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Helmut Werner; was Mercedes-Benz chairman

STUTTGART, Germany -- Helmut Werner, the former chairman of Mercedes-Benz, died Friday in a Berlin hospital, officials said yesterday. He was 67.

The nature of his illness was not given.

"In Helmut Werner we have lost an exceptional person whose outstanding business acumen played a significant role in the global development of the company," said DaimlerChrysler head Juergen Schrempp.

Born in Cologne, Mr. Werner came to Stuttgart-based Mercedes late in life, after many years at the helm of tire maker Continental.

In 1987, he began working for Mercedes heavy truck division, switching to the luxury automobile side in 1993. When he took it over, Mercedes was deeply in the red, but by job-cutting and clever marketing, Mr. Werner turned the company around.

He was responsible for starting up the first Mercedes factory in the United States, in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

"Helmut Werner was a clever, sympathetic, and responsible business personality," Schuster said. "As `Mr. Mercedes,' he made important decisions for Stuttgart and the surrounding region."

In 1996, Business Week included Mr. Werner on its 1996 list of the 25 most successful top managers.

Mr. Werner, who lived in Stuttgart, stepped down from Mercedes-Benz in 1997 rather than see his power erode under Schrempp's plan to merge the luxury car and truck manufacturer back into its parent company, Daimler-Benz.

Schrempp beat out Mr. Werner to take over Daimler in 1995, and the merger plan, which Mr. Werner opposed, gave him more direct control over Mercedes. Schrempp is now the chairman of Daimler-Chrysler, created after a 1998 merger with the US automaker.

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