November 30, 2007

RIP Roger Smith

GM Automotive Legend dies ...

Roger B. Smith, who led General Motors Corp. through the tumultuous 1980s, died Thursday at age 82.

Smith was the subject of Michael Moore's scathing "Roger and Me" documentary that chronicled the effect of the automaker's job cuts in Flint. He was chairman and chief executive officer from January 1, 1981, to his retirement in 1990.

"He changed the entire picture of GM," said longtime said Detroit mega-dealer Martin "Hoot" McInerney. "If you were the president of GM, you didn't have too much to say because he was chairman.

"He wasn't born into the job, he was promoted into for his ability. It wasn't just luck that got him there."

Smith came to GM during a turbulent time for Detroit's Big Thee. Domestic automakers were beginning to lose market share to rivals led by Toyota Motor Corp. and quality problems were plaguing the industry.

"He was ahead of his time - he accepted tech advancements and he believed the industry was going to need technology to survive," said Robert Stempel, who succeeded Smith at CEO. "He believed the market was no longer as going to be only North America, that it was going to be global."

During his tenure, GM created the Saturn brand, fostered the introduction of front-wheel drive mid-size cars, a joint venture with Toyota and acquisitions including Electronic Data Systems and Hughes Aircraft Corp.

Smith joined GM in 1949 as a general accounting clerk.

"Roger Smith led GM during a period of tremendous innovation in the industry," said GM Chairman Rick Wagoner in a statement. "He was a leader who knew that we have to accept change, understand change, and learn to make it work for us."

Doug Fraser, president of the UAW from 1977 to 1983, recalls Roger Smith as a man of his word during labor contract negotiations in the early 1980s, a difficult time for the industry.

"As I got to know him and understand him, I knew he possessed the qualities for successful negotiations -- you give your word and you keep your word. Once Roger gave his word, he kept his word, and you didn't have to worry about it," said Fraser, who now teaches labor relations at Wayne State University in Detroit.

Funeral services will be private

Posted by Quality Weenie at November 30, 2007 02:56 PM | TrackBack