On an August day in 1999, Jurgen Schrempp, the DaimlerChrysler Auto Baron, found himself indulging in his favorite recreational activity: mountain climbing. He was descending a sheer wall of the 3,905 meter Ortler mountain in the Italian alps, when he got stuck. Flailing, he was unable to find a foothold or toehold. He was attached to mountaineering expert Reinhold Messner, the first man to climb Everest without the help of oxygen. Schrempp asked Messner what would happen if he jumped. Messner replied that he would catch him, and lower him down. Messner afterward marveled, "So he jumped.".
Jurgen Schrempp has taken similar leaps throughout his 30 plus year career with Daimler. However, as a youth no one would have guessed that he would lead such an ambitious career. He was born into the small German university town of Freiburg to a university clerk. During his high school years, he too often indulged his love of skiing and dancing, and dropped out school at the age of 15. In response to his father's urgings to learn a trade, young Schrempp joined Daimler as an apprentice mechanic. .
At 18 years of age, he met his future wife, 19 year old Renate. The couple were often seen in the jazz cellars of Frieburg, where Schrempp developed a love of the trumpet. He convinced his father to lend him the $25 needed to purchase the instrument, and taught himself to play jazz without reading music. The trumpet, which he still plays occasionally for fun, still sits in his office. Schrempp eventually earned a degree in engineering, and reentered Daimler in 1967. .
After spending several years working in Daimler's Stuttgart headquarters in sales, in 1974 Schrempp was sent to the company's South Africa office to oversee customer service. He was known for his elaborate parties, where he would sell fleets of automobiles to the rich while lecturing them against apartheid. Indeed, his humanitarian endeavors in South Africa gained the attention of Nelson Mandela, and Schrempp was made an honorary consul to South Africa.