusted his views to a biographer.« Sounds great. But unfortunately this publicity claim for Jürgen Grässlin’s biography of Jürgen Schrempp may not be entirely true - at least, according to Daimler-Benz.
These words might give the impression that Grässlin has written an authorised biography. »This is wrong,« says the company’s press office. Moreover, it adds, Grässlin never said that he wanted to use information he got from Schrempp when he was still boss of the Daimler aerospace subsidiary, Dasa, for a biography.
Grässlin, who carried out more than 100 interviews with many of Schrempp’s friends and enemies and whose biography is based on many confidential papers from Daimler-Benz, still claims in his book that all quotations by Schrempp have been authorised by the man himself. He even writes: »Schrempp’s acceptance of this book project has been courageous - and this should encourage others, Iike him, to show real guts.«This is true enough. Even the »Rambo in Nadelstreifen« (Rambo in pin-stripes), as Schrempp is nicknamed, must have had some doubts about talking openly to Grässlin, who is after all a spokesman for an association of shareholders who are critical of Daimler-Benz. However, the former teacher, who was born (Iike Schrempp) in the southwest German city of Freiburg, actually reveals a positive attitude towards Daimler-Benz’s chairman.

»Schrempp is no God and he does not claim to be a god. He does not need such excessiveness, because his great human qualities and professional skills are well-known,« Grässlin writes. And it is easy to see why. Even normally critical shareholders have no reason attack Schrempp at the moment. At the end of July Schrempp presented what were record half-year figures for Daimler-Benz. Since January the company’s share price has risen by 45 per cent.The book is often quite entertaining. It is interspersed with soap opera-like intrigues, especially to do with Schrempp’s well known fights against his former mentor, his predecessor Edzard Reuter, and his former »friend« Helmut Werner who, in 1995, also had ambitions to become Daimler’s number one. Grässlin also covers the less-known periods in Schrempp’s career, in particular his time in South Africa and in America between 1974 and 1987.

In Pretoria Schrempp worked in the customer service of the Daimler subsidiary, United Car and Diesel Distribution (UCDD), which was later integrated with Mercedes of Benz of South Africa (MBSA). He rose to the office of chairman before leaving the company to become vice-chairman and later boss of Dasa. Then between 1982 and 1984 he was president of Euclid, an American Daimler subsidiary which produced heavy trucks. Schrempp tasted controversy in South Africa. »Especially from the ethical point of view, it is correct to maintain the business in this country,« Schrempp argued in the mid-1980s when many American, British and French companies left South Africa. Daimler-Benz stayed. »Change through trade,« was Schrempp’s motto. Today Schrempp maintains that the changes in South Africa have only been possible because some western companies shared his attitude. This is, to say the least, a debatable point, and Grässlin certainly disagrees with it, but one of Schrempp’s great skills is presenting potentially weak arguments so persuasively that he wins people over. Grässlin’s book suggests that this skill is the crucial success factor in Schrempp’s career, rather than an ability to get the figures moving in the right direction.

According to Grässlin, the figures during Schrempp’s chairmanship at MBSA were in fact »extremely bad« and his presidency at Euclid came to an end in total disaster when the company had to be sold. Backed by Edzard Reuter and, in return, backing his concept of an »integrated technology company« Schrempp was responsible for losses of almost DM6 billion ($3.37bn) during his last three years as boss of Daimler’s aerospace company. »A great part of Schrempp’s career is defined by the fact that the board was mainly focused Schrempp’s capability to integrate rather than on his economic failures,« Grässlin states. Later he adds: »It is typical of Schrempp that he emerges victorious from situations in which others would be seen as failures.«

»The key to this is his inimitable way of presenting a situation to others so that they think one could not have acted differently and that they would have done the same had they been in his place.« This way he managed, for example, to present the embarrassing sale of Euclid as a big deal and a triumph. »Schrempp is a winner, a world champion in advertising - particularly for himself,« writes Grässlin. Schrempp is so persuasive, Grässlin argues, because of his finely honed ability to say the right thing to the right audience. When he gives a speech to bankers and business people, he emphasises profit and shareholder value. When he gives a speech to union members, he stresses the social responsibility of a large company such as Daimler-Benz.

Such behaviour annoys some observers. »Rambo wants to get a new image,« claimed Stefan Baron, the editor-in-chief of Wirtschaftswoche. »Schrempp now wants to be regarded as a reformer, not as a revolutionary. Consent instead of dispute, rounded instead of angular,« he wrote, noting that Schrempp had replaced his trademark angular glasses for a less severe, round pair. Grässlin corrects him. In fact, he points out, the round glasses were merely a substitute pair while the angular ones were being repaired.

One cannot help but feel that Grässlin sometimes tends to overestimate Schrempp’s power. If Schrempp has to deal with independent personalities such as the lawyer, Martine Dornier-Tiefenthaler, the »great communicator« loses. Backed by the former Deutsche Bank boss and head of Daimler’s supervisory board, Hilmar Kopper, Schrempp succeeded in getting the Dornier aircraft family heir voted off Mercedes’ supervisory board. But he lost the public relations war that followed. A few days after he sent Dornier-Tiefenthaler a harsh letter he had to read in the Stuttgarter Zeitung a stinging article in which the lawyer cut the pin-striped Rambo down to size.


Jürgen E Schrempp
by Jürgen Grässlin
Droemer, DM 39.80

THE EUROPEAN, 10 16 August 1998