In 2009, the then president of the United States Barack Obama decided to create the Team Car, bringing together experts from the world of the automobile and the economy to save it from the abyss of Chrysler and General Motors. At the head of this task force was put on the financier, a new york – Steven Rattner, class of 1952, with the past as a journalist at the New York Times and a past in investment banks Morgan Stanley and Lazard. The interview was conducted in New York by Flavio Pompetti and appeared for the first time on the volume “Quattroruote – profiles of excellence”, published in January 2012.
Businessman. Generous contributor to the democratic party. The protagonist of the economic establishment in new york city. Salvatore unexpected of the automotive industry of Detroit. It seems the description of a character of Tom Wolfe, a singer par excellence of the gentry of the american (and the Big Apple in particular), his public virtues and its hidden vices. But Steven Rattner is anything but a mere literary invention as much as his life may represent the american dream in his hagiographic perfection. Started as a humble reporter (albeit of noble ends), has climbed up with incredible speed the steps of the social pyramid yankee: making the most of the financial knowledge and personal acquired in the papers, has switched to the other side of the fence, finishing with just as much speed at the apex of the two business banks the most influential in the Country. There he specialized in the field of “private equity”, before opening his own company and then becoming the man of confidence of the mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg, which still administers personal funds. A cursus honorum which, together with the million-dollar donations in favor of democratic politicians (her living room is always the favourite meeting point for the “gauche” more aristocratic), has opened the streets for an assignment so prestigious and complex: to drive the Team Car in the first half of 2009, on behalf of the then president-elect Barack Obama, he conceived the plan of restoration of the Houses of Detroit. He was the one to decide on the bankruptcy “piloted” General Motors and Chrysler, silurando the old management (ask Rick Wagoner, defenestrato unceremoniously) and fighting strongly to ensure that the two companies were to receive substantial government aid to avoid a fate now sealed. A move is not easy, in an economy that has always looked with suspicion to the state subsidies; and that has attracted Rattner criticism of the fringe’s most laissez-faire economists of the stars and stripes, convinced that the GM deserved to go to the bottom. Universally recognized as one able to create wealth with apparent carelessness, not really funny at all, the financier in new york, she had to leave the field earlier than expected, overwhelmed by a scandal of a bad history of bribes, that, ridden by his opponent Andrew Cuomo’s first district attorney in New York, is now the governor of the State), has meant a ban for two years by the work of the ombudsman and a penalty of over $ 6 million. Pennies, for a man whose personal fortune is estimated at between 200 and 600 million dollars.
What has made her the ideal candidate to lead the Team Car?
Nothing to do with the car. The minister of the Treasury Geithner and the head of the economic team, Larry Summers I have chosen for the experience in restructuring of companies in difficulty, because I was familiar with the mechanisms of investment and for the practice I have of the role that politics play when the stake is public money. The possession of the three requirements has pushed my name out.
At the beginning of 2009, the whole economy was at risk. Because the Government has intervened surgically on the automotive industry?
The choice fell on two companies, both american and interconnected between them through common suppliers. GM and Chrysler were considered too big to fail: certainly not for their capitalisation on the Stock exchange, reduced to the minimum, but for the million jobs that revolves around them, only in the Usa.
As he weighed the policy in the decision? Obama was just at the onset of his presidency…
Not more than 10%. Let us remember that the initiative to save the two companies had already been taken by the Bush administration and the team of the president has simply reiterated the same opinion: the Us could not afford to see it disappear by the domestic industry of the car.
Expected to find two companies with no way out of the tunnel of the crisis?
The GM had a better seal of the financial, but both are suffering from a root problem and no solution: they were guided by people who were unable to identify the real issues that were taking them to collapse and were unable to find a solution. When we asked the GM to draw up emergency plans, we met to present documents so approximate as to be useless.
What problems had the two Houses?
The Chrysler was a decade of almost total abandonment, between the relationship paternalistic, that the Daimler had been in comparison and the lack of interest in the management of the fund “private equity firm” Cerberus had shown. General Motors, however, was as isolated from the rest of the world; she could not look beyond their own boundaries, and was arrogant in spite of reality. One of the anecdotes that I tell in my book, “Overhaul”, in which to reconstruct the events which have occurred in the first months of 2009 and the role played by the Team Car in the revive Detroit, is that which regards my meeting with Wagoner, to which I had to announce that it would be appropriate to resign. After a moment of bewilderment, the only thing I asked is if he would be fired even Ron Gettelfinger, who at the time was the head of the United Auto Workers union, as if he was the secret belief not to be the main culprit of the disaster GM…
The task force has also forced the union to reopen the national contract, and to negotiate for lower income and less benefits for the workers.
The ministry of the Treasury had placed a constraint is clear: the wages of the builders of Detroit had to align to those of transplants from europe and asia in the southern United States. And then let us always remember that the cost of the work at the bottom accounts for only about 7% on a new car. Perhaps more important for the survival of the two Houses was to get rid of medical insurance, passing the cash to the unions that today have the direct management.
In the meantime, after the new arrangements in the factory, today there are side-by-side workers who earn 28 dollars per hour and others take half.
This was a choice of the Uaw, with whom we shared many of the choices made in the plan of rescue. Have preferred to mark a line of division between those who already had a contract and new hires, instead of find a middle way. The average of the compensation in the pole of the industrialization of the South, where in fact operate transplants, is 24 dollars an hour. You could achieve the same result by lowering of a few dollars the workers ‘ compensation guaranteed by the contract and by raising those of the new recruits, leaving a gap less dramatic between pays. Instead, the defense to the bitter end for the rights acquired, with the result of bringing new tensions between the workers on the assembly line. What genuinely surprised me and it did not seem fair, but we could not interfere.
Another accusation that is moved to the team that she led is that of having sacrificed the credit of thousands of workers who had invested their savings in bonds issued by the two Houses.
In terms of the law, it would have been impossible to separate their position from that of banks and institutional investors: the credit is one and cannot be evaluated according to the social entities that they own it. In principle, then, we have established that he did not deserve to be saved. The companies were on the brink of the precipice, and a possible liquidation would have cleared the debt. And then in the final confrontation, better to save the occupation, the right of savers. The first were indispensable for saving, the second is not.
She has negotiated at length with Sergio Marchionne. What impression has made on a personal level?
It is a very intelligent man, driven by an iron will. It is one of the managers of the superstars of the world of the car, with Carlos Ghosn of Renault, and Alan Mulally of Ford. Marchionne has a strong character and is expressed with great frankness, and this places them often in a position antagonist. We have had with him of verbal confrontations very strong, as I described in the “Overhaul”. Despite the vehemence of some of our disagreements – and there were several – there is no doubt that when we have decided to grant the second tranche of government aid to Chrysler, that is from us $ 8.1 billion, we were focusing the money on him, and not on the company.
The bet, according to her, is paying?
It is still early to say. I think that the test will be starting by the end of this year, when Fiat will introduce new car in the portfolio and to measure the response of consumers. It is certain, however, that Marchionne has already surprised when he managed to shave the costs of production of a company that had suffered a decade of budget cuts. The financial position of Chrysler is already improved a lot with his management and this is a good omen for the upcoming launch of the title in the Bag.
In short, she was the man who led the entire auto industry in the Usa, albeit for a short period: but it is a passionate?
Now I have a Suv for Ford, but in the past I have bought several minivans of Chrysler, a Dodge Durango, a Cadillac Escalade. The list goes on and on with BMW, Mercedes, Honda, Lexus, Toyota, Audi. I am a true champion of infidelity. I like to drive, but only on long trips; in the city I sit on the back seat and leave the driver.
Source: Quattroruote.en – Edited by Anthon K.