Since graduating from Princeton 25 years ago, Feinberg has never given an interview and has never been photographed by the press. Not that there has been much demand until now. On Wall Street, the C.E.O. of Cerberus Capital Management, an investment firm with $26 billion in assets under management, has long been admired. (“You probably think you’re smart,” says one former employee. “Now take your brain and mine, take them to the 28th power, and you have Steve Feinberg.”) To the general public, though, Cerberus has been just another shadowy buyer of companies in an already overpopulated field. The firm’s purchases include a grab bag of brands that lurk on the edge of consumer consciousness: Fila sporting goods, Mervyn’s department stores, Alamo and National rental cars, Air Canada, the GMAC lending arm of General Motors.
All that changed on May 14 when another mustachioed C.E.O., Dieter Zetsche of DaimlerChrysler, announced he was selling Chrysler to Cerberus for $7.4 billion. (Daimler is retaining a 20 percent stake.) It marked the historic end of the German carmaker’s cross-cultural business experiment and the return of an American icon to U.S. soil. Feinberg didn’t even bother to appear at the press conference. “We hesitated [at making the deal],” he says at this meeting a month later, the annual gathering of Cerberus investors, “because we knew it would get an insane amount of press, and boy, we don’t like that. But the deal was so good.”