Chrysler/Maserati – How Not to Execute a Strategic Alliance

Being a car guy, I enjoyed reading the November 2014 edition of Car and Driver this weekend. (It was also a calming diversion between repeated attempts to rubber hammer the rear rotors off our convertible.) John Philips wrote a great article on the 100 years of Maserati, during which he provided a wonderful lesson on strategic alliances. A great example of how 1+1=1.5; a strategic alliance that by all accounts did not produce much value to consumers.

If you don’t recall, the ’89 Chrysler TC by Maserati was not a great sales success. A Chrysler Le Baron with Maserati badging? The ‘engine by Maserati’ was components sourced from several global suppliers, assembled by Maserati, completed by a valve cover with Maserati stamped into it.

The relationship was set up by Lee Iacocca, who stated that the planned “Q-coupé would be the prettiest Italian to arrive stateside since my mother immigrated.” According to Wikipedia, ‘Lee Iacocca was a proponent of the new model “to change the way the world looked at Chrysler” and to create a new image for the automaker. However, the original idea of combining a Chrysler body with a Maserati engine was viewed by some automotive journalists as simply “taking the worst from each partner.”

The best piece of Philips’ article was a nugget I had not heard before. Apparently, at the car’s launch, Maserati’s owner, Alejandro De Tomaso, crashed the launch party in Sam Remo, and at the soiree of auto journalists and other market influencers, shouted: “If any of you want to see real Maseratis, follow me to Modena!” John Philips wrote, “Chrysler’s PR team immediately began fashioning plans for murder.”  Classic!

Have any of you had similar feelings towards a stakeholder in one of your strategic alliances? I hope not, but some do.

In a recent Alignment Cycle, senior and middle managers responsible for a significant supply chain alliance were repeatedly frustrated by their work being devalued by a CxO whose public words did not support the intent of the alliance. Due to the ‘Speaking Truth to Power’ bind, this issue had become an elephant-in-the-room at alliance reviews.

Fortunately, the AO alignment visualizations, projected on the conference room display, highlighted the issue graphically as a barrier to success – no longer an elephant-in-the-room. The misaligned action became an explicit discussion about how to balance the objectives of the alliance in relation to each partner’s corporate objectives. A good example of ‘Different Drivers.’

So, there are ways of getting through to even the strongest personalities. It’s easy to say ‘They’ll never listen.’ or ‘They won’t change.’ as a way to avoid personal risk. Make it data, and objectively declare the dilemma.

As ever, Maserati continues to produce highly desirable cars, and Chrysler is seeing success since its post-recession streamlining. And if you own an ’89 Chrysler TC by Maserati, you must enjoy it – how can that be bad.Two sets of partners talking to become aligned

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