DETROIT - When Lee Iacocca hired Gerald
Greenwald to help him rescue Chrysler Corp. from collapse, it began
with a discreet phone call to Greenwald's home in Caracas,
Venezuela, where he worked for Ford Motor Co.
More than a decade later, a similar secret offer confronted
Greenwald again. Only this time, a UAL Corp. union coalition was
making the surreptitious contact, luring the Chrysler vice chairman
with the job of leading its effort to buy the airline company for
United Airlines Inc., a subsidiary of UAL, is considering Will
Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City as the site for a proposed
$500 million maintenance center. Will Rogers Airport also is under
consideration for a $200 million aircraft maintenance center for
Why Greenwald vacated Chrysler, especially at a time when its
financial health again appears to be sliding dangerously, may be
debated for a long time.
Greenwald and people who know him say he was lured away by the
enormous challenge of carrying off the UAL buyout, a debt-financed
deal that would result in the largest employee-owned company in the
country - if successful.
``Here I am having a second chance to go through a major
industrial event in American history,'' Greenwald said when he made
the surprise announcement May 31 that he was quitting.
Some auto industry people familiar with Greenwald, who spoke on
condition of anonymity, said they're skeptical about his chances of
assembling the financing needed to purchase UAL, which has seen
several earlier buyout proposals fall through. The current climate
of tight credit won't make it any easier for him to meet an Aug. 9
deadline for raising the money.
But others said that if anyone can coordinate the UAL effort it
is Greenwald. His calm and reassuring manner was critical in
winning the confidence of skeptical lenders to Chrysler in the early
1980s and helped convince the federal government to provide $1.5
billion in loan guarantees.
``I could not think of anybody better suited to put together the
awesome financial arrangements that the buyers of UAL are trying to
do. He has tremendous talent with bankers,'' said Jerry H. Pyle, a
former Chrysler executive who now is president of Gulf States Toyota
``Mr. Iacocca handled the Feds and Jerry handled the bankers and
I'm not sure he didn't have a tougher job than Lee did,'' Pyle said.
In Greenwald's 11-year tenure with Chrysler, he established
himself as a careful, deliberate, diplomatic and soft-spoken
complement to Iacocca, the scrappy chairman of the No. 3 automaker.
Greenwald is considered largely responsible for imposing the
financial discipline that resurrected Chrysler's profitability and
made himself and Iacocca wealthy in the process.
The two men could hardly be more different. Iacocca, 65, is a
profane, flamboyant engineer and the son of Italian Catholic
immigrants. Greenwald, 54, is son of Russian Jewish poultry
wholesalers. He grew up in St. Louis, attended Princeton on an
Eagle Scout scholarship, rose in the auto industry as a financier
and is known to think carefully before making any important move.
``Iacocca was bombastic,'' one former Chrysler executive said.
``Jerry would examine off-the-wall ideas all the way to the obvious.
A lot of times he would take the more obtuse direction. He was very
much solicitous of the opinions of other people. …