Fast Company

Keeping Your Back to the Wall

Chrysler has had enough near-death experiences to fill a soap opera. When Dieter Zetsche became CEO in 2000, top executives told him that the way to put the company on a lastingly solid footing was to harness the qualities that emerged in crisis. Here are the lessons Zetsche distilled from Chrysler's hair-raising history:

We're all in this together

During tough times, thousands of people worked long and hard to save the company. But their contributions were forgotten later, when top bosses claimed credit and became business superstars. The low-key Zetsche has been willing to listen and learn from company veterans and depends on a team to make decisions.

Every nut and bolt counts

When Chrysler was in dire straits and a new line of cars looked to be its only hope of salvation, workers concentrated with passionate intensity -- usually on design. Zetsche wants to direct that focus to the one thing that has always bedeviled Chrysler: quality. Now new models like the 300 are winning rave reviews, and not just for their looks.

Remember the driver

Chrysler pulled out of its nosedives thanks to vehicles that met real customer needs, like the minivan. Then it would get into trouble all over again by fixating on what competitors were doing. That often led Chrysler to add costly features drivers didn't want to pay for. Zetsche demanded that the minivans be redesigned with innovations that are really meaningful to drivers, and he's applying the same customer focus to a big launch of new Jeeps.

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