NEW DOWNTOWN NEIGHBORS Quicken's Dan Gilbert, left, and Chrysler's Sergio Marchionne celebrate the renaming of the Gilbert-owned Dime Building as Chrysler House, where Chrysler will lease the top two floors. STORY, 1C / ANDRE J. JACKSON/DETROIT FREE PRESS
They hardly looked like kindred spirits -- clean-shaven Dan Gilbert in a neatly pressed suit, alongside stubble-faced Sergio Marchionne in his trademark rumpled dark sweater -- at their joint appearance Monday morning in downtown Detroit.
But when these two passionate, unpredictable corporate agitators cross paths, as they appear destined to do with more frequency, get ready for sparks to fly. In a good way, mostly.
Marchionne, 59, CEO of the Chrysler and Fiat automobile companies, and Gilbert, 50, founder of Quicken Loans and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team plus some Ohio casinos, are now engaged in perhaps America's greatest urban challenge -- resurrecting Detroit.
And what an intriguing team they make.
Marchionne and Gilbert appeared together Monday -- after more than a month of efforts by subordinates to make their crazy calendars coincide -- to announce that Chrysler would lease two floors of space and move 70 employees into the Gilbert-owned Dime Building, now renamed Chrysler House.
A nice, symbolic, positive move for downtown Detroit, but not surprising or with a huge impact economically.
Within minutes of that event, though, Gilbert and Marchionne were meeting privately to seal other deals. Chrysler promised to commit $3 million over five years to sponsor a station on the M-1 light-rail line along Woodward Avenue, a big Gilbert-backed project. And Gilbert, in turn, agreed to join the cabinet Marchionne has assembled as chairman of the 2012 United Way for Southeastern Michigan fund-raising campaign.
Detroiters can only hope for more team efforts by these two driven -- and sometimes controversial -- figures.