By on February 4, 2011

You want the good news or the bad news first? OK, the good news is that Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne told attendees at NADA’s annual convention that Fiat and Chrysler “may” be merged into a single company, possibly headquartered in the US. Which means the federal bailout may not have simply been a transfer of the firm to Italian ownership, news that many taxpayers likely find at least a little bit comforting. Now, about that bad news… while saying that he planned to “work his [rear end] off” to pay back taxpayers, Marchionne let slip a bit of the resentment he clearly feels at government ownership of Chrysler, saying

I am paying shyster rates. We had no choice… I am going to pay the shyster loans.

Jalopnik does a good job of covering the roots and associations of Marchionne’s choice of words (and clearly he could have chosen better), but we’re mostly irked by the victim complex embraced by executives of the bailed-out automakers, especially in Marchionne’s case. The Fiat CEO was given 15 percent in Chrysler for no cash down, and will be able to take control of the automaker for a tiny fraction of its actual value. All this was possible only because the government guided Chrysler through bankruptcy, crammed down its bondholders, demanded union concessions and injected tens of billions into the company… and now Marchionne wants to employ slurs to complain about the fact that some of that money must be paid back?

These comments cloak Marchionne in the gravitas and respectability of someone who believes he should be able to receive unemployment benefits without actually looking for a job. Especially considering that only yesterday Marchionne was slamming GM for turning down DOE loans, saying

I have neither the arrogance nor the cash to show any disdain toward the DOE process. It would be wiser to Chrysler to continue to try to secure that funding.

Given that public support for the bailout is still quite low, Marchionne’s comments could hardly have been more poorly chosen.

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33 Comments on “Quote Of The Day: “Shyster” Edition...”

  • avatar

    His twisted thinking is similar to people who actually believe that a “tax cut” is a sum that the govt gives to a tax payer when in actuality it simply means the tax payer will continue to give regular amounts to the govt, but the amount from taxpayer-to-govt is smaller than before.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    You do realize that the man likely “thinks” in Italian and then has to convert it into English before it comes out his mouth, right?  My priest was born in Sonora, Mexico and you should see his brain working when he’s trying to deliver an English sermon. 

    • 0 avatar

      He actually lived in Canada for quite some time (it’s where is undergrad and MBA were done, and where he worked in a few professional firms).  I don’t think his English is that poor.
      That said, “shyster” is about as racially loaded as “niggardly”, which is to say, not racially loaded at all.

    • 0 avatar

      Sergio moved to Canada when he was 14, and was educated and began his career there.

      Also, as the post points out, Marchionne’s sense of entitlement is more obviously galling than his choice of words, although that won’t help either.

    • 0 avatar

      Consider that the loan probably comes with baggage that I’m sure he’d rather not be operating under.  I generally support the bailout, but I don’t doubt that Mr. Marchionne is probably getting reasonably frequent calls from politicians of all political stripes that he might not otherwise have to deal with were FIAT/Chrysler not indebted to the government.
      I suspect that’s the source of the sour grapes; weariness rather than entitlement.
      Now, the guy behind him in the photo, that’s a man with a sense of entitlement.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Fair points, gentelmen.  It does underscore an attitude more than a word choice.  How high is the interest rate anyway?  The USA Today article just says that Chrysler pays 3 million a month in interest. 

  • avatar

    “These comments cloak Marchionne in the gravitas and respectability of someone who believes he should be able to receive unemployment benefits without actually looking for a job.”
    He should definitely move to Britain. He’d fit right in with a majority of the long term useless.

  • avatar

    I am guessing that the “Shyster” comment could be a hint of his dry humor.  Marchionne has 51% of Chrysler in his crosshairs and is bound and determined to make it…even if it costs parts of the Fiat Industrial division.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Dan nailed it.
    My father was German and used Yiddish terms quite a bit to fill in the times when an English word in his mind wouldn’t do.
    Some folks may have developed the wrong ideas about what he was saying… if they didn’t know him. An immigrant, or someone who uses English for a second or third language, is always going to have a bit of a struggle with the implications of the language.
    As it applies here… Sergio in my mind is not showing ingratitude. His company is dealing with several extremely complex financial and organizational problems. Debt is likely the biggest one of them all.

    • 0 avatar

      Much too generous Steven.
      Marchionne is a pompous ass with a reputation defined more by an adoring media than by the facts.
      At the risk of being redundant, he’s been given an American car company rinsed clean of unsecured and secured debt, taxpayer loans to retool plants, a dealership network building and paying for independent Fiat dealerships and a bunch of sycophants in the media treating every word of his as if it’s the sermon on the mount.  All without putting up a penny.  And he’s got the brass stones to resent the “shyster” interest rates.
      Simple solution Sergio.  Pay the money back.  And then you won’t have to be offended by using our money.

  • avatar

    “…able to take control of the automaker for a tiny fraction of its actual value…”
    Actual value of Chrysler back then was approximately $0.00, a tiny fraction of which would be $0.00.

  • avatar

    I think the part that is missing here is that when Marchionne speaks of the bailout, he compares the treatment that Chrysler received vs GM.
    Correct me if I’m wrong but GM was “given” a huge amount of money in exchange for equity in the company and a very small amount in loans. I don’t know what the figures are.
    In Chrysler’s case, their loans were significantly more at a ridiculous high interest rate, 9-12%.
    Chrysler is currently paying 6 million dollars a day in interest, which is over 1 billion a year.
    So in his eyes, yes, the shysters did lay it on the company when compare to how they treated their other “son” GM.

    • 0 avatar

      If the terms of the loan are so onerous, why doesn’t Marchionne refinance the taxpayer loan with funds from Wall Street bankers?
      This guy has had the deal of the century of handed to him and at the very least, he should show a little gratitude.  How much money did FIAT pay out as a down payment for the option to take control of the Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brands?

    • 0 avatar

      I heard on the radio earlier today that he is looking to refinancing in the first quarter of this year.
      Although Fiat did not put up any money in the deal, they are giving all their technology to Chrysler … engine technology, platforms and the most important, competent management. Each platform alone is a billion dollars in engineering. Heck, the new Viper will have a tremendous amount of Ferrari engineering with out the actual Ferrari parts.
      The guy is a straight shooter and not shy about letting you know how he feels. The last executive around these parts like him was Ross Perot.

    • 0 avatar

      GM paid back 45 percent of the borrowed $50.2B.
      Chrysler paid back 22 percent of the borrowed $10.9B.
      TARP Automotive Programs as of 12/31/2010.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    Perhaps he was a banker before he got into the car business?

  • avatar

    I’m with Ed on this one. I’m not concerned with his choice of a word or his lost in translation issue as much as I am with his outlook on this open opportunity. No one out a gun to his head, he took the deal on his own and if he didn’t like the terms he should have passed on what has amounted to a “gift” to Fiat.

  • avatar

    Frankly, I’m more offended by Justin Hyde’s ungrammatical and atypical use of the word “mishpacha” and his attempt at sounding familiar with Jewish culture by throwing in “kvetch” and “schmuck” as well, than I am by Marchionne using a word that has no anti-semitic connotations.
    Just so you know, “schmuck” is Yiddish vernacular for “penis”. Just as the words “dick” and “prick” have taken on derogatory connotations in English, so too has the Yiddish word for penis come also to mean “thoughtless fool”. However, it still means penis and it’s not a word that I’d use if I didn’t want to sound vulgar. While schmuck isn’t quite as vulgar as putz, they mean the same thing.

    • 0 avatar

      Schmuck and Putz both mean “jewelry” in German.  When we were exchange students in West Germany, we found it humorous to see big signs with “Schmuck” and “Putz” on them.
      Although the etymology is not certain, one hypothesis is that shyster comes from “scheisser”, or shitter.

  • avatar

    That man has seriously bad hair!

  • avatar

    Q: What’s the difference between a shyster lawyer and an arrogant rooster?
    A: One clucks defiance.

  • avatar

    GM has similar gripes about still being tied to the government’s salary caps for executives, a complaint I happen to agree with.
    On the other hand, GM and Chrysler each sold their birthright for a bowl of stew, so their complaints often fall on deaf ears.
    I agree with psar that Marchionne is probably just weary of the whole thing.

  • avatar

    “Given that public support for the bailout is still quite low, Marchionne’s comments could hardly have been more poorly chosen.”

    Nah. Marchionne chose his words precisely because public support is low, to the extent of being a material part of the reason the Democrats got the crap kicked out of them in the last election.

    Let me explain. Marchionne is helping his venture partner, the Democratic Party, save face. He is pretending a businesslike, professional Obama administration drove a hard bargain… hence the “I am paying shyster rates. We had no choice.”

    He knows the only ways to secure a fat return on his participation in Chrysler are (a) tap the taxpayer, and (b) increase his participation so he gets a big payday when Chrysler breaks up and Jeep goes on the auction block. Washington holds the key to both of these, and Marchionne will only get what he wants if he provides political cover for his benefactors.

    Think of it like a municipal labor union negotiation. The unions (at least around here) scream bloody murder about the deal they were “forced” to accept, and the faux cutbacks, while of course they are in fact laughing all the way to their gold-plated pensions. That’s how they help insulate the mayor and the council (their partners in crime) from criticism. It’s a premeditated fraud, acted out by two branches of the same political machine.

  • avatar

    Another Yiddish word probably more accurately describes Marchionne’s attitude in this situation:  chutzpah. 

  • avatar

    The person behind Mr. Machionne are The Italian Prime Minister Salvatore Berlusconi, who BTW are rich enough to bail out Chrysler by him self should he so desire.
    Mr. Machionne showed that he is a welleducated and intelligent person when he signed a deal with GM regading FIAT SpA in Turin, Italy.
    He has already showed that he has aa good grip on ChryCo, just look at some of their latest offerings, and that’s only for starters – wait until the FIAT based smallcars begin to emerge on the US market !
    Having heard some of Mr. Machionnes public adresses on YouTube it is easy to hear that The English Language are indeed his second “mothertongue “, Mr. Machionne knows exactly what he says, so I do believe he expresses his opinion withot language error.
    Do remember that ChryCo was extinct now if Mr. Machionne had turned it down – also have a person as Mr. Ralph Gilles in mind – these two people has done wonders for ChryCo – I cannot wait to take delivery of my 2011 Dodge Challenger SRT 392 in May 2011.

  • avatar

    This whole situation is laughable. The government rescues the Chrysler because Chrysler failed… an epic fail were the blame lies fair and square with Chrysler. Chrysler accepted the government bail out plan. Now they are bitching… talk about biting the hand that feeds.
    And taxpayers are unhappy that the government bailed out Chrysler? If you are paying taxes you have income so taxpayers should also quit bitching. Cough up and pay those taxes, its a whole lot better than being unemployed and not being able to afford that… Oh! wait, Chrysler would not exist so it would have to be some other car brand.

    • 0 avatar

      It was Cerebus’ and Mercedes’ fault where Chrysler ended up. Mercedes fired most of the engineering staff at Chrysler and basically ran them into the ground almost putting the entire company into bankruptcy. Seeing that it was a lost cause they put the Chyrsler division up for sale when that didn’t get any takers they through the Jeep and Dodge (Ram) divisions in, likely because their financial situation got worse and still no takers. Cerebus decided to take them on despite that no automaker anywhere in the world saw any value in the deal. They took it over after spending near a year to put the deal together because no one would loan money on the company because it was soooo risky. Once they had the deal their intention was to do some quick pumping up of sales, remember the lifetime warranty, strip and sell off all the assets, and take the “revitalized” company public again. Of course by the time that happened the economy tanked and Cerebus essentially walked away.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Much ado about nothing here.

  • avatar

    Surely this is less disturbing than Silvio’s shoulder rub.

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