New Chrysler chief says he's no Lee Iacocca Eaton promises a new style: "Lee's Lee and I'm me."

March 17, 1992|By Joann Muller | Joann Muller,Knight-Ridder News Service

DETROIT -- Robert Eaton is the first to admit he's no Lee Iacocca.

"First of all, I'm a lousy writer," said Mr. Eaton, 52, who was chosen to succeed the charismatic chairman of Chrysler Corp., author of two best-selling books.

"Lee's Lee and I'm me and we're a little bit different," said Mr. Eaton, who said he doesn't crave -- and doubts he'll ever achieve -- Mr. Iacocca's kind of national prominence.

Nor is he likely to don a trench coat to star in Chrysler

television commercials.

"I doubt if I would have the appeal that Lee has in commercials," Mr. Eaton joked during his first news conference since being named Chrysler's vice chairman and chief operating officer yesterday.

"That probably wouldn't be something that the marketing guys would be interested in at all."

But he clearly was thrilled, looking like a giddy kid who was handed the keys to the amusement park. He enjoyed the spotlight, leaning forward eagerly to answer reporters' questions.

Mr. Eaton, a 29-year General Motors veteran, will take over as CEO when Mr. Iacocca steps down at the end of the year.

But some observers don't envy him the task of trying to run his own show with Mr. Iacocca still in the picture as a Chrysler director and chairman of the board's executive committee.

"No one really knows" how he'll handle Mr. Iacocca looking over his shoulder, said automotive consultant Anthony DeLorenzo, a retired GM vice president of public relations. "I'd say Bob is a very resilient person. I think he can fit in very well with whatever he's asked to do."

No one doubts that Mr. Eaton has big shoes to fill at Chrysler.

Mr. Eaton shouldn't have trouble adjusting to Chrysler because he doesn't have a big ego, according to his former boss and occasional hunting buddy, retired GM Chairman Roger Smith.

"Bob's an outstanding executive, there's no question about that," said Mr. Smith.

"He's certainly a brilliant engineer," he added, mentioning Mr. Eaton's involvement with the development of the successful new Saturn cars and Impact, GM's new electric car.

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