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Helmut Werner, 67; Former Chairman of Mercedes-Benz

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From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Helmut Werner, 67, the former chairman of Mercedes-Benz who was responsible for starting up the first Mercedes factory in the United States, died Friday at a hospital in Berlin, according to a company statement. The cause of death was not announced.

Born in Cologne, Germany, Werner earned a degree in business from the University of Cologne & Bonn. He spent much of his career at the German tire maker Continental, rising through the ranks to become chief executive.

He was recruited by Mercedes-Benz in 1987, working first for the company’s heavy truck division. In 1993, he switched to the luxury automobile side, which was then heavily in the red.

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Over the next several years, he turned the company around by eliminating 30,000 jobs and improving customer service and through clever marketing. By 1996, he was included on Business Week’s list of the 25 most successful top managers. In May 1997, he started up the first Mercedes-Benz plant in the United States, in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Later that year, however, Werner stepped down from his post after the company’s head, Juergen Schrempp, proposed a reorganization that consolidated the luxury car and truck manufacturer back into its parent company, Daimler-Benz.

Schrempp is now the chairman of DaimlerChrysler, created after a 1998 merger with the U.S. automaker.


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