What a Three-Headed Dog From Hell is Doing With Dan Quayle, Halliburton … and Chrysler

see url Private-equity investment powerhouse Cerberus jumped into the headlines this week with its stunning acquisition of Chrysler from the company formerly known as Daimler-Chrysler. (Cerberus acquired Chrysler for nothing, except for taking on about $20 billion in pension and health care obligations.)

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Which raised an interesting question for most of us who previously had never heard of Cerberus – how did it choose its name? Cerberus is the name of a mythological three-headed dog monster guarding the gates of hell. Poisonous plants would sprout up anywhere its doggy drool hit the ground. That’s not your run-of-the-mill corporate mascot.

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go here But it gets worse. Cerberus guarded hell pretty much the same way the old Soviet guards patrolled the Berlin Wall – it wasn’t about keeping intruders out, but rather preventing anyone from escaping.

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When Detroit Free Press’ Brian Dickerson contacted Cerberus PR for the story behind its name, he didn’t get much of an answer. “As I understand it, he actually was a friendly figure,” said Cerberus’ Peter Duda. “He protected people, didn’t he?”

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So … enter site Lesson Number One: When choosing a corporate name and motif, pick something that connotes some essential nature of the brand. Ideally something positive. Not sure if Cerberus’ founding fathers were aiming for “watchdog” or perhaps “powerful monster striking fear in the hearts of our would-be adversaries.” Either way, Cerberus seems to have missed the boat (crossing the River Styx).

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Lesson Number Two: Before your company moves ahead with a block-buster, multi-billion dollar deal that will surely bring intense media interest and scrutiny, make sure your PR people brush up on the story behind your name.

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watch It Gets Worse click here (Part Two): Cerberus is secretive to say the least. Its website doesn’t reveal the name of any of its executive officers or its holdings. Check it out — there’s almost no information on the site. (Think of it as “corporate transparency from hell.”)

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But according to old postings on Democratic Underground.com (admittedly not the most objective source), Cerberus is (or at least was) guided by former VP Dan Quayle and has direct ties to the Walter Reed Hospital mismanagement mess, Halliburton, VP Dick Cheney and everybody’s favorite whipping boy, Donald Rumsfeld.

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How is that for a convergence of characters and events? I’m sure that when the mainstream business press becomes aware of these associations (and verifies their veracity), there will be some unkind references to Cerberus’ hellish mutt of a mascot.

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(I have a call and an e-mail into Duda and will update this post when I receive Cerberus’ response to my questions about its management, its associations … and the meaning behind its name.)

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- Jon Harmon

Comments

  1. Fascinating – I’ve been pondering the impact on PR of private equity ownership over the past few months, but not yet posted as I haven’t really come to any conclusions. I feel that such organisations will have a closed culture and tend to use PR tactically rather than being more open (as is required by public listing) when PR needs to ensure more dialogue and strategic counsel. Do you have any thoughts?
    Automotive companies generally have to be relative open as they face a very specialised and investigative media. So it will be interesting to see how the Chrysler ownership works out.

  2. Jon Harmon says:

    Heather: You are spot on. In the news conference announcing the deal, Cerberus’ John Snow spoke of how operating under the radar screen of public scrutiny can be a competitve advantage.
    Quoting the Wall Street Journal: “Cerberus’s chairman, Mr. Snow, said at a news conference at Daimler’s headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, that Chrysler would be better served outside the public glare of quarterly earnings statements and analyst commentary. ‘Our approach is fundamentally long term,’ he said.”
    As you point out, the automotive press in Detroit is quite aggresive. Chrylser may not have to post quarterly earnings, but they will have to respond to media scrutiny. We’ll see how that dynamic works out. I’d put my money on the media to find enough sources within Chrysler to keep the heat on.

  3. ROBERT says:

    When I saw the name of the company my mind jumped. Who would ever name their company after SATAN’S pet. I’ll bet behind closed doors these idiots parade around in cloaks dancing around a pentagram.(lol) I am going to make this a personal project to watch what these people do. Will Chrysler change their logo to an upside-down star??
    STAY TUNED!!!!!

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