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GM maverick manager John Rock dies

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GM maverick manager John Rock dies

Richard Truett

Automotive News

November 19, 2007 - 10:56 am ET

DETROIT -- John Rock, one of General Motors’ true maverick managers, died from cancer on Friday, Nov. 16, at his ranch in Hot Springs, S.D. He was 71.

The brash and feisty Rock will probably be best remembered for his time in the mid- 1990s at Oldsmobile, where he tried to recast the struggling division using Saturn’s customer-first, no-haggle sales philosophy as a template.

Rock, son of a Chevrolet dealer, learned how to sell cars working at his family’s dealership. He graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1959 with a degree in psychology and began his GM career as a district manager trainee with Buick in 1960.

GM promoted Rock to a number of management positions, first at Buick, then at GM’s marketing staff in Detroit. In 1979, GM sent Rock to Australia, where he was executive director of marketing for Holden’s Automotive Limited. Three years later, Rock was back in Detroit running GMC.

Boosted GMC sales

While at GMC, Rock pushed through two vehicles that went against the staid division’s image, the high-performance GMC Typhoon SUV and Syclone pickup. Though the vehicles didn’t sell in large numbers, they drew attention to GMC from younger affluent buyers. That helped GMC post higher sales every year for the rest of the decade.

In 1992, GM appointed Rock as general manager of the troubled Oldsmobile division.

It didn’t take long for Rock to come up with a plan to rebuild Olds: He would remake Oldsmobile in the image of GM’s Saturn Corp., retailing a lineup of import-oriented cars that would be sold with no-haggle prices. Under Rock, Olds employees and dealers went though Saturn’s training program.

Rock earned the respect of most Olds dealers. Many bought into his plan and worked hard to implement it.

“Dealers either loved him and respected him or were a bit passive about him. I don’t think anyone disliked John,” said Gus Buenz, the Oldsmobile public relations chief who worked with Rock in the 1990s.

Alan Starling, a former NADA president who also sold Oldsmobiles, said Rock understood dealers’ passions because of his background as the son of a dealer.

"There was no quit in John Rock. When he made up his mind he was going to do something, he was good for his word. He gave it 120 percent," said Starling.

Buenz said Rock’s frankness with the media, dealers and others didn’t cause too much heartburn at GM.

“John was forthright. He could be a bit gruff and was very frank, but he was also extremely intellectual.”

Zarrella meeting

Rock stuck around long enough to see the flagship Oldsmobile Aurora launched in 1995 and retired the next year after a meeting with his boss at the time, former GM North American president Ron Zarrella.

He recalled that day in an interview with Motor Trend magazine in 2006.

“When Ron called me down in September 1996, he said, ‘John, you know I just don’t see anything at Oldsmobile that makes me comfortable.’ I said, well everything in my life comes from General Motors. My father was a dealer for 40 years; it’s the only job I ever had.

“The one thing I am not going to do is get into a pissing contest with my boss. And the next thing I am not going to do is get ornery and sit in the corner and count paper clips for a couple of years. I said, ‘If you want my ass outta here, I’ll gladly do that.’ So we shook hands and were probably the friendliest we ever were.”

Rock also told Motor Trend he was not bitter about GM’s decision to close Oldsmobile.

“Rick Wagoner is a smart guy. He was just entering the tunnel, and he saw this distant light. He didn’t know for sure whether it was a freight train or how fast it was coming.”

source:

http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/arti...78&refsect=

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RIP Rock. Your work showed you love, and we loved your work.

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Very sad, John Rock never quit trying to save Oldsmobile, and thanks to him some of the later products were also some of the best.

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John Rock is right up there with Lutz, DeLorean and Knudson in my book...

He was a true car guy and really seemed to love GM as more than just a job.

Eventhough Oldsmobile is gone, the legacy of the division and John Rock remain in the resurgence we are seeing today.

I believe this because I think losing Oldsmobile and, and some of the best products in GM's history was the very beginning of the tipping point for the corporation.

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Rock was a great man and full of passion. It's unfortunate he did not get full support for his turnaround plan for Oldsmobile, but it was a valiant effort. Rock's vision of Oldsmobile was probably a lot like what Saturn turned out to be, minus the missing Aurora.

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Sad...

Yup, one of the greatest proponents of Oldsmobile. He also helped to make the Shelby Series One a reality.

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John Rock is right up there with Lutz, DeLorean and Knudson in my book...

He was a true car guy and really seemed to love GM as more than just a job.

Eventhough Oldsmobile is gone, the legacy of the division and John Rock remain in the resurgence we are seeing today.

I believe this because I think losing Oldsmobile and, and some of the best products in GM's history was the very beginning of the tipping point for the corporation.

Very true. Zarella was a moron. My Brother met him when he was in the biz, and said the guy just didn't get it. He should have stuck to eye contacts.
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John Rock was at Holden in the 70s

There's a famous story of him addressing a dealer convention, and telling them he likes cars that

"perform like a woman who could suck the chrome off a tow-ball"

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