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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

Former GM CEO Roger B. Smith dead at 82

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Former GM CEO Roger B. Smith dead at 82

Smith presided over GM from 1981 to 1990

Jamie LaReau

Automotive News

November 30, 2007 - 10:48 am EST

DETROIT -- Former General Motors CEO Roger Smith died here Thursday, Nov. 29, after a brief illness. He was 82.

Smith was appointed chairman and CEO on January 1, 1981, and led the company until his retirement July 31, 1990.

“Roger Smith led GM during a period of tremendous innovation in the industry.” GM CEO Rick Wagoner said 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. Roger was truly a pioneer in the fast-moving global industry that we now take for granted.”

Smith directed GM during a revolutionary period in the auto industry. The business was expanding globally with tough new environmental and safety standards.

There was increased competition from imports, too. During Smith’s tenure, GM introduced its front-wheel-drive midsized cars; formed New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., a joint venture with Toyota to build cars in California; created Saturn Corp.; and bought EDS and Hughes Aircraft Corp.

PRESS RELEASE: Roger B. Smith, former GM Chairman and CEO, dies at 82

DETROIT – Roger B. Smith, who led General Motors in the 1980s through a period of significant change, passed away here November 29 after a brief illness. He was 82.

Smith was appointed chairman and CEO on January 1, 1981, and led the world’s largest automaker until his retirement on July 31, 1990.

Smith directed GM during a revolutionary period in the auto industry, a time of expanding global business, tough new environmental and safety standards, and increased competition from import brands.

During Smith’s tenure as chairman and CEO, GM introduced its first front-wheel-drive midsize cars, formed NUMMI, a joint venture with Toyota to manufacture cars in California, created Saturn, and acquired Electronic Data Systems and Hughes Aircraft Corp.

“Roger Smith led GM during a period of tremendous innovation in the industry.” GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner said today. “He was a leader who knew that we have to accept change, understand change, and learn to make it work for us. Roger was truly a pioneer in the fast moving global industry that we now take for granted.”

Prior to being elected chairman, Smith had been an executive vice president and a member of the GM Board of Directors since December 1, 1974.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, on July 12, 1925, he received his formal education in Michigan. He graduated from Detroit University School in 1942. He received his bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1947 from the University of Michigan and was awarded a master’s degree in business administration there in 1953. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1944 to 1946.

Smith began his GM career in 1949 as a general accounting clerk in the Detroit Central Office. After a series of promotions, he became treasurer of the Corporation in 1970 and vice president in charge of the Financial Staff and a member of the Administration Committee in 1971. The following year, he became vice president and group executive in charge of the Non-automotive and Defense Group. In 1974, he was elected executive vice president, with responsibility for the Financial, Public Relations, and Industry-Government Relations Staffs.

Smith was the originator in February 1978, of the General Motors Cancer Research Awards, designed to recognize basic and clinical scientists throughout the world for hallmark accomplishments in research on the cause, prevention and treatment of cancer.

In the international world, Smith’s leadership in promoting free trade was recognized by many countries where General Motors operated. He was awarded gold medals by the heads of state of Austria, Belgium and Spain, as well as the French Legion of Honor. He served on the U.S. Presidential Commission on South Africa.

On the national scene, Smith served on two presidential commissions. He was chairman of both the Business Roundtable and the Business Council. He was a trustee of the California Institute of Technology and received honorary doctorates from several universities. Smith served on the boards of directors of Citicorp, International Paper, Johnson & Johnson and PepsiCo. He served as chairman of the Blue Ribbon Committee of the New York Stock Exchange that originated the concept of “circuit breakers” to moderate large price fluctuations in the stock and option markets. His leadership in finance and industry was recognized by awards from leading associations and publications across the country.

In state and local affairs, Smith served as chairman of the board of the Economic Club of Detroit, Detroit Renaissance and the Detroit United Foundation. He served on the board of directors of many other charitable and educational organizations.

Smith is survived by Barbara, his wife of 53 years; four children: Roger B. Smith Jr., Jennifer A. Ponski, Victoria B. Sawula, and Drew J. Smith; and six grandchildren.

Services will be private. The family asks that contributions, in lieu of flowers, be made to the Roger B. Smith Memorial Fund to Benefit the Fight Against Cancer at William Beaumont Hospital, c/o of the Beaumont Fund, P.O. Box 5802, Troy, MI 48007-9620.

General Motors Corp. (NYSE: GM), the world’s largest automaker, has been the annual global industry sales leader for 76 years. Founded in 1908, GM today employs about 280,000 people around the world. With global headquarters in Detroit, GM manufactures its cars and trucks in 35 countries. In 2006, nearly 9.1 million GM cars and trucks were sold globally under the following brands: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, GM Daewoo, Holden, HUMMER, Opel, Pontiac, Saab, Saturn and Vauxhall. GM’s OnStar subsidiary is the industry leader in vehicle safety, security and information services. More information on GM can be found at www.gm.com.

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R.I.P.

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RIP as well. The '80s may have had its share of clunkers, but there were some great cars created under his tenure as well (Grand National, '84 Vette, '82 Camaro / Firebird, Fiero, and Allante)

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Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy, to bad it wasn't sooner you bastard! GM would have been way better off without your sorry ass! :cussing:

Well alot of the older guys I work with at GM are in total agreement with you on that one, the hatred runs deep!!

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Well alot of the older guys I work with at GM are in total agreement with you on that one, the hatred runs deep!!

Older? I'm only 38! :huh:

Edited by Pontiac Custom-S
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Roger B. Smith's legacy is very simple:

GM produced some of the worst automobiles in recorded history during his tenure. His reliance on committee thinking, use of bean counting based engineering and attempts to engineer workers out of the process of building cars is now the stuff of management case studies in exactly how NOT to run a major industrial organization.

He was an inept public speaker, a lousy manager, ignorant (to the very core) of how the auto industry really worked and the perfect example of why companies must be careful when promoting from within, lest they end up with a Roger Smith at the helm.

The following passage, which I wrote as part of a post here on C&G about five years ago, sums up my view of Smith's legacy perfectly:

"In the case of GM, it was blaming the UAW for all their problems and attempting to engineer out the workers who assembled their products. GM’s infamous chairman, Roger Smith, believed that the “lights out”, fully automated production plant was the panacea for all of GM’s ills. The realization of his dream was “The General Motors Cadillac Luxury Division Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant”. This plant was the most expensive ever built, requiring GM to actually buy EDS, a major systems integrator. Equipped with more robotics and automated manufacturing systems than any plant ever seen, it was to remove the human equation from the production process, thus removing the possibility of human interference in the delivery of a quality product. It was a disaster of monumental proportions.

There is a famous story of Eji Toyoda being led around the Hamtramck plant by Roger Smith shortly after production of the ill-fated 1986 Cadillac Eldorado had begun. Roger Smith spoke endlessly about the wonders of the high-tech production revolution that the Hamtramck plant was ushering in, all the while oblivious to Eji Toyoda’s horrified expression as he watched workers frantically trying to fix cars that were being assembled incorrectly by the automated systems. Eji Toyoda remarked in Japanese to his assistant “imagine if they put this much effort into doing it right”. This, of course, is an anecdote, but non-the-less, the products that came out of Hamtramck were a disaster, the new for ‘86 Eldorado sank to just over 17,000 units in its second year and in the early 90’s when Hamtramck was retooled, much of the manufacturing process was replaced with more conventional production systems."

For all of his efforts and "decision making" ability, his total lack of skill and talent did more damage to GM than any CEO before or after his tenure. The surviving GM board members of that era should feel genuine shame that they allowed such an incompetent man to nearly destroy one of America's most important industrial concerns .

-Mak

08 CTS FE3 with 6 on the floor.

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I do extend my condolences to his family and close friends, but this man isn't worthy of any enthusiast's respect, dead or alive. When I think of Roger B. Smith, I think of a man who was simply an utter failure at his job. He ran the company for a little under a decade, but that was all the time that was required for him to screw things up. The products that GM produced under his watch were ill-prepared and/or ill-conceived and it took almost as long as three model years to work all of the bugs out for some models (the W-Body cars and C4 Corvette immediately come to mind), and too much money and focus was placed on halo cars (Fiero and Allante) and not properly preparing core, mainstream models.

Smith was incompetent as CEO of a major automotive manufacturer, and may God help GM and us enthusiasts if another man like him is placed at it's helm. You cannot deny that his decisions were so $h!-brained the effects were being felt a little over another decade after the miracle of his retirement.

Edited by YellowJacket894
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1984 Vette, considered worst Vette by collectors.

82 F body, was great at first, but quality gave it the "Mullet" image

Grand National. Fast, but not enough to hold the whole company up. Good engine in search of a better car.

The look alike A bodies, the lame W body coupes, and the poor quality nearly killed GM. Good riddance.

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Perhaps he was just the wrong man at the wrong time. The '80s were a terrible time for Detroit and, possibly, for America. Double digit inflation, the Vietnam War debt coming home to roost, the list is endless. I am by no means defending the man, but I suspect he was a product of the economic times he and America were facing.

That and the market was GM's to lose................

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1984 Vette, considered worst Vette by collectors.

82 F body, was great at first, but quality gave it the "Mullet" image

Grand National. Fast, but not enough to hold the whole company up. Good engine in search of a better car.

The look alike A bodies, the lame W body coupes, and the poor quality nearly killed GM. Good riddance.

Yes, the forgettable FWD junk (A-bodies, N-bodies, J-bodies, etc) that came of GM during his reign far outweighs any good products...

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I actually have an interesting story my grandfather likes to tell whenever someone talks about Roger Smith.

Back during his tenure as GM's CEO, my great-uncle was their corporate pilot. He flew them somewhere once, went to a rental agency for a car and when they didn't have any GM cars available, he brought Roger and company back a Chrysler New Yorker. Roger B. Smith, CEO of the General Motors Corporation, sat in the Chrysler and said: "This is nice...is it one of ours?"

Yeah. That guy wasn't fit to run a convienience store, much less the largest automaker in the world.

Edited by AxelTheRed
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Perhaps he was just the wrong man at the wrong time.

No. He was the wrong man for any time.

The '80s were a terrible time for Detroit and, possibly, for America. Double digit inflation, the Vietnam War debt coming home to roost, the list is endless. I am by no means defending the man, but I suspect he was a product of the economic times he and America were facing.

While that may have played a role in some of GM's misfortunes, you cannot deny that Smith's horrible management skills, lack of knowledge of the company he was assigned to run and his lack of general automotive knowledge (both prove to be positive by Axel's grandfather's story of his great uncle), and ignorance of the automotive market played a much larger role. I know you aren't defending the man, but there really isn't any excuse or reason you listed that could even slightly remove the tarnish of his image. Make no mistake, while he may not have been the most horrible person in the world, he was the most horrible, ignorant CEO GM has probably ever seen and might possibly ever will see.

That and the market was GM's to lose ...

Maybe not. If someone with true skills and knowledge was given the position over Smith, someone with some real passion and understanding of his job, GM probably could have fought the imports and kept the gap very close throughout the 1980s and maybe even closed it in the 1990s. Don't make any mistake, Smith did a lot of damage to GM. Damage that's taken over a decade to repair and reverse.

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No. He was the wrong man for any time.

While that may have played a role in some of GM's misfortunes, you cannot deny that Smith's horrible management skills, lack of knowledge of the company he was assigned to run and his lack of general automotive knowledge (both prove to be positive by Axel's grandfather's story of his great uncle), and ignorance of the automotive market played a much larger role. I know you aren't defending the man, but there really isn't any excuse or reason you listed that could even slightly remove the tarnish of his image. Make no mistake, while he may not have been the most horrible person in the world, he was the most horrible, ignorant CEO GM has probably ever seen and might possibly ever will see.

Maybe not. If someone with true skills and knowledge was given the position over Smith, someone with some real passion and understanding of his job, GM probably could have fought the imports and kept the gap very close throughout the 1980s and maybe even closed it in the 1990s. Don't make any mistake, Smith did a lot of damage to GM. Damage that's taken over a decade to repair and reverse.

You grossly underestimate the determination of MITI in Japan. Just ask Zenith or Philco or Admiral or any other major electronics company that used to build TVs. Roger Smith perhaps could have accelerated what was inevitable, IMO.

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You grossly underestimate the determination of MITI in Japan. Just ask Zenith or Philco or Admiral or any other major electronics company that used to build TVs. Roger Smith perhaps could have accelerated what was inevitable, IMO.

No, it's not that I grossly underestimate MITI's determination (I'm well aware of what they do and what they've done, so don't assume that), it's just I invest somewhat in the thought that if a true, knowledgeable CEO was at the helm at GM from 1981 to 1990 instead of Smith, GM could have been more resourceful (I.E. less money being spent on risky endeavors like the Hamtramck plant mentioned in a previous post and under-prepared halo vehicles like the Allante) and much more on top of it's game, being fiercely competitive with the Japanese during their uprise. I don't think that would have accelerated GM's downfall; at worst it could have kept GM strong and healthy and competitive.

And note my use of would and could in my posts. This is all nothing but theory, as with your posts. And don't be ignorant to the damages Smith caused during his reign at General Motors. The man did do so much more harm than good, which, very obviously, played a part in GM's anemic health throughout the mid and late 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s -- that's almost two whole decades worth of time there that could have spent on products that were fiercely competitive and didn't follow the rulebook Smith instilled, which GM would be very loyal to follow under Stempel's and Jack Smith's leadership.

Just wake up at look at the so many negative things Smith did during his tenure at GM: the flop of the GM10/W-Body cars, the $2000 dollars GM was losing on every car it built at the end of the 1980s was surely something that he caused and played a huge factor in causing, the 1984 reorganization which wrought so much internal havoc and distortion to the company, the strain he put on the relationship between GM and the UAW (first with his cutting of promised raises to Union workers, then secondly by his vision to make GM totally autonomous, and not to mention the plants that he was closing as a result of his bad decisions), the non-essential purchase of EDS (which that money should have been placed into the automotive divisions of GM or maybe even buying Toyota), the way he damaged Flint, the town GM had helped to support for so long, by closing many of the factories there ... need I go on? This man is, like I said, one of the biggest automotive-related and buisness-related failures and the most horrible CEO that has ever fouled General Motors with his presence. Even most armchair CEOs know how to run GM better than he did. If GM had a real, competent, knowledgeable, skilled leader during that time ... well, let's just say the GM we know today would probably be much different.

Edited by YellowJacket894
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Biggest blunder was the W bodies coming out two years after the Taurus in coupe only, thinking it was still the disco 70's.

2nd, is the boxy, ugly FWD E and C body "luxury cars", Caddy/Buick/Olds tired to sell. Basically thought anything with Caddy badge would sell no matter what.

3rd, spending money on EDS, Hughes, etc, instead of better cars/trucks.

Edited by Chicagoland
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